New Brief: Bilingual Paraprofessionals and the Bilingual Teacher Shortage

Blog Post
June 2, 2016

The United States' linguistic diversity is growing steadily, particularly among the youngest children. Around 66 percent of the country’s dual language learners (DLLs) are enrolled in grades K–3, beginning the process of learning English as they continue developing their native languages (whether or not their schools support their multilingualism). A growing body of research shows that these children are most successful when they participate in bilingual instructional programs (such as dual immersiontransitional bilingual and other models). But as good as instructional language diversity might be for DLLs, scaling up multilingual instructional programs is no simple matter. While nearly one in four U.S. children speaks a non-English language at home, just one in eight U.S. teachers can say the same. To expand access to these programs, schools need more multilingual teachers. 

Many schools already employ many multilingual educators; they just aren’t working as lead teachers. Approximately one in five paraprofessionals speaks a language other than English at home. Furthermore, paraprofessionals often have the linguistic and cultural competence schools need and significant experience instructing and supporting students. Yet, they often face significant barriers to enter the teaching profession.

In a brief published today, New America's Dual Language Learners National Work Group explores these barriers—and research on how they might be surmounted. National demand for more multilingual teachers is prompting policymakers to explore ways of helping paraprofessionals surmount these financial, academic, bureaucratic, and linguistic obstacles. The brief summarizes policies related to these challenges, as well as existing research on bilingual paraprofessionals. 

The changing demographics of U.S. schools make this a critical issue for educators, but the implications are hardly limited by the schoolhouse doors. As we write in the brief,

Research is clear that...dual language learners will be better prepared for personal success if we support their linguistic and academic development with multilingual instruction. They will be stronger in English, stronger in their home languages, and more academically proficient. Further, their native language abilities will be assets in, and for, the national economy. Put simply: policies that expand access to multilingual instruction are investments in a stronger, wealthier, more plural America. To reach that brighter future, schools require a multilingual education workforce in the present. The country’s many multilingual paraprofessionals can help accelerate this process by becoming fully-licensed teachers.

This brief is being published and distributed today at a White House Domestic Policy Council event in Miami. The event aims to start a national conversation about how the U.S. early education system can best meet DLLs' needs and unlock their considerable potential. 

The DLL National Work Group will continue to be a vocal participant in these debates. Over the next two years, our team will expand on this brief with a series of research projects aimed at identifying various policies that are effective at getting more multilingual paraprofessionals to full teacher certification in the U.S. For more research and analysis of DLLs and education policy in the U.S., visit

This post is part of New America’s Dual Language Learners National Work Group. Click here for more information on this team's work. To subscribe to the biweekly newsletter, click here, enter your contact information, and select "Education Policy."