Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Report: Less than 6 Percent of Illinois Pre-K Teachers Trained to Teach ELLs

A new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that very few pre-K teachers in Illinois have been trained to teach English language learners. The study also raised further concerns with its survey results, which found that few of those educators are interested in acquiring that training.

English language learners account for one-third of Hispanic schoolchildren in the state. About 20 percent of the Illinois kindergartners are ELLs–most of whom are Spanish-speaking.

The state has made a big push for expansion of bilingual education. By 2014, the state wants state-funded, school district-based, pre-k classes with 20 or more English learners to be led by a teacher certified in either bilingual instruction or English as a second language, in addition to being trained to work with pre-K students.

The UC-Berkeley researchers surveyed 354 preschool programs and 307 educators representing  about 2,600 teachers. It encompassed programs serving nearly 65,000 students, 27 percent of whom are ELLs.

Their results show that the state’s goals have yet to match up with reality. Currently, in predominantly Latino communities, the ratio of English language learner students to trained bilingual teachers is 50 students per every one teacher.

Fewer than 6 percent of all pre-K teachers surveyed are currently are dually endorsed with bilingual/ESL and early childhood certifications, compared with about 9 percent of teachers in high-Latino communities.  The researchers conclude that this disparity raises concerns about teacher quality.

In addition, the survey shows that about 45 percent of administrators see little need for teachers to have ESL training. In heavily Latino communities, about 42 percent of administrators saw a significant need for the training. In both cases, they were reluctant because of the costs associated and the time commitment that would be required.

“…Preschool itself isn’t a silver bullet,” Margaret Bridges, a senior researcher at UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Human Development, said in a press announcement about the study. “Quality matters. And as classrooms become more diverse, the cultural and linguistic competencies of  teachers are very real factors in a child’s academic success.”

The study is part of the New Journalism on Latino Children project based at UC-Berkeley, and produced in partnership with the Illinois Early Learning Council and the Chicago-based Latino Policy Forum.