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Higher Ed Bill and Teacher Prep for ELLs

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For the first time, a federal education law requires colleges and universities to do SOMETHING in regard to preparing teachers to work with English-language learners.

The bill, signed into law on Aug. 14 by President Bush, requires colleges and universities to set annual goals for increasing the number of teachers for instruction of ELLs and other areas where there are teacher shortages.

Here's what the new higher education law (search for the enrolled version of H.R. 4137 on Thomas) says under Title II, Section 206:

Each institution of higher education that conducts a traditional teacher preparation program (including programs that offer any ongoing professional development programs) or alternative routes to state certification or licensure program, and that enrolls students receiving federal assistance under this act, shall set annual quantifiable goals for increasing the number of prospective teachers trained in teacher shortage areas designated by the Secretary or by the state educational agency, including mathematics, science, special education, and instruction of limited English proficient students.

The law also requires that each institution provide an assurance that "general education teachers receive training in providing instruction to diverse populations, including children with disabilities, limited English proficient students, and children from low-income families."

The provision doesn't contain any penalties for institutions if they don't reach their goals, though they must report how they are meeting them to the public, according to an Aug. 13 article about the bill written by my colleagues Stephen Sawchuk and Alyson Klein for Education Week.

I confirmed with Jane E. West, the vice president for governmental relations at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, that for the first time the nation has a statutory requirement for colleges and universities to set goals related to teacher shortage areas, including ELLs. She said the recommendation for such a requirement was included in the report put out by the Commission on No Child Left Behind run by the Aspen Institute. I scanned the report and found that it names teachers of English-language learners as a shortage area. It also includes a recommendation on page 52 that colleges and universities should be required to set goals to increase the number of graduates qualified to teach in shortage areas, though it doesn't name teachers of ELLs at that same point in the report.

It's a softball provision in the new law but indicates, I think, that the needs of English-learners are getting more consideration by lawmakers than previously.

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H.R. 4137 also includes a provision in Title II to establish graduate fellowships for teacher educators in second language acquisition pedagogy and theory. Including bilingual education and ESL teacher preparation as high-priority areas in the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GANN) program is also a small, but significant, step by lawmakers to try and address the needs of English language learners in the classroom.

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