Few Illinois teachers are trained to educate English-language learners and only a small number are interested in obtaining the credentials to work with these children, a study has found.
An estimated 6 percent of the early education teachers have either bilingual or English as a Second Language training. The ratio of ESL students to credentialed ESL teachers in predominantly Latino schools was 50 to 1, a figure significantly higher than the state's education board's recommended 10-to-1 ratio for optimal learning for limited-English youngsters.
Latino children often start kindergarten six months behind other children academically and with limited English-language skills, making it challenging for them to close the achievement gap.
The Latino population growth in Illinois has been felt in the state's public schools. One in four children is Latino, and the majority (80 percent) of the English-limited children speak Spanish.
From 2000 to 2010, the Latino population in the state grew by 33 percent, from 1.5 million to 2 million, while the non-Latino population declined slightly by 0.8 percent, according to U.S. census data. Latinos currently make up 16.2 percent of the state's population. The Asian population, now at 4.8 percent, grew at an even higher rate of 38 percent during that decade.
In 2008, Illinois became the first state to require state-funded pre-K services to English-language learners to ensure that children develop critical language skills. Under this initiative, kindergarten teachers must have bilingual and ESL credentials by July 2014, noted the authors of the survey by the Latino Policy Forum and the University of California (Berkeley).
But some observers question whether early childhood programs can meet the state's deadline.
"It's pretty clear that we won't have enough teachers in the next 15 months, so it is an issue that needs to be addressed," said Sylvia Puente, the executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, in an Education Week story.