A group of Voorhies Elementary School third-graders huddled together on a carpet as their teacher, Julissa Moreno, called them to the whiteboard for a math lesson.
“Doscientos paginas veces seis fotos en cada pagina. Cuantos?” Moreno asked, as she tapped the board with her marker.
The question in English: There are 200 pages times six photos on each page. How many photos are in the album total?
The answer was 1,200, or in this bilingual education class, mil doscientos.
Voorhies Elementary in the Bakersfield City School District is one of just four dual immersion programs in Kern County introducing students from English- and Spanish-speaking homes to both languages from kindergarten through sixth grade.
But since voters in November overwhelmingly approved Proposition 58, it could become a model for other districts as they implement their own dual-language programs.
Proposition 58 repealed a decades-old state measure that banned non-English instruction but conflicted with federal law requiring bilingual courses to be taught if 20 or more students showed an interest. Bakersfield City, Arvin, Lamont and Delano school districts aligned with that federal law to open dual-immersion programs. Now schools are required, if it’s feasible, to start bilingual programs if students want them.
Educational leaders are excited about the potential for bilingual programs to globalize students, training them to become more competitive in the job market at younger ages. But they say hurdles involved in launching such initiatives could place them years away from reality.
They include a teacher shortage that has depleted the number of educators licensed to lead bilingual programs, the costs of developing a curriculum and purchasing instructional materials, and the time needed to launch the effort.
“A lack of bilingual teachers is the first hurdle and then the second one is the funding,” said Lilly Rosenberger, a Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office Title III coordinator, which oversees federal funding for immigrant education programs. “You’d need extra curriculum and instructional material in that second language.”
NOT ENOUGH TEACHERS
The number of authorizations awarded to teach in bilingual settings dropped 46 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
Over that time period, fewer than 5,600 teachers were authorized in California to teach bilingual ed, the data show, not nearly enough to cover every district in the state. And that figure could be lower, said Joshua Speaks, a public affairs manager with the CTC.
“Teachers leave the profession and we don’t know until they fail to renew their credential five years later, or in some cases, they leave but continue to renew their credential despite no longer teaching,” Speaks said.
The CTC doesn’t track employment after credentials are issued.
The lack of bilingual instructors has districts, which are anticipating a shortage, providing incentives to woo candidates. The Bakersfield City School District will offer a $1,500 bonus for those teaching dual-immersion programs. The Kern High School District is ramping up recruitment efforts in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, where officials suspect they’ll find more bilingual-certified instructors, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Mike Zulfa said.
“I think we’ll see the teacher shortage issue have a huge impact across districts in California, and especially smaller districts,” BCSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Mark Luque said, highlighting the difficulties rural districts have recruiting teachers and competing in salary with larger city districts.
Locally, Cal State Bakersfield does not offer a program to certify bilingual-education instructors, Luque said.
Despite the sparse number of qualified teachers, Speaks said he’s hopeful that will change. That’s for a few reasons. First, a law passed last year, allows the CTC to recognize out-of-state bilingual credentials, opening the possibility for districts to recruit outside of California.
The number of credentialed teachers also increased slightly in 2014-2015 for the first time in two years, Speaks said.
The 2016 state budget also included a $35 million investment in teacher recruitment programs, including bilingual education.
“We are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We’re optimistic about the effects that each of these programs will have on the overall shortage, and on bilingual education specifically. However, it is only a first step,” Speaks said, adding that there’s no short-term fix for the shortage.
BILINGUAL ISN’T JUST SPANISH
There are other costs associated with bilingual programs that could burden some districts, Rosenberger said, especially those involving a language other than Spanish.
There isn’t a wide variety of instructional materials available in Spanish, which would presumably be the most in-demand language for dual-immersion programs. There are more than 37,500 Spanish-speaking students in Kern County who are considered English-language learners, according to data compiled by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. At BCSD, 9,334 fall into that category — nearly a third of its total enrollment.
Second to Spanish is Punjabi, which about 500 ELL students countywide speak, data show. Roughly 300 of them study in the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District.
That district has no specific plans to offer bilingual education yet; it’s still in the “fact finding and information gathering phase,” PBVUSD Assistant Superintendent Gerrie Kincaid said. She said she hasn’t heard of any parents expressing interest in bilingual education during Local Control Accountability Plan meetings.
If they did, finding a certified instructor to teach in Punjabi could be difficult, Rosenberger said.
“Spanish is already tough to come by,” Rosenberger said, adding that finding textbooks would pose another challenge. “I think it would have to be worth the publishers’ while to develop them. If you go to some of these other languages that are less represented, it might not be fiscally sound for them to do that.”
‘DEMYSTIFYING’ BILINGUAL ED
For all of its advantages, bilingual education is still misunderstood among a large swath of parents, Luque said. “Demystifying” it will be another hurdle, he said.
“Dual immersion is not English-language development. It is about truly building proficiency in dual languages,” Luque said.
Bilingual education doesn’t follow a single model, and it’s not just for English-language learners— a common misconception.
There are multiple models, including one where students transition from their home language until they build proficiency in English; a developmental bilingual model where a single language minority group transitions to English proficiency, but gets instruction in both languages; and dual immersion, like the program at Voorhies, where students from both English- and Spanish-speaking homes come together in class to gain proficiency in both languages.
The goal of all the models is English proficiency, and in dual-immersion and developmental bilingual courses, to gain biliteracy.
Since the state began offering Seals of Biliteracy in 2012, KHSD has seen a 78 percent increase in the number of seals awarded, district spokeswoman Lisa Krch said. The district stamped 714 Seals of Biliteracy on diplomas in 2016.
From there, students can pursue certificates of proficiency in a second language at Bakersfield College, opening the door for expanded career opportunities, district officials said.
“With Kern County’s unemployment rate nearly double that of the state, this can be a long-term effort to afford additional, cognitive and competitive skills to the region’s students, enhancing their prospects for employment wherever their educational and career paths take them,” Cal State Bakersfield Assistant Professor of Political Science Jeanine Kraybill wrote in a paper published before the election exploring the economic potential for Proposition 58.
Although parents may petition for a bilingual program in high schools, KHSD officials said the feasibility of one would be challenging given the number of bilingual instructors needed and the variety of languages spoken in the district, Krch said.
“Prop. 58 might have a bigger impact on K-8 than Kern High School District at this point,” Krch said.
A MODEL PROGRAM
At Voorhies, bilingual education has been a hallmark program for 20 years that can’t keep up with its own success.
The program, which enrolls 300 kids annually — 30 percent of Voorhies’ total enrollment — has a two-year wait list.
“I think parents who know better realize what a massive advantage it is in today’s world to be biliterate,” Voorhies Principal Marilyn Strongin said.
Others have enrolled their kids to re-discover a heritage lost as first-generation Mexican-Americans failed to teach their kids the language. Now those parents want their kids to tap into their culture, third grade teacher Julissa Moreno said.
“They’re actually recapturing the languages for their families,” Moreno said.
BCSD, which has 125 bilingual-certified teachers —14 of whom are at Voorhies — is looking to the school as a model for how it could implement other bilingual programs throughout the district, Luque said.
He’s unsure how many more bilingual programs the district will introduce, but knows it’s a long road ahead. The program at Voorhies took three years of planning before its introduction in 1997.
But the model at Voorhies, which instructs kindergartners in 90 percent Spanish and 10 percent English, gradually leveling out until they are taught half the day in both languages by sixth grade, has been leading to academic success.
Fifty-seven percent of dual immersion students at Voorhies met or exceeded state standards in English and Language Arts in 2015-2016, outperforming English-only kids from the same school by more than 20 percent, according to data provided by BCSD.
“What’s amazing to me as a dual-immersion teacher is, I never taught them how to read in English. They pick up a book and realize it’s in English and they just start reading it in English,” Moreno said.
By third grade, Moreno cannot discern which students started as English or Spanish speakers in kindergarten, she said.
“They’re completely bilingual,” Moreno said.