LAUSD reports a lack of bilingual teachers for growing number of ESL and dual-language immersion students

By Gary Walker

Despite thriving dual-language immersion programs in the Los Angeles Unified School District, including two on the Westside, the district has a shortage of bilingual teachers.

LAUSD’s 102,486 English as a second language (ESL) students make up about 20.5% of all students. Many ESL students are enrolled in dual-language immersion programs like those at Broadway Elementary School in Venice and Grand View Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista. In LAUSD’s Local District West, which includes Westside schools, there are 317 certified bilingual teachers for 13,058 ESL students, according to the district.

The success of these programs and others like them has been cited by district officials as a prime reason for increasing enrollment at the abovementioned schools. And, with an increase in students the need for bilingual teachers has risen in proportion to LAUSD’s increasingly bilingual and language-immersion curriculum.

At Broadway’s popular Mandarin Chinese K-5 Immersion program, Principal Susan Wang has complained about not having enough qualified teachers.

“Highly qualified teacher candidates for the Mandarin immersion program are hard to come by. We were really lucky to find two wonderful, dedicated teachers this year, but we will need more candidates for future years. As Mandarin becomes more and more in demand, we will need more teachers who are qualified to implement strong programs,” wrote Wang, who did not return calls or emails, in an essay for The Mandarin Institute.

“At this time we’ve been able to keep up with the need, so we’re in good shape,” said Lydia Acosta Stephens, who heads LAUSD’s Multilingual and Multicultural Education Department.

“We have many dormant bilingual teachers who may not be using their dual-language skills in a dual-language program right now.”

During a recent education summit at Loyola Marymount University, which offers a degree in bilingual  education, experts compared notes on the declining  number of teachers and how that could impact existing dual-language and bilingual programs.

Politics have had a direct hand in creating the dearth of bilingual educators. Proposition 227, also known as the English Language in Public Schools Statute, was a 1998 state ballot initiative that essentially eliminated bilingual education, leading to fewer teachers entering the profession and creating a shortage of bilingual teachers, according to LMU scholars.

“The need is very high and it’s going to be hard to meet it,” said LMU Director of Bilingual Education Liza Moritz Mastrippolito.

As an example of the current political landscape, LMU was expecting 15 Mandarin-speaking student teachers to join their program this year, but due to the Trump administration’s trade wars with China, the students were unable to get visas to come to California.

Magaly Lavadenz, executive director of the Center for Equity for English Learners at LMU’s School of Education, said Loyola Marymount has many former students teaching in LAUSD classrooms. She thinks that even among well-meaning parents the question of gentrification can cause some to question the effectiveness of language immersion.

“In communities like Mar Vista which have seen a transition of their community population that has more affluent people who see and understand the value of bilingualism as both a cognitive asset as well as  an economic asset, a lot of our immigrant parents still need to understand  that their children will learn English in a bilingual program. We don’t want to privilege one group over the other,” she said.

Prop. 58, approved by voters in November 2016, repealed Prop. 227, energizing teachers who want to use their bilingual skills, said Acosta Stephens.

“I get a sense that teachers are getting excited about the opportunity to use their bilingual skills again,” she said.