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Preschool programs face challenge of preparing staff to teach English learners


December 11, 2015
English Language LearnersOutcomesWorkforce
Sarah Tully
EdSource

About half of the children in the two largest public preschool programs in California – Head Start and the California State Preschool Program – speak a language other than English at home, but there is a good chance they will not be in classrooms with teachers and teacher assistants who are bilingual or trained specifically in instructing English learners.

This reality has broad implications for the ability of California’s public education system to promote successful outcomes for students who are learning English. Two-thirds of English learners did not meet the standards on the Smarter Balanced tests aligned with the Common Core standards, which were administered last spring for the first time. The results underscored the importance of early education programs in getting younger children who are not proficient in English better prepared before they get to kindergarten.

Early education experts say children who are English learners would be better prepared if they were taught in their native languages while also learning English – a goal included in the state’s preschool standards. But Head Start and the California State Preschool Program – which support tens of thousands of students across the state – don’t require teachers to be bilingual, making it more difficult to attain that goal. Combined, those two programs serve about a quarter of the state’s 4-year-olds.

Teachers’ qualifications, including the language skills they bring with them and the training they have received to help children learn English, are crucial for preparing English learners for kindergarten so they can keep pace with their English-only peers, said Lea Austin, a researcher with the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at UC Berkeley.