Wave of Pupils Lacking English Strains Schools

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Mon Aug 5 17:16:23 UTC 2002

>>From The New York Times Company

August 5, 2002

Wave of Pupils Lacking English Strains Schools


     MAGNOLIA, N.C.  A wave of immigrants in the last 10 years,
particularly in rural areas far from traditional immigration hubs, has
left school districts across the country desperately short of people
qualified to teach them English, school and government officials say. The
number of students with limited English skills, most of them Hispanic, has
doubled, to five million in the last decade, data from the United States
Department of Education show.  That is more than four times the rate for
the general student population, according to the National Clearinghouse
for English Language Acquisition, a federally financed nonprofit

The number of qualified teachers for bilingual or
English-as-a-second-language classes already in chronic short supply has
not kept pace. Market Data Retrieval, a group that keeps national
education statistics, has counted 50,000 such teachers in the United
States, or one for every 100 students with limited English skills.
If students with limited English skills were to be taught in classes of
the average national size about 17 pupils per teacher up to 290,000
teachers would be needed for them, said Dr. Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, a
Harvard education professor and an expert on immigrant children.

"We are now in the largest wave of immigration in the history of the
United States," Dr. Suarez-Orozco said. "This is not just a New York
issue, or a Boston issue, or a Los Angeles issue," Dr. Suarez-Orozco said.
"It's a national issue." The need for teachers of English as a second
language has grown most rapidly in school districts in the South, Midwest
and Northwest. North Carolina, whose farms and factories have drawn
thousands of Latino immigrants in recent years, has had the fastest growth
of students with limited English skills. The number of such students in
the state has more than quintupled since 1993, to 52,500 from 8,900. The
populations of such students in Idaho, Nebraska, Alabama, Tennessee, South
Carolina and Georgia have at least tripled since 1993.

Many of these districts, particularly those in rural areas with few
native-born bilingual residents, are offering bonuses, loans and other
incentives to teachers, and in some cases poaching from neighboring
districts. "Educators have started to realize that this is not just a blip
on the map," said Delia Pompa, the executive director of the National
Association of Bilingual Education.

The urgency of their searches is compounded this year by new federal
legislation requiring students with limited English skills to take
standardized assessment tests by next spring. Most states now exempt such
students, and including their scores with those of other students could
drag down a school's performance, with potentially dire consequences. The
new legislation, for example, allows parents beginning this fall to remove
their children from schools designated as failing, moving state and local
dollars with them. School recruiters interviewed in Washington State,
Wisconsin, North Carolina and Kansas said that while many regular teaching
vacancies can attract 100 applicants or more, openings for teachers of
English as a second language, or E.S.L., rarely attract more than one or

Rural communities and small cities are devising ingenious ways to recruit
teachers. Some districts in North Carolina try to persuade landlords and
utility companies to waive deposits for them. A district in Utah offers
$2,000 bonuses. Kentucky forgives some student loans. Recruiters from
Denver have trekked to Mexico. Many districts have also designed "grow our
own" projects to train high school and college students, teaching aides
and even immigrant parents to teach English as a second language and, more
rarely, bilingual classes.

Students of English as a second language study subjects like math, science
and social studies in English, often in regular classrooms, while learning
English intensively for a few periods a day, tutored in individual or
small-group pullout sessions. Students in bilingual classes are taught the
subjects in their native languages. Because it is difficult to find people
able to teach subjects in other languages outside the nation's immigrant
hubs, few states offer true bilingual education. Carol Theesfeld, the
director of English as a second language and bilingual education for the
Kenosha, Wis., school district, says she never goes on a vacation
particularly to the Southwest without her business cards.

Ms. Theesfeld, whose district's population of students with limited
English skills doubled in the last four years, to more than 400, says she
approaches college-age people she meets and asks if they study education.
"You never know," she said, chuckling about her desperation. "You might
find a teacher this way." Ms. Theesfeld also recruits at more than a dozen
education conferences, at universities in Wisconsin and Illinois, at
ethnic festivals like Milwaukee's annual Mexican Fiesta and at

Occasionally, some Wisconsin districts have created tensions by poaching
teachers from neighboring districts, said Narciso Aleman, a professor of
curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater
who maintains close ties with recruiters in surrounding districts. "There
are raids between districts," Dr. Aleman said. "The recruiters would offer
better pay, shorter hours, smaller classes, all-expense-paid trips to
national E.S.L. conferences anything they can to attract certified

Here in Duplin County, N.C., Hispanic immigrant children make up nearly a
third of the 700 students at Rose Hill-Magnolia Elementary School, a
one-story brick building next to a turkey processing plant. Their parents
have come from Mexico and Honduras to pick tobacco, feed and breed the
hogs and pack turkey meat. "Some people here think they shouldn't be here
and let's send them back to where they came from," said Darrell Grubbs,
the principal. "But the reality is, they are going to stay. And if they
are going to stay, we've got to educate their children."

In explaining this point to resentful residents, Mr. Grubbs does not cite
the United States Supreme Court's 1982 decision in Plyler v. Doe, in which
the court ruled that public schools must educate all children, whether
they are in the country legally or not. He simply says that these children
are going to enter the work force some day and pay "your Social Security."
Seeing the increasing likelihood that every teacher at some point will
encounter a student for whom English is a second language, a small number
of principals have required all their teachers to take some E.S.L.
education classes.

Close to $400 million was funneled in 2000 through the federal Office of
Bilingual Education, since renamed the Office of English Language
Acquisition, to help districts put candidates through college or night
classes to receive E.S.L. or bilingual licenses. This year, the office
plans to hand out $665 million in grants. The University of Wisconsin at
Whitewater, along with its surrounding school districts, is one recipient.
Its "grow our own" project has recruited dozens of teacher's aides already
working in the districts, most lacking college degrees, to enroll in
tuition-free classes to earn a bachelor's degree and an E.S.L. license.
The school also courts local high school and college students showing an
interest in this kind of education.

The strategy might just reduce the high teacher turnover rates,
administrators from the nearby Janesville school district say. Rural and
small-town school districts, they say, have found it hard to beat the
excitement offered by bigger cities like Madison and Milwaukee. In Fort
Atkinson, Wis., a small town tucked in soybean and corn fields, Vicki
Wright, the district's English-as-a-second-language coordinator, answers
telephone calls frequently from panicky teachers encountering
non-English-speaking students for the first time.

Ms. Wright, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1970's, recalled some
of the questions: " `How do I grade them? They don't speak English.' `What
kind of assignment should I give them?' `How do I modify my tests for
them?' " She said she also tries to correct a misunderstanding among
teachers, most of whom grew up in a place previously populated almost
exclusively by descendants of Polish, German and Scandinavian immigrants.
The district, which had eight non-English-speaking students two years ago,
has 65 today.

"The regular teachers' attitude often is, let's hand the E.S.L. student to
the E.S.L. teacher and say, `Here is an E.S.L. student. Now fix him.' "
Ms. Wright said. "Now, what would you do if he were your own child?" she
asked. "They're not just the E.S.L. teachers' kids. They're everybody's

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