Operating on the theory that there’s no time like the present to address a challenge, Baylor University is commendably stepping up to address a problem gaining more and more attention in society as state demographics and political winds shift. As Trib staff writer Shelly Conlon reports, Baylor’s School of Education is exploring a new undergraduate and graduate program for training bilingual educators — the very sort long cherished in public schools across Texas, including here in McLennan County.
Department chair Larry Browning frankly acknowledges shortcomings in the past to tackle this growing need. Yet sometimes bracing factors are prompting belated reconsideration at Baylor, some of them political, some economic, some academic. For instance, several Waco Independent School District campuses face possible closure for flagging academic test scores, a situation complicated by Waco’s widespread poverty. This often means students struggling to better grasp the complexities of the English language.
The problem extends well beyond Waco ISD. According to a recent Texas Tribune analysis of Texas Education Agency numbers, Texas schools have added more than 300,000 bilingual students in the past decade — yet have budgeted for 6,000 fewer full-time employee equivalents certified to teach them. Complicating matters is the fact the state certification process is pretty rigorous. School finance problems also play a role.
Moreover, a worthy move is afoot in Congress (including by conservative Republicans such as Congressman Bill Flores, who represents Waco) to block any administration bid to deport youths who weren’t born in the United States but have been raised here. And on Tuesday the American Business Immigration Coalition will host a forum in Dallas to push legislation to ensure that “Dreamers” who came to America illegally through no fault of their own and now are de facto Americans adequately bolster today’s evolving workforce.
Put all this together and any move to enlarge the number of locally educated bilingual teachers makes sense in 21st-century America. Conlon reports that the number of bilingual students in Waco ISD has decreased since 2011, but the number of students studying English as a second language has steadily increased. In addition, some parents recognize the importance of their children speaking Spanish as well as English. Some immigrant children grow up far more proficient in English than in Spanish.
Baylor officials tell Conlon that if bilingual teachers begin filling niches long left empty, the program could in time foster vibrant dual-language programs, even at the elementary level. Such programs would not only significantly sharpen the basic language skills so fundamental during primary grades but ultimately produce U.S. citizens particularly well poised to succeed in a bustling and unforgiving global economy. Every student who graduates knowing two languages immediately expands his or her marketability and potential for success in what in many ways is an increasingly smaller world.