California to boost number of bilingual teachers in Asian languages


It’s about to get easier to become a bilingual teacher in Vietnamese, Korean, Mandarin and other Asian languages in California.

School districts in California struggle to hire bilingual teachers in all languages, including Spanish, but the shortage is more severe for teachers who are fluent in Asian languages. Many districts want to start or expand dual immersion programs in Asian languages but do not have enough teachers with bilingual authorizations in these languages to do so.

“We have dire shortages of bilingually authorized teachers in those languages,” said Magaly Lavadenz, professor and executive director of the Center for Equity for English Learners at Loyola Marymount University. “Teachers are in high demand, and there’s a big shortage of them, and districts really want them and families and communities really want them.”

The budget put forth by the California Legislature includes $5 million for the Asian Language Bilingual Teacher Education Program Consortium, which helps prepare bilingual teachers in Asian languages, such as Vietnamese, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese and Hmong.

The program pools resources at 10 California State University campuses to allow students enrolled at any campus in the consortium to take classes at the other campuses to receive their bilingual authorization. A bilingual authorization allows teachers to teach English language development to students who are learning English, and to teach primary instruction in a language other than English.

A large portion of the funding will go toward helping students pay for classes. Because so few students tend to enroll in these classes, most bilingual education classes in Asian languages are offered during the summer or in “extension programs,” which requires students to pay additional tuition with less access to financial aid.

“This summer some students wanted to take the classes, but they couldn’t, and the reason why is money,” said Fernando Rodríguez-Valls, bilingual authorization program coordinator at CSU Fullerton.

The funding will also help pay stipends to professors who have low numbers of students in their classes because for summer classes, professors are often paid per student enrolled.

Nikki Dominguez, policy director for the nonprofit organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, which advocated for the funding, said having more bilingual educators in Asian languages will help increase language proficiency both in those languages and in English.

“The Asian American community has the highest limited-English proficiency level in adults in communities of color here in California, and we know that language accessibility is important,” Dominguez said.

In addition, she said dual immersion programs, which teach all students, those proficient in English and those proficient in other languages, are a way to increase understanding and prevent anti-Asian discrimination.

“We don’t want to wait until those incidents of hate and violence happen but really look at how we can invest in prevention, and one of the ways we can do that is dual-language programs. We know, and research has shown, that this is a very effective way to create more understanding and appreciation across ethnic groups,” Dominguez said.

Lavadenz said in addition to preparing more bilingual teachers, California also needs to invest in professional development for teachers once they begin teaching, which would help districts keep teachers long term.

“What we’re seeing in the field, and especially among Asian language educators, is that if the school culture and the district climate doesn’t support their professional development, they end up going to another district where they can find the community and support for their own professional growth,” Lavadenz said.

Several organizations that advocate for bilingual education and English learners, including Californians Together, the California Association for Bilingual Education, and SEAL, applauded the funding for bilingual educators in Asian languages but urged the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom to also continue funding for other projects that helped prepare bilingual teachers, such as the Bilingual Teacher Professional Development Program and the Educator Workforce Investment Grant program. The grant program has funded training since 2020 for teachers and paraprofessionals on special education and how to implement the English Learner Roadmap, a guide for districts to better support students who are learning English. Newsom proposed $15 million to continue the program, but the Legislature did not include the funding in its budget bill.

“Any policy implementation takes more than two years,” said Lavadenz. “It’s like pulling the rug out from under a system that was really working.”

Under the Bilingual Teacher Professional Development Program, county offices of education and school districts offered college-level courses to prepare teachers to work in bilingual classrooms. The program expired in 2021.

“It was disappointing to see that the Bilingual Teacher Professional Development Program (BTPDP) was not funded,” wrote Anya Hurwitz, director of SEAL, a nonprofit organization that provides training to help schools develop strong bilingual programs. “The findings in our latest policy brief show that BTPDP works and with proper support, school districts can “grow their own” teachers to help fill the critical bilingual teacher shortage in the state.

But districts can’t do it alone. They need adequate state funding to implement these effective strategies.”

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