Bilingual teacher development grant takes root in 10 districts

By Amy Boles, director of educational services at Oak Grove School District

In November 2016, California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 58, a state ballot initiative that creates more opportunities for students to become bilingual and biliterate. The measure passed with 73.5 percent of the vote and was supported across all 58 counties.

A report released in June 2017 by Californians Together, Unveiling California’s Bilingual Teacher Shortage, said that the wide support reflects the high regard that the public holds for the educational, cognitive and economic advantages of bilingualism for its citizenry. However, the report also found that “California has seen a massive decline in teachers with bilingual authorizations since the passage of Proposition 227, a 1998 state ballot initiative that enacted major restrictions on bilingual education and severely curtailed its availability across the state. This shortage needs to be remedied expediently to ensure the education system can catch up to and align with the strong evidence about the powerful impacts of bilingual education on student outcomes.”

In response to this bilingual teacher shortage, the State Legislature allocated $5 million and, in turn, the California Department of Education created the Bilingual Teacher Professional Development Project. CDE awarded six grants to provide school districts and their partners with resources to prepare teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to effectively teach in bilingual/dual-language classrooms. The grant project embraces the new era of policy in California — articulated in the English Learner Roadmap and Proposition 58 — that sets the vision for programs to promote the development of biliteracy, affirming and supporting home language for English learner children and families, and developing high levels of proficiency in both languages.

One of the grant awardees is Oak Grove School District in San Jose, which serves as the lead district in a consortium of 10 districts, all of which are implementing the Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) model. The other districts in the consortium are: Coalinga-Huron Unified School District, Evergreen School District, Golden Plains USD, Mountain View SD, Redwood City Elementary School District, San Lorenzo USD, San Rafael City ESD, Santa Clara USD and Williams USD. We call ourselves the SEAL BTPDP Consortium.

This consortium of districts has partnered with SEAL, as well as Loyola Marymount University’s Center for Equity for English Learners, to help address the shortage of bilingual teachers and to strengthen and grow programs that support biliteracy. We have representation from across the state, including the Southern California, Central Valley, Bay Area and rural Northern California regions. Prior to this grant opportunity, each district was already implementing the language-intentional SEAL model as the foundation of services and programs for English learners. All are bound together by that common direction and a commitment to biliteracy.

The SEAL model is a comprehensive preschool through fifth-grade model that powerfully develops students’ language, literacy and academic skills. It is an intensive, research-based approach to language and literacy education that centralizes the needs of English learners while supporting all students. SEAL emphasizes language development through integrated standards-based thematic units and curriculum, building upon the Preschool Learning Foundations, the Common Core English Language Arts standards, California’s English Language Standards, the ELA/ELD Framework, Next Generation Science Standards and the new History-Social Science Framework. Using developmentally appropriate, research-based and effective instructional strategies, teachers support students to reach high levels of engagement in learning, academic mastery, language and literacy.

We are all poised to expand our bilingual/dual-language programs, adding new classes over the next five years. This grant opportunity is a critical part of each district’s bilingual/dual-language program growth plan and is helping them realize their vision for English learners and for multilingualism in their districts. As SEAL districts, they have already collectively committed to a common vision for transforming how they serve their ELs to ensure academic success. The BTPDP builds upon this common interest and is greatly impacting each district’s ability to address their bilingual teacher pipeline.

From the onset, we developed a steering committee to guide project collaboration and implementation. The committee, made up of leaders from each of the 10 districts, reviews progress toward identified outcomes, monitors implementation, advises project leaders and plans, and executes sustainability and dissemination strategies.

The main focus of the CDE grant is professional development that specifically targets credentialed teachers who are proficient in Spanish but do not have a bilingual authorization, as well as teachers who do have bilingual authorizations but are not teaching in bilingual classrooms. Teachers receive training and preparation to obtain their bilingual authorization, as well as professional development on the most current, research-based bilingual instructional pedagogy and teaching strategies. Those teachers who already have their bilingual authorization but have not been in a bilingual classroom setting for several years, or perhaps ever, are offered the opportunity to update and refresh their skills. In addition, the grant provides support and guidance for paraeducators who are interested in acquiring their bilingual teaching credentials. Both teachers and paraprofessionals complete an individualized learning plan that is used to tailor services and support to directly meet their individual needs. The grant also provides professional development for site and district administrators who currently, or will in the future, oversee a bilingual/dual-language program. There is also a component for high school students; we hope to inspire students to consider a career in bilingual education by targeting those students who are on track to receive the Seal of Biliteracy.

Every aspect of the professional development is designed both in process and content to improve the quality and effectiveness of the bilingual teacher workforce. We build upon the deep and comprehensive work each consortium district is already engaged in through SEAL implementation, and leverage the existing pool of teachers and administrators trained by SEAL. Loyola Marymount course offerings add the academic Spanish component to strengthen teachers’ language competence and confidence. Over the two years, teachers participating in BTPDP will have an opportunity to come together for four professional development convenings designed and led by SEAL. Some of the topics covered are the history of bilingual education, cross-language strategies, bilingual assessments, culturally relevant teaching practices and English Language Standards within the dual-language setting.

To date, the feedback we have received from teachers and district leaders has been overwhelmingly positive. As one teacher shared after a recent convening, “I got to connect with my roots/identity and learn about the benefits of bilingual education and the different models. It was helpful to talk about language status in schools.” Another teacher explained, “I feel motivated to share the value of using Spanish in my classroom. I want to make more people aware of how important it is to be bilingual.” Teachers have expressed excitement and passion about either returning to a bilingual setting, or for the first time fulfilling their lifelong dream of being a bilingual educator thanks to the grant.

Editor’s note: This article appears in the winter 2019 edition of California Schools magazine