Recent research has documented the success of bilingual programs in teaching English and in using both the native language and English to teach math, science and social studies concepts.
There are long-term benefits, too: Students who have had the advantage of bilingual education are more likely to graduate from high school than those who haven’t.
But, despite those success stories, all isn’t well with bilingual education. The number of new bilingual teachers each year isn’t keeping pace with the number of non-English-speaking students who require bilingual instruction.
That teacher shortage is rapidly becoming a crisis throughout the nation. The Texas Education Agency estimates that 3,000 new teachers are needed in this state. And the California State Board of Education figures that 8,000 additional bilingual teachers are needed there, too.
How do those figures translate into the number of students who aren’t being served? Using an average of 22 students per classroom, the shortage of 3,000 teachers in Texas means that 66,000 students don’t have certified bilingual teachers. In California, 176,000 students aren’t being served.
Those figures call for more, not fewer, certified bilingual teachers.
But, surprisingly, when Congress appropriated funds for bilingual education before adjourning in the fall, nothing was allocated for the teacher training program that has helped thousands of college students become qualified as bilingual teachers since 1974.
That appeared to be a major oversight. And in December, Education Secretary Richard Riley asked the Congressional Joint Appropriations Committee that $ 15 million be moved to teacher training for 1997.
What impact would Mr. Riley’s request have on students? If the $ 15 million in teacher training funds were provided this year and renewed in future years, 2,000 bilingual teachers would enter the field annually, according to the federal Education Department.
Again, using the average of 22 students per classroom, those teachers would reach 44,000 students each year. In five years, they could serve 220,000 students.
And if 2,000 additional teachers were to enter the field annually for five years and remain on the job for five years, they would serve 1.1 million students.
The members of the Joint Appropriations Committee, including Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, can take a major step toward solving the bilingual teacher shortage by approving Mr. Riley’s request. In the process, they would be giving hundreds of thousands of at-risk students a better chance to succeed.
William J. Pulte is director of bilingual education programs at Southern Methodist University and an associate professor of anthropology