Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI) introduced legislation to improve the instruction of English learners (ELs) in pre-kindergarten, elementary and secondary school programs. The Reaching English Learners Act provides funding for higher education programs that equip aspiring teachers with the skills to more effectively reach non-native English speaking students so they can achieve at high academic levels.
“Rhode Island is one of thirty-two states that report a shortage of teachers for English learners, and unfortunately, Rhode Island’s English learning student population is one of the lowest performing in the nation,” said Congressman Langevin. “This bill would address this crisis by providing resources to institutions of higher education to better train the teachers of tomorrow. As the population of English learners grows, we must ensure there are qualified educators prepared to meet the unique needs of these students and ensure their academic success.”
The academic achievement gap between English learners and non-English learners is shocking: on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress – also known as the Nation’s Report Card – 70 percent of eighth grade EL students scored “below basic” on reading proficiency, compared to 20 percent of non-ELs. The math scores were only marginally better, with 69 percent of ELs scoring “below basic” compared to 24 percent of non-ELs. Furthermore, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that only 65 percent of EL students graduate high school in four years, compared to the national four-year graduation rate of 83 percent.
“Rhode Island has had an EL teacher deficit since 1992 and therefore it is no surprise that Latino students in the state have the worst chance of succeeding in the nation,” said Gabriela Domenzain, Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University. “I applaud Congressman Langevin’s efforts to fix this shortage: our state’s success depends on it.”
“We are excited to endorse this bill because of the impact it will have on the communities we serve who are English language learners,” said Kathy Cloutier, Executive Director of Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island. “Encouraging strategic training for teachers of English language learners will undoubtedly improve educational environments for all students. We know from experience that solid learning foundations tailored to the needs of these students have lifelong impacts on their well-being, and we fully support policies that encourage this philosophy.”
The Reaching English Learners Act amends the Higher Education Act to create a grant program for institutions of higher education to partner with local educational agencies and develop educational programs to prepare future educators to meet the specific needs of English learners. It would ensure that teacher candidates are trained to address the social and emotional needs of English learning students, promote family involvement in EL education, and identify and address the needs of ELs with disabilities. Grant recipients would also be required to offer the necessary coursework to qualify for an EL teaching certification.
Langevin introduced the bill with his colleagues, Representatives Alma Adams (D-NC), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ).