Of Great Import: Bilingual Teachers

Cynthia Leonor Garza, Houston Chronicle, Feb. 21, 2007

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Location doesn’t matter much to the 225 lawyers, doctors, engineers, architects and teachers who have been preparing online and in classrooms throughout Mexico to become bilingual teachers in Texas. Most say they’ll work for whichever district north of the Rio Grande hires them.

With the number of Texas students requiring bilingual education at an all-time high, school districts in the state are increasingly attending job fairs like this one in Monterrey to recruit from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries.

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The scene in Monterrey is a far cry from what Texas public school recruiters face at state job fairs.

Despite offers of stipends, signing bonuses and tuition reimbursement to recruits from the U.S., districts struggle to fill bilingual teacher vacancies largely because of too few qualified applicants, they say.

During the 2005-06 school year, 711,237 students in Texas were classified as having limited English-speaking skills.

“We are finding ourselves having to go beyond our walls and come internationally,” said Brenda Lozano, the Cypress-Fairbanks school district’s assistant director of professional staffing. She hired 10 bilingual teachers at the Monterrey job fair this month.

Lozano said her district only recruits internationally from this program, run by the Region IV Education Service Center, which serves 54 school districts in the greater Houston area. Lozano said 86 percent of the 43 teachers hired in recent years are still there.

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Once hired, the candidates apply for a temporary work visa for professionals. Many later apply for residency, a process that can take years. Some districts, including Alief, entice recruits by offering to sponsor their residency application.

The transition can be tough as they must assimilate to a new country and education system quickly, Espinosa said. Moving expenses are high, and then there’s the $4,600 the candidates pay for their alternative certification training and visa preparation.

But recruiting internationally gives districts another option for hiring bilingual teachers—and helps get the best teachers, recruiters said.

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‘Very high pay increase’

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The Mexico recruiting initiative started in 1992 as a small program with a handful of candidates in Guadalajara, but over the last decade interest has spread throughout Mexico and Texas, simultaneously. Preparation classes are available in at least 15 cities in Mexico, including Monterrey, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Puebla, Tampico, Morelia, Tijuana and Veracruz. There are plans to expand next year.

Ads for the program appear throughout Mexico in newspapers and are broadcast on television and radio.

The certification requirements are the same as for anyone who goes through a U.S.-based teacher certification program.

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What the law says

State law mandates that Texas public schools with 20 or more non-English-speaking students at the same grade level across the district must offer bilingual education.

There are 16,322 certified bilingual educators in the state, but Texas Education Agency officials have no data to show how many teachers in bilingual classrooms lack certification.

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The Houston ISD has recruited about 330 teachers during the last nine years from Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico, China and the Philippines, among others, to fill vacancies in the bilingual program and in other areas where there are critical shortages, such as science, math and special education.

Bilingual teachers hired by HISD get a $3,000 stipend, and in the past, certified bilingual hires received $6,000 sign-on bonuses.

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[Sidebar] Measuring up

Requirements for Alternative Certification through the Region IV International Initiative:

• Degree: Four- or five-year university degree with a 7.5 GPA on a 10-point scale. The titulo is the bachelor’s degree equivalent

• Core grades: “B” in each of the four required courses: English composition, U.S. history, mathematics and science. Courses are offered by partner universities online.

• Language skills: Must show proficiency in English.

• Testing: Preparation through online and face-to-face classes in order to pass the TExES, or Texas Examinations of Educator Standards.

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