New bill would equip future teachers to better support English learners

Teacher shortages are common across the United States. However, there are several high-need areas where this shortage is most profound.

For most states, as their English Learner (ELs) population grows, it has become abundantly clear that they need more educators able to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) or at a minimum, have the skills necessary to support the nearly 4.6 million English Learners in our classrooms.

Though ELs face many barriers to success, one glaring issue is a lack of access to high-quality, well-trained teachers. Gone are the days of ELs being taught in separate classrooms where their instruction was focused on language acquisition.

Instead, ELs are being taught in general education classrooms where they can make both language and academic progress, as they should be. Most teachers will encounter an EL in their classrooms at some point in their careers and must be prepared to support them.


In the United States, nearly 10% of public school students are ELs and the numbers are only expected to grow. However, ELs consistently underperform compared to their non-EL peers.

On the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress, only 31% of fourth grade ELs performed at the Basic Level or above in reading, compared to 72% of non-ELs.

In addition, graduation rates for ELs consistently lag behind their non-EL peers. That’s why there is a growing need for their teachers to be equipped with the tools and skills to effectively support their learning.


Earlier this month, Representatives Jim Langevin (RI), Alma Adams (NC), Adriano Espaillat (NY), and Raúl Grijalva (AZ) introduced legislation to improve the instruction of ELs. The Reaching English Learners Act provides funding for higher education programs designed to equip future teachers with specialized knowledge and skills to better support ELs in their classrooms.

Not only would participants acquire tools to better serve ELs, but they would also take the necessary coursework to obtain an initial ESL license or endorsement based on their state standards. Although many of the teachers may end up in general education classrooms, rather than working in the ESL specialty, the additional skills and understanding would benefit their future students and help lessen the ESL teacher shortage.

“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.” – Rep. Langevin


Research shows that students with teachers prepared to work with EL students tend to perform better. For example, in New York City, ELs who had teachers with ESL certifications performed better in mathematics than ELs with untrained teachers.

UnidosUS recognizes that this bill ensures training in this area. By making clear the rigorous requirements for certification, more of tomorrow’s teachers will be uniquely prepared to provide our children the foundation they need for continued academic success.

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