Twenty-five years into this century, it’s clear that much of what was labeled “twenty-first-century learning”—various education technologies, a range of ill-defined academic skills, etc.—didn’t substantively shift how American public education operates. There have been movements for “flipping classrooms” and pursuing “deeper learning,” and a wide-ranging and controversial effort to raise academic standards to help students “be successful for college and careers in the 21st century.”1 But twenty-first-century public schools, by and large, still largely function as they did in the twentieth.

Bilingual education is an exception to this rule. The last two decades included significant growth in American bilingual and—more recently—dual-language schools. The turn of the century saw states enacting English-only mandates and effective bans on bilingual education. But now, that tide is turning. In the past several years, California and Massachusetts overturned their longstanding English-only mandates.2 Roughly a decade ago, the Center for Applied Linguistics amassed databases showing roughly 1,300 U.S. dual-language immersion (DLI) programs. In the twelve years since California adopted its Seal of Biliteracy to recognize high school graduates proficient in multiple languages, another forty-eight states have developed similar programs.3 By 2023, counted 4,894 DLI programs.4

There’s still plenty of room to grow. In 2019–20, states reported over 440,000 English learners (ELs) enrolled in bilingual education programs and nearly 405,000 ELs enrolled in DLI schools. Taken together, this means that just 16.5 percent of American ELs are in classrooms that support their emerging bilingualism. The other 83.5 percent are enrolled in some version of an English as a Second Language program.5

This is insufficient. The ELs population has grown dramatically in recent years: one in ten U.S. students is formally classified as an EL, and one in five U.S. children speaks a non-English language at home. A large and still-growing field of research indicates that bilingual education models are the best way to help ELs develop their home languages, learn English, and succeed academically. What’s more, within the group of existing bilingual education models, the most effective versions appear to be linguistically integrated two-way DLI schools—bilingual classrooms that enroll roughly equal shares of native speakers of the two languages of instruction.6 Finally, some research suggests that young Hispanic students—who disproportionately overlap with the EL student group—may gain unique academic benefits from having exposure to Hispanic teachers.7

A large and still-growing field of research indicates that bilingual education models are the best way to help ELs develop their home languages, learn English, and succeed academically.

So: why aren’t local education leaders expanding the number of dual-language and bilingual classrooms—and schools—in their communities? The primary limiting variable is teacher supply. As a recent Century Foundation report put it:

Just one in eight American teachers speaks a non-English language at home.8 Of that roughly 12 percent sliver of teachers who are linguistically diverse, many are not trained or credentialed to provide the academic instruction in non-English languages—the central offering of DLI programs. Predictably, then, many states experience persistent shortages of bilingual teachers, and DLI administrators around the country regularly identify the limited supply of bilingual educators as the key obstacle to growing their programs.9

Fortunately, the country’s dire need for more bilingual teachers aligns neatly with a corresponding labor market shift. American young adults are more diverse now than in prior generations, and children of immigrants are projected to constitute all of the growth in the U.S. labor market in the coming decades.10 These new workers have enormous potential rooted in their linguistic, ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity. While U.S. public school teachers undoubtedly deserve better compensation than they currently receive, teaching roles generally offer most candidates the prospect of reasonably well-paying, middle-class careers.

Taken together, these trends offer a straightforward path to a self-perpetuating feedback loop for dual-language and bilingual education. With enough bilingual educators, the growing number of DLI programs will produce more fully bilingual and biliterate graduates. Greater numbers of these graduates will be authentically prepared to deliver academic instruction in both English and non-English languages, which will facilitate the opening of more DLI programs. Best of all, this dynamic could address a host of educational and social challenges, improving ELs’ access to the multilingual DLI programs that serve them best while also smoothing access for linguistically diverse young adults to well-paying careers in public education.

But this fortuitous alignment won’t inevitably resolve the country’s bilingual teacher shortage. This feedback loop can only begin with enough bilingual educators. Meanwhile, the American teacher training, credentialing, and licensure systems are largely designed to prepare monolingual, English-dominant educators. There is significant evidence that the country’s teacher training infrastructure keeps linguistically, culturally, ethnically, and racially diverse teacher candidates from ever reaching the front of U.S. classrooms.

Table 1


Race/Ethnicity U.S. Teachers U.S. Students
White 79.9% 45.2%
Black 6.1% 14.9%
Hispanic 9.4% 28.4%
Asian 2.4% 5.4%
Pacific Islander 0.2% 0.4%
American Indian/Alaskan Native 0.4% 0.9%
Two or More Races 1.6% 4.7%
Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School Teacher Data File,” 2020–21; and Common Core of Data (CCD), “State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary and Secondary Education,” 2020–21, tables 203.65 and 209.22.

Inequities in U.S. undergraduate institutions offer a first choke point for potential bilingual teachers. Studies exploring Latino students’ undergraduate experiences often identify higher education’s monolingual English-only structures and family communications as a key barrier to enrollment and completion.11 Research indicates that linguistically diverse students, first-generation college students, and/or first-generation immigrant families and their children may face challenges in navigating enrollment and—in particular—financial aid systems.12

As students become teacher candidates, they encounter a second set of structural obstacles. First-generation college students and/or first-generation immigrants or children of immigrants may struggle to balance their financial needs with the requirements of their training programs. For instance, teacher training programs often require teacher candidates to continue paying tuition for the privilege of working roughly full-time “clinical practice” hours as unpaid student teachers. This can be difficult for teacher candidates who work part- or full-time in paying jobs in addition to pursuing their teacher training coursework.13 Indeed, to address this structural inequity, states like Michigan, Colorado, and Maryland are providing funds to student teachers who might otherwise find their required clinical practice requirement financially burdensome.14

Furthermore, diverse teacher candidates who successfully navigate all of the foregoing barriers generally need to take—and pass—their teacher licensure exams. There is significant evidence that these tests constrict the country’s bilingual teacher training pipelines. For native Spanish-speaking teacher candidates, these monolingual, English-only tests can be challenging hurdles—as well as inappropriate, unreliable measures of skills and knowledge.15 After all, the bilingual teacher candidates needed to grow access to DLI programs are predominantly native Spanish-speakers (as well as native speakers of other, non-English languages) who will conduct the bulk of their work in that language, not in English. And indeed, research finds lower pass rates for Hispanic teacher candidates on commonly used teacher licensure tasks such as the edTPA or Praxis tests.16

Additionally, many bilingual teacher candidates face a lengthy pipeline to become bilingual teachers. First-generation college students who come from linguistically diverse backgrounds often take longer to complete their degrees compared to their peers. These students usually attend minimally selective and open admissions universities where graduation rates are lower.17 They are also more likely to attend two-year colleges and universities.18 As a result, they must transfer to another school to obtain a bachelor’s degree, a requirement for licensure in most states. For those who successfully complete their Associate degree and then transfer to receive their Bachelor’s degree, the process typically takes approximately three years19 instead of two.

With these compounding, systemic barriers in place, it’s no wonder that the United States has such persistent bilingual teacher shortages—and that those shortages are limiting the growth of popular, equitable DLI programs.

With these compounding, systemic barriers in place, it’s no wonder that the United States has such persistent bilingual teacher shortages—and that those shortages are limiting the growth of popular, equitable DLI programs. Fortunately, communities around the country are experimenting with reforms to overcome these obstacles. This report explores three distinct efforts: California’s Mini Corps and Future Educator Support programs; Texas’ Region 8 Education Service Center’s new paraprofessional pathways initiative; and Gwinnett County, Georgia’s partnerships with local teacher training programs.

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Community Profiles

These three communities bear little resemblance to one another, but they face common challenges in building effective teacher preparation pathways for linguistically and culturally diverse teacher candidates.


California has long led the nation in linguistic diversity. More than 20 percent of American ELs are enrolled in the state’s schools, for a total of 1.1 million California ELs in 2019.20 And that only captures part of the state’s language story—as of 2022, roughly 40 percent of California students spoke a non-English language at home.21

But the state also has a complicated relationship with these rich linguistic—and cultural—assets. In 1998, California voters approved Proposition 227, a ballot initiative to eliminate bilingual instruction for English Learners in favor of English-only instruction.

By 2016, it was clear that California’s English-only wager had not delivered significantly improved outcomes for the state’s ELs. By then, California legislators were arguing that the state should develop the full range of its ample linguistic and cultural resources to better compete in an increasingly global workforce. This new framing implied a shift in the conversation towards reframing bilingual education as suitable for all students, English-dominant and English-learning alike.22 So legislators proposed—and voters approved—Proposition 58, a proposal permitting local authorities to once again offer bilingual education to both ELs and non-ELs.23

Unfortunately, the lingering effects of the eighteen years of Prop 227 still constrain California’s supply of bilingual teachers and limit expansion of its bilingual and dual-language programs. During that time, the state’s monolingual approach to K–12 education produced fewer genuinely bilingual graduates. Furthermore, the absence of bilingual K–12 classrooms lessened demand for trained bilingual teachers, which meant that most California bilingual teacher training programs wound down. The increase in demand for bilingual instruction since 2016 has not yet produced a robust increase in bilingual teacher supply.

Some of California’s efforts to address those gaps are centered in Butte County, a small, rural county about an hour’s drive north of Sacramento. The Butte County Office of Education runs a statewide program called Mini Corps, which places bilingual college students interested in teaching careers into classrooms as tutors, predominantly serving linguistically and culturally diverse migrant children. In recent years, Butte County has also used partnerships with Feather River College and San Diego State University to make it easier for bilingual community members and career changers to become fully licensed bilingual teachers.24

Texas, Region 8 Education Service Center (ESC)

Texas’ Region 8 Education Service Center is one of the state’s twenty ESCs. It provides technical assistance and additional support to forty-six school districts, which together serve 55,690 students in Texas’ northeast corner.25 Some of those districts boast particularly high levels of linguistic diversity; for instance, nearly half of Mount Pleasant Independent School District’s 5,139 students are currently ELs (a number that does not include students who were once ELs and have since reached English-language proficiency).26

Fifty years after launching a statewide bilingual education mandate, Texas runs both the largest bilingual program and the largest dual-language program of any U.S. state.27 As ESC 8 districts try to support their EL students’ emerging bilingual abilities—and meet their obligations under the state’s bilingual education mandate—many are having a hard time finding the teachers. “Right now, Texas has a huge teacher shortage,” says Leonard Beles, the center’s director of state and federal programs. “But I tell my friends that we’ve always had a bilingual teacher shortage.”28

Table 2


African-American 19%
White 52%
Hispanic 23%
American Indian 1%
Pacific Islander 0%
Two or more races 5%
Asian 1%
English Learners 12%
Economically Disadvantaged 67%
Source: Enrollment in Texas Public Schools, Division of Research and Analysis, Office of Operations, Texas Education Agency, June 2022, 47 and 52,; “2021-22 STAAR Performance (TAPR), Region 08: Mt. Pleasant,” Texas Education Agency, 2022, 24–5,
Table 3
African-American 11%
White 16%
Hispanic 71%
American Indian 0%
Pacific Islander 0%
Two or more races 2%
Asian 1%
English Learners 49%
Economically Disadvantaged 81%
Source: “2021-22 Student Information (TAPR) Mount Pleasant ISD (225902) – Titus County,” Texas Education Agency, 2022, 27,

Several years ago, staff at Region 8 were discussing their public education career trajectories, and they realized that many of them began as paraprofessionals before becoming teachers, then working their way up to administrative work. This shared experience launched internal discussions about the common hurdles they faced—and brainstorming about how the ESC might help more linguistically and culturally diverse paraprofessionals surmount those obstacles. Soon, Region 8 was hosting meetings connecting teacher candidates with local teacher training programs and with some online programs, like Texas A&M–Commerce’s Pride Pathways program.29

Gwinnett County, Georgia

Gwinnett County sits just northeast of Atlanta; its sprawling suburban and exurban school district is the country’s thirteenth-largest. Its 2019 enrollment—180,589 students—was 3.5 times the size of Boston Public Schools.30 But Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) isn’t just large. It’s also growing—up nearly 25,000 students since 2008.31 This growth includes increasing linguistic diversity: the district enrolls 6,000 more ELs now than it did in 2008.32

This burgeoning linguistic diversity produced instructional changes at GCPS. The district launched a DLI program on several campuses in 2014. In the subsequent decade, it has grown to encompass ten elementary schools, six middle schools, and three high schools covering Spanish, Korean, and French immersion in 2023.33

Like many DLI programs around the country, GCPS is concerned about its pipelines for training and hiring bilingual teachers. Unlike many peer districts, however, GCPS does not rely on foreign educators with three-to-five-year J-1 guest teacher visas. This heightens the stakes of recruiting, supporting, and retaining bilingual teachers locally, particularly given the significant growth in GCPS dual-language classrooms in recent years. In response, GCPS has built partnerships linking the education track of its career and technical education programs to the education departments at Georgia Gwinnett College and Georgia State University.34

Barriers That Keep Young Bilingual Adults from Teaching

While these communities vary widely in location, demographics, and politics, education leaders in each place discovered that their potential bilingual teacher candidates faced similar challenges. Whether they live in Georgia, California, Texas, or elsewhere; and whether they are recent high school graduates, student teachers, early career paraprofessionals, or non-instructional school staff, young bilingual adults face some common structural barriers in becoming licensed bilingual teachers.

These include the following:

  • Financial Pressures: Teacher training and credentialing can be expensive, and many young bilingual adults struggle to afford traditional pathways to the classroom.
  • Logistical Pressures: For financial and other reasons, many young bilingual adults may struggle to follow the standard sequencing through different systems governing their communities’ and states’ teacher training pipelines.
  • Linguistic Pressures: U.S. teacher training programs are largely designed for monolingual, English-dominant teachers completing English-only postsecondary coursework in order to teach in English.

Financial Pressures

Leonard Beles began his educational career as a paraprofessional, an educator supporting the work of general education lead teachers, without having yet finished his undergraduate studies. “I’m a first-generation college attendee myself,” he says. “I know what it’s like. It’s easy to just stop going.” When Beles decided he wanted to finish his bachelor’s degree, he went to the school district’s administration and asked for flexibility on two workdays to be able to take classes. “But I can’t take a pay cut,” he explained to them, “because I’m only getting paid $500 a month.” District leadership agreed to let him return to school without pay reductions. So Beles re-enrolled—but there had been turnover at the top. The new district leadership reversed course and pulled back the flexibility he’d been offered. Beles decided he had to find a way to make it work anyway: “You know, I was already invested enough—I’d already done all the work [to restart school].”35

Years later, Beles runs State and Federal Programs at ESC 8, but financial pressures still bedevil the region’s bilingual teacher pipelines. “If you’re a paraprofessional, generally speaking, you can’t afford to go to college [on that] very low pay,” says Beles. “And many of our paraprofessionals have families already, so it’s very challenging for them to go back to school.” The service center sent out a survey to paraprofessionals in the region’s various school districts several years ago: the 300 respondents identified time and money as the two primary obstacles preventing them from returning to school to pursue a classroom teaching career.36

It’s simple and unavoidable: any effort to grow the U.S. bilingual teacher workforce must be adequately resourced.

As noted above, teacher licenses are proxy credentials for ensuring instructional quality, and they sit atop a series of prerequisite credentials. By the time a young adult becomes a teacher, they have customarily passed a set of state licensure exams and completed their undergraduate studies. In some cases, they will also need to take some additional state-required teacher certification coursework that is supplemental to those courses required for their undergraduate degree. Indeed, federal data show that just 2.7 percent of K–12 teachers are working with less than a bachelor’s degree. They also show that nearly 60 percent of teachers have also completed at least one graduate degree.37

Each of these steps carries high financial costs for aspiring teachers. U.S. Department of Education data indicate that the average annual costs of tuition, fees, room, board, books, and supplies for undergraduate degrees come out to between $25,000 and $36,000—depending on the particulars of each institution and on students’ living arrangements.38 Master’s degrees in education are also expensive. As of 2015–16, graduates of these master’s programs averaged nearly $60,000 in student loan debt.39 While these additional graduate degrees may help raise teachers’ salaries in their school districts’ pay scales, this is a significant financial burden for most young adults to assume at the outset of their careers.

In other words, training to become a teacher in the United States can present significant financial pressures for young adults. Various forms of financial aid can reduce some of these costs, but not all of those are available for part-time students or students who may need to pursue higher education in less standard, traditional ways while they are working.

The final steps of the licensure process can also become costly. Teacher licensure exams vary in cost. Some states require teacher candidates to pass multiple tests with registration fees of several hundred dollars per test; if a teacher needs to retake a test several times, this last step before reaching the classroom can become a daunting hurdle.40

Teacher Spotlight


Laura del Rosario spent eight years as a teacher in her native Dominican Republic before marrying and moving to Georgia. Upon arriving, she began taking English classes and started a job working with children through her church. One of her English teachers helped her connect with GCPS to become a substitute teacher—and she soon found a long-term role when a teacher went out on leave for several months.


Leaders at the school immediately recognized del Rosario’s potential, but a full-time, permanent teaching position would require her to pass several of the GACE, the Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators. “It was a bit difficult,” she says, in Spanish. “My first language is Spanish. So when I took the test, I had to look at each thing three times. First, I’d read it in English, then I’d translate it in my head, and then I’d reread it in Spanish.” With these headwinds, it took del Rosario several tries to pass both the math and writing tests—for a total cost of roughly $1,000 in fees. After seven years, she was finally a Gwinnett County Public Schools DLI teacher.41

These structural pressures can be uniquely challenging for young bilingual adults, who, because they are disproportionately likely to come from lower-income families, are likely to lack the financial resources to follow traditional teacher training pathways. American Community Survey data from 2021 suggest that the poverty rate for children in families who speak only Spanish at home was nearly twice the poverty rate for children in families who speak only English at home. What’s more, across the United States, linguistic diversity is too often correlated with structural biases that limit young bilingual adults’ opportunities. Local housing and school assignment policies appear to make it disproportionately likely that ELs attend economically segregated, high-poverty schools.42

Table 4


School-Aged Children

18 years old or older

Speak only English at home 14.5% 10.6%
Speak only Spanish at home 26.1% 15.3%
Speak non-English language at home 23.6% 11.4%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2017-2021 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Table ID: B16009,
Table 5


15–24 year olds 18–24 year olds
Speak only English at home 47.0% 51.2%
Speak only Spanish at home 60.9% 58.8%
Speak non-English language at home 58.4% 57.8%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2017-2021 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates,

When thinking through the potential costs of easing these financial pressures, Beles says it’s important to remember that non-traditional teacher candidates like paraprofessionals “bring a lot to the table.” They are more likely to be linguistically diverse than the K–12 teaching force, and usually have strong ties to the communities where they work. Since they have intimate knowledge of the local school system, he adds, they’re less likely than other potential teachers to leave after their first year in the classroom. What’s more, the ESC’s survey found that a large number of the paraprofessional respondents had already completed part of their undergraduate degrees.43

So ESC 8 is hosting a variety of initiatives to close the financial gaps that prevent bilingual paraprofessionals from becoming bilingual K–12 teachers. The service center itself doesn’t have financial resources to use for these purposes, but it has used its convening power to help school districts and regional institutions of higher education understand paraprofessionals’ ambitions—and tailor their systems to make those ambitions realizable. After a series of meetings with local superintendents, colleges, and universities, ESC staff put together a conference for paraprofessionals to learn about the full range of teacher training options on offer.

One of the region’s districts, Mount Pleasant ISD, offered scholarships for paraprofessionals enrolling in Texas A&M University-Commerce’s Pride Pathway, an online degree and teacher certification program that costs roughly $700 per semester. Critically, the program allows paraprofessionals to bypass elements of traditional teacher training systems, counting their daily classroom work through their jobs as student teaching experience. This sort of creative flexibility makes the pathway more efficient, saving these teacher candidates (and Mount Pleasant ISD) both time and money.44

Financial pressures constrain linguistically and culturally diverse teacher pipelines in California as well.

The Butte County Future Educator Support (FES) program launched in 2017; it recruits teacher candidates with at least sixty college credits to enroll for a degree and bilingual teaching certificate through their partnerships with local universities. Students complete these degree programs online in one to two years, depending on how many credits they have coming in.

The program is designed to ease financial pressures. Butte County and partner colleges work together to offer online educational courses at almost no cost. Candidates who qualify for FAFSA will have their tuition fees waived; if not, the FES program will waive tuition fees through grants as much as possible. The funds are beneficial for teachers already struggling with financial distress. For example, Carolina Gabriel struggled with loans in undergrad. Being a first-generation college student, it surprised her that a loan she took out for school had a 12 percent interest rate, and each month she paid, the amount she owed would increase. So when Butte County offered her grants, rather than loans, it was a breath of fresh air.

Table 6


Golden State Teacher Grant $20,000 to students currently enrolled in a professional preparation program approved by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) and working towards earning their preliminary teaching or pupil personnel services credential.
Classified Employee Grant $3,500 annually in reimbursements to assist with educational expenses such as tuition, fees, books, and examination costs.
Teaching Bilingual Pathways Grant (offered by SDSU) $2,000-$2,800 one-time stipend for in-service/pre-service teachers for the duration of the program (one year)

Students in the Butte County FES program may still have to take out loans, but their costs are still far more manageable when compared to re-enrolling in college individually or attending a private college. Many candidates also have to switch from full-time to part-time employees at their day job to complete student teaching; the money provided through FES helps keep candidates afloat during these trying times.

The FES program is made possible by grants at the state and local levels that go directly to candidates’ education costs. Bilingual teacher pipelines must advocate for funding directly reaching the candidates those resources are intended to serve.

Student Spotlight


Andrea Ponce Tovar came to the United States in fifth grade, where she was discouraged from speaking Spanish at school. But by the time she was graduating from GCPS’s Discovery High School, district leader Dr. Jon Valentine was encouraging her and other students taking education classes in GCPS’s career and technical education track to consider careers teaching in Gwinnett County’s DLI programs. She participated in some early childhood education coursework as part of that program, where she says that she was strictly prohibited from speaking to Spanish-speaking EL students in Spanish.


Now, as she enters her student teaching year at Georgia Gwinnett College, she’s hoping to land a DLI placement using both of her languages. “College has not been too complicated,” she emails. “Money has been the part where I have been struggling the most. My parents and siblings live in Mexico…so all my school and personal expenses have had to come out of my pocket and the financial aid I get.”45

Amada Contreras enrolled at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) in 2019 (see text box about her experiences below), one year after graduating from high school. Like many of her classmates, she worked in order to pay tuition—in child care and the restaurant industry—but as she progressed towards becoming an education major, the COVID-19 pandemic stopped her career in its tracks. “I took a break,” she said. “I couldn’t afford to go to school, because I wasn’t working and my job was shut down.” The finances of pursuing her degree even forced Contreras to pause her studies for a year during the height of the pandemic.46

Bilingual teacher candidates in Gwinnett County—and across the state of Georgia—can make use of the full range of federal financial aid programs, as well as Georgia-specific funds like the Hope Scholarship.47 But Andrea Ponce Tovar, Contreras, and many of their classmates report significant financial challenges pursuing their teaching credentials.

Financial pressures can be most acute during the student teaching year, when aspiring teachers generally pay tuition and fees to their teacher training program even as they do unpaid “clinical practice” in schools.

GCPS Dual Language Immersion and World Languages Coordinator Dr. Virin Vedder says that financial pressures can be most acute during the student teaching year, when aspiring teachers generally pay tuition and fees to their teacher training program even as they do unpaid “clinical practice” in schools.48 This makes it difficult for many bilingual teacher candidates to complete their training. Ironically, this late, unpaid hurdle in their training can ultimately prevent them from reaching the well-paying teaching salaries they’ve worked for all along. Indeed, GCPS has recently announced $4,000 signing bonuses for credentialed bilingual teachers.49

To help address these issues, GGC pursued—and was awarded—a $3.7 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Quality Partnership program.50 The grant will give some student teachers paid “residencies” along with additional coaching and support during their clinical practice year. In turn, GGC professors committed to recruiting students with strong fluency in non-English languages of instruction (particularly Spanish) and the coursework for English as a Second Language endorsements on their teaching credentials.51

In addition, GCPS and GGC run a fellowship program, where GGC teacher candidates serve as lead teachers for a classroom under the supervision of a fully-credentialed mentor teacher who supports them and other fellows throughout the year.52 In this program, student teachers are paid as if they were working as GCPS paraprofessionals. This program is supported through federal funding through Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.53

The details may vary by community, but the general rule is clear: in Texas, California, and Georgia, financial pressures are a significant factor constraining young bilingual adults’ pathways into teaching.

Logistical Pressures

As critical as finances can be in determining whether young bilingual adults are able to pursue careers in teaching, recall that money was just one of the top two obstacles that paraprofessionals in Texas’ ESC 8 said prevented them from finishing their teacher training. The other major obstacle? Time.

Traditional teacher training programs are rarely designed with sufficient flexibility and support to 1) help young bilingual adults find their way to teacher licensure and 2) recognize the strengths that young bilingual adults may bring to their studies and future careers.

When Beles was a paraprofessional trying to return to school to become a teacher, he had a key advantage. “I wasn’t married at the time,” he says. “But if I were married and had a family, I couldn’t have done it.” Many of the region’s current paraprofessionals are married, he says, which makes it particularly difficult for them to return to undergraduate institutions and to navigate the teacher licensure system. These full-time paraprofessional educators don’t often have time during the day to take classes towards their bachelor’s degree—but many are equally busy with family responsibilities or additional jobs in the evenings.54

Full-time paraprofessional educators don’t often have time during the day to take classes towards their bachelor’s degree—but many are equally busy with family responsibilities or additional jobs in the evenings.

Student Spotlight


Amada Contreras moved from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico when she was 8 years old. When she was 12, she moved to Pennsylvania, and was classified as an English learner. “I was shoved into an [English-only] program,” she says, “I wasn’t given instructions. There was no curriculum. I was put into this classroom isolated from other kids, put into a classroom only with the kids that spoke my language. The teacher who was supposed to be my ESL teacher didn’t know any Spanish, so she couldn’t communicate with me.”


Contreras’ voice rises as she describes the challenges. “So I was given work and work and more work, but I was deprived of my main language because it was all in English. I would go home frustrated because I didn’t understand a single thing that the teachers were saying to me. I would walk around with a [Spanish–English] dictionary…so that if I needed to say something to a teacher, I would write it down and then translate it with the dictionary.” Then, in her second year of learning English, her school told her family that she would no longer be in the English as a Second Language programs because there weren’t sufficient funds to support all of the school’s EL students. “So I was basically left on my own, learning English as it came,” she sighs.


Over time, Contreras made progress and things at school improved. As she neared the end of high school, her teachers noticed her ability to explain new concepts to classmates and suggested that she considered teaching. Given her own educational experiences, Contreras was skeptical—she took a year off after graduating from high school to figure out what she wanted to do next. But through child care experience she acquired as part of her church’s children’s ministry, work at a daycare, and two years in an afterschool education program, she realized that her teachers had a point: “I loved just sitting down with kids and teaching them things that they didn’t grasp when they were in school—especially students that are still learning English. So I declared my major as Education and I’ve loved every minute of it since.”55


These sorts of challenges are clearly interwoven with financial pressures: teacher candidates with more money can often use their resources to save time and/or find the most efficient programs for their unique situations.

But many logistical pressures can be ameliorated with programmatic flexibility. Amada Contreras took a required math test three times to gain entry to GGC’s teacher training program. These tests—which were uniquely ill-suited for gauging bilingual teacher candidates’ skills—were later abandoned as part of an effort to make the program more accessible. Ciara Astacio noted that some of her prerequisite courses felt repetitive of classes that she’d already passed in high school—and others, like swimming and jogging, felt unnecessary for her career. “I think maybe if they just gave us exactly what we needed, I could have been done already,” she says.56

There are straightforward ways to streamline the teacher training process for potential bilingual teachers. For instance, GGC offers an embedded English as a Second Language endorsement so that teacher candidates coming through their program do not need to take separate coursework. That is, teacher candidates get access to the knowledge and skills for the endorsement as part of GGC’s literacy instruction courses—and don’t need to take additional ESL coursework (at an additional cost of time and money).57

Education leaders can also provide increased support by providing online learning opportunities for teacher candidates. For the Butte County’s FES program, most students take their classes online. This online mode of learning is helpful for the flexibility and decreased cost it provides to students that are also working full-time while they study.

Traditional in-person college programs schedule lectures at particular times, and students have to schedule other elements of their lives around being physically present in class. Online learning allows students to join class wherever is convenient. Additionally, sometimes these courses are asynchronous, meaning students do not have to attend a live video lecture and can access instructional materials whenever they choose. Asynchronous learning benefits students who need more flexibility with their job schedules. It allows students to study at their own pace and at the times that work best for them.

Online learning can also have decreased costs. Not having to commute to campus can help candidates save on transportation. “I didn’t have to pay for parking, didn’t have to pay for gas. It provided convenience while I was working” Carolina Gabriel, a teacher in San Diego and who participated in the FES program, says. Furthermore, virtual resources can cost much less than physical textbooks, which may cost upwards of a hundred dollars.

While some students may want to return to in-person learning as the effects of the pandemic ease, online courses can provide equity and access to bilingual teacher training programs.

Furthermore, embedding mentorship programs can alleviate the pressure of finding support during the program. Each student in the FES program is assigned an education advisor. This differs from a traditional academic advisor. They are not in charge of scheduling classes or switching majors. The education advisor through the FES program acts more like a counselor and mentor, giving personal and professional advice while encouraging candidates on their journey.

FES education advisors went through the same FES credentialing program that the candidates themselves are going through, so they understand candidates’ present and future conditions. Advisors support about four or five students through the program annually and gain financial compensation for their time.58 They meet as often as the candidates would like: whether once a semester if candidates are more independent or once a week if candidates need consistent help—support is always available. Students can text or call their advisors, unlike traditional education advisors.

Carolina says that her advisor kept her level-headed throughout the process. “I’m a person that always has questions. I want to know what to do next or what happens if I fail this? What happens next? And having an advisor helps me to ease my stress level.”59

By getting teachers who went through the program to advise teacher candidates, the Butte County Office of Education has also created a pipeline of advisors that understand candidates’ circumstances and want to give back. Teachers like Carolina will be education advisors for the 2023–24 school year. “I started to do Ed Advising and I’m hoping that I can pay it forward how they did for me.”60

Young bilingual adults have highly valuable skills and assets that schools need, but they also face real systemic pressures in bringing those to classrooms. Institutions of higher education and school districts can—if they’re attentive to these future educators’ needs—find ways to change systems and grow the linguistic diversity of their teaching force.

Linguistic Barriers

In February 2023, GGC teacher candidates exploring possible student teacher assignments visited GCPS’s Spanish–English DLI program at Bethesda Elementary. Amada Contreras found herself unexpectedly emotional. “I’m a native Spanish speaker who was stripped of her language,” she said. “Walking around here, I want to cry. How do I register? How do I sign up? I want to teach like this.” Reflecting on the experience several weeks later, she explained, “I wanted to cry more from joy than anything else, because I saw so many Hispanic students embracing their languages and speaking it with such fluency. I have so many friends and colleagues that speak Spanish, and their Spanish is not as good as these fourth and fifth graders because they get to embrace [bilingualism] when they’re ten, eleven, twelve years old. It was mesmerizing—I told [my professors] I don’t want to do anything else for student teaching.”61

 “I’m a native Spanish speaker who was stripped of her language,” she said. “Walking around here, I want to cry. How do I register? How do I sign up? I want to teach like this.”

Contreras’ experience captures the core challenge of diversifying teacher training pipelines: how to amend systems so that talented, trained, motivated young bilingual adults can find their way to programs that better support the emerging bilingualism of young ELs. The very skills and mindsets that these young adults bring to their work can also bedevil their career pathway. U.S. teacher training systems are largely monolingual: they consist of training classes conducted in English for monolingual English-dominant teacher candidates to prepare for assessments conducted in English to measure their ability to teach academic content to English-dominant students.

Laura del Rosario’s experience is not uncommon (see the text box on her experiences above). She came to U.S. schools as a trained, qualified teacher with classroom experience in the Dominican Republic. Her skills in the classroom brought her attention from GCPS and opportunities for advancement, but the state’s English-language licensure tests slowed her path to full-time teaching.

To ameliorate these challenges for teacher candidates, GGC provides resources and scaffolded supports aligned to the state’s licensure exams. The school also enrolls students in cohorts and assigns group projects to facilitate collaboration throughout their coursework. The cohorts serve as learning communities for bilingual students to share questions, ideas, and resources as they face challenges navigating the licensure process.62

Monolingual teacher licensure tests can also slow young bilingual adults’ pathways to classrooms. In order to become a qualified teacher in California, candidates must pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST), which tests all teachers, regardless of the subject taught, on their fundamental skills in math, reading, and writing. Additionally, teachers must pass the California Subject Examinations For Teachers (CSET) based on the subject they want to teach. For example, there are a CSETs for chemistry, music, and mathematics. Butte County’s FES candidates can access one-on-one tutoring, free study guides and resources, and live online study sessions through the online EDU course to help them pass the exam.

These resources are vital because teacher licensure exams traditionally serve as barriers to increasing diversity in the classroom. Non-White candidates are more likely to fail these teacher licensure exams than their non-White counterparts.63

In California, the writing portions of these licensure exams are the most significant barrier for non-native English speakers. Candidates can expect to write a timed, handwritten essay with no background research during the writing section of the exam. This task is challenging for teachers who may need more time to translate their thoughts into written English. While teachers should be adequate writers, it is not clear that this mode of testing translates directly into being a great classroom teacher. It serves more as a barrier to entry for bilingual teachers than a teacher quality measure.

To help candidates clear this barrier, Butte County provides free access to tutors and professors that can prepare them for the writing portion, reviewing written practice exams and telling candidates what exam judges look for in a quality answer. “So one of the professors that does the course for the grant…[was] giving me feedback on those essays which was something really helpful, because, you know, I wasn’t spending $40 or $30 an hour for a tutor to look over an essay, and that was really helpful to get feedback on. You know what the structure was, what to do in order to have that passing score,” says Carolina.64

Another barrier to entry is the vast amount of content teachers must remember for their CSET tests. One candidate said the exam feels more like a memorization contest than a test translating to teacher quality. “I feel like the exams are more like, can you memorize all this information instead of applying it,” Carolina says. In a school year, teachers can refresh on information as the year progresses, but candidates must remember a school year’s worth of material for this exam.65

As they work to memorize a year’s worth of material, students have access to peer groups where they can study with other candidates. They also have free access to websites like, which provide complete and in-depth study guides for each CSET exam.

Notably, however, even with these resources, about 20 percent of candidates cannot pass these licensure exams.

Even systems set up to overtly value the bilingualism of teacher candidates can pose inadvertent hurdles for young bilingual adults. For instance, to become a certified bilingual teacher in Texas, candidates must pass a target language proficiency test to prove that their language skills are adequate for bilingual instruction. Beles says that many of the native Spanish-speaking paraprofessionals in ESC 8 find that test difficult because it tests for formal, academic Spanish that may differ from how they have grown up using the language. To help candidates prepare, the center provides regular trainings on the content and structure of the exam.66

Studies regularly find that U.S. teacher licensure exams do little to protect higher levels of instructional quality from future teachers, but they do a great deal to reduce the U.S. teaching force’s diversity.67 Recent research confirms this consensus: a study of New Jersey teachers found that teachers who entered the classroom with provisional licenses bypassing pandemic-era suspensions of the teacher licensure assessments system were 1) more diverse than the state’s teaching force and 2) were roughly as effective in the classroom.68

The most effective reforms to make teacher licensure systems better support young bilingual adults’ linguistic skills center on equivalency. Like Mount Pleasant ISD’s partnership with Texas A&M University—Commerce that counts paraprofessionals’ daily work towards student teaching, local leaders can find ways to valorize young adults’ in-demand linguistic and cultural skills in their licensure systems. This can take a number of forms—permitting teacher candidates to take preparation coursework or licensure exams in Spanish, for instance—but should always be tailored to grant bilingual teacher candidates flexibility from monolingual, English-only policy systems.

Student Spotlight


Ciara Astacio was born in New York City and grew up speaking Spanish at home, particularly with her grandfather. She was classified as an EL and continued in English as a Second Language classes through middle school, around the time that she moved to Georgia. Her career trajectory has been powered by two engines: personal frustration and a passion for working with children. “I just feel like, growing up, I didn’t have teachers that seemed like they were enjoying their job,” Astacio says. “They were just there to be there. I really love kids, right? And I spent most of my days with teachers who didn’t seem to care much about me, so I wanted to be there and care about kids and make a difference in their lives.”69


Dual-language immersion is one of the most popular trends in U.S. public education today: it remains the best way to serve English-learning students and is in-demand from native English-speaking families eager to give their children a chance to become multilingual. But these programs’ growth is limited by the monolingualism of the U.S. teaching force.

Young bilingual adults have linguistic skills and cultural knowledge that schools—particularly DLI schools—need. They can end the bilingual teaching shortages that plague districts in communities across the country. But connecting these students to the education labor market that needs their skills will require changes to teacher training and licensure systems, which heretofore have often been designed to meet the needs of traditional, full-time undergraduate students in mind—and that privilege English monolingualism.

Different communities will need different solutions to grow the country’s bilingual teacher training pathways, but some principles hold true across all contexts. Policymakers aiming to help young bilingual adults become teachers in their schools should prioritize:

1) flexibility, so young bilingual teacher candidates can prepare for teaching careers despite time and money constraints;
2) efficiency, so young bilingual teacher candidates can get to well-paying teaching positions as soon as possible; and
3) equivalency, so that young bilingual teacher candidates are recognized—and credited—for their multilingual skills and multicultural knowledge.

The following recommendations may help enact these principles in policy systems.

1. Federal and state policymakers should launch new grants programs explicitly targeted at growing bilingual teacher training pipelines and increasing the linguistic diversity of the U.S. teaching force. These efforts can include new competitive priorities for existing federal grants, such as recent changes to the Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence program. They should also include new federal investments, such as a new formula grant through Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which would provide all states with additional funding to support new bilingual teacher training programs.

2. State policymakers should examine their state licensure system to ensure that each of its components is essential to supporting high-quality instruction—and that no components worsen bilingual teacher shortages. In many cases, this will involve rethinking English-language licensure exams that are not effective proxies for maintaining instructional quality, particularly for bilingual teacher candidates who will conduct the bulk of their teaching in non-English languages.

3. Federal, state, and local policymakers should invest resources in alternative teacher certification programs, particularly those tailored specifically to the needs of bilingual teacher candidates. Teacher residencies and apprenticeship programs are particularly effective models for growing bilingual teacher pipelines, especially when candidates receive stipends and/or salaries.

4. State and local policymakers should work with traditional teacher training programs to align the scope and sequence of their courses as efficiently as possible with state teacher licensure expectations for bilingual teachers.

5. State and local policymakers should also structure scholarships, fellowships, and other financial aid programs to cover the cost of that coursework, with a specific focus on growing bilingual teachers.

6. Local policymakers should establish specific bilingual teacher pathways for current bilingual staff—particularly paraprofessionals. These pathways should be constructed with input from bilingual staff so they can include the scope and sequence flexibility that these future teachers need. Whenever possible, these pathways should recognize the experience and expertise of bilingual staff as equivalent to the requirements of traditional teacher training programs, so that these teachers can move quickly through their student teaching and licensure exams.


This project would not have been possible without the participation of many educators and administrators in Georgia, California, and Texas who are doing the real, often difficult, but always heroic work of improving educational opportunities for ELs. These include, but are not limited to figures quoted in the report. Particular thanks to Maggie S. Marcus, Jon Valentine, Virin Vedder, Holly Harding, Carolina Gabriel, Jaqueline Garcia Pelayo, Anya Hurwitz, Leonard Beles, Anita Anderson, Kinga Varga-Dobai, Amada Contreras, Ciara Astacio, Andrea Ponce Tovar, Shantel Meek, Laura del Rosario, Lies Toribio, and Rosa Serrano. Laura Valle-Gutierrez deserves special thanks for providing essential data analysis assistance. Finally, this research was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and grew out of TCF research supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. We thank them for their support but acknowledge that the findings and conclusions presented in this report are those of the author(s) alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of these foundations.


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