Expanding Teacher Competencies to Support Young Dual Language Learners

Dec 19, 2012

By Stephanie Schmit and Emily Firgens

In 2011, 29 percent of Head Start children spoke a language other than English at home. Additionally, an Urban Institute report shows that one in seven young children under the age of 6 in the United States has at least one parent who is limited English proficient (LEP), and more than one in four young children have a parent who speaks a language other than English. These statistics are just a small representation of the changing young child population and the need for states to create policies and pursue activities that support limited-English proficient families and child care providers.

 In an effort to ensure that all early care and education providers are prepared to meet the needs of children, the Alliance for A Better Community in collaboration with National Council of La Raza (NCLR) published the Dual Language Learner Teacher Competencies (DLLTC) Report, which provides extensive information on the need for, development of, and implementation of teacher competencies to support young dual language learners (DLLs). The report highlights the need across the country, and in California specifically, for a better prepared and educated early childhood education (ECE) workforce to care for and teach the large population of young DLLs. In California, 36 percent of children enrolled in kindergarten were classified as English Language Learners during the 2009-2010 school year, however very few ECE providers have had training in cultural and linguistic competency.

The report recommends that at the state level work can be done to: strengthen the ECE workforce and increase the number of teachers who receive training in dual language acquisition and socio-emotional development of DLLs; include indicators in quality rating improvement systems that address linguistic and socio-emotional development of DLLs; create a streamlined and centralized data system of the ECE workforce that includes information about their knowledge and experience with DLLs; and supplement efforts to integrate DLLTC into higher education coursework. At the local level, the report recommends expanding professional development and technical assistance efforts to integrate DLLTC and providing incentives to recruit bilingual early educators and administrators.

Requiring training for the early childhood workforce to ensure that dual language learners are properly supported and understood is necessary. However, we must also ensure that the teachers have proper financial support throughout the process.  To truly improve the professional development of the workforce, states will want to ensure that investments in education and training are supported by compensation initiatives so higher educated providers stay in early care and education.

Census estimates show us that the young child population is shifting, ushering in a new "majority-minority" population. This shift shows no sign of slowing down, and policymakers must adopt solutions that include a focus on racial, ethnic, and linguistic minority groups. Federal and state policies can have disproportionate impacts on poor and minority communities. In early childhood, this means implementing policies that promote culturally and linguistically responsive practices, appropriate teaching and assessment strategies for children whose home language is not English, and ensuring that all early care and education providers are prepared to meet the needs of all children.



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