Bilingual teachers
in short supply

Students who need help
learning English are up
42 percent in Hawaii since 1989

From staff and news reports

A nationwide shortage of bilingual teachers is being felt in Hawaii, where the number of students who need help learning English has risen by about 42 percent in the past decade even while school enrollment has dropped 8 percent.

But unlike on the mainland where Spanish-speaking teachers are in demand, the greatest need in Hawaii is for teachers who speak Asian and Pacific languages.

"We're having difficulty in finding teachers that are bilingual in the language of their students," said Alan Ramos, state Department of Education's specialist in charge of the state and federal English for Second Language Learners (ESLL) programs.

Hawaii's ethnic and linguistic diversity intensifies the challenge of finding an adequate number of qualified teachers because few universities and colleges prepare teachers to provide bilingual education in languages such as Tagalog, Ilocano, Samoan and Marshallese, Ramos said.

Between 1989 and 2000, Hawaii's total enrollment decreased 8.1 percent to 185,860 students. However, during the same time period, the number of ESL students rose 41.9 percent to 12,879 students, according to the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, a federally financed nonprofit organization.

Nationally, the number of students with limited English skills, most of them Hispanic, has doubled, to 5 million in the last decade, data from the U.S. Department of Education show. That is more than four times the rate for the general student population, according to the clearinghouse.

The number of qualified teachers for bilingual or English-as-a-second-language classes -- already in chronic short supply -- has not kept pace nationally. 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 Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, a Harvard education professor and an expert on immigrant children.

In Hawaii, state funding provides for 141 permanent ESLL teacher positions and about 280 part-time teachers.

"When possible ... we do have native-language, part-time teachers (who) would be able to translate and interpret the lesson or the statement that the teacher is making," Ramos said.

But that is where the need lies for the state, he said.

The state DOE does not offer bilingual classes -- where the content is taught in the students' native languages -- but it does offer "sheltered English support," which uses simple English language to teach the content, Ramos said.

Since the University of Hawaii does not offer a bilingual certification program, the DOE is working with UH to offer more opportunities to part-time teachers who received their degrees in their native countries.

However, the DOE is more concerned with finding teachers who are culturally and linguistically sensitive to students who are learning the English language at the same time they are learning the classroom content, Ramos said.

Across the nation, the urgency to find qualified ESLL teachers 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.

Ramos hopes the state will find a way to help enrich the learning environment for students who have recently arrived in the United States so they will be prepared to take the English-language tests in the spring.

"It's a challenging but exciting time," he said.

Star-Bulletin reporter Treena Shapiro and the New York Times News Service contributed to this report.

State Department of Education

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