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Multilingual Paraprofessionals

Nearly one in four U.S. children speaks a non-English language at home. Around one in eight U.S. teachers speaks a non-English language at home.

The nation’s linguistic diversity is growing steadily, particularly among the youngest children. Around one in six kindergartners in U.S. public schools are dual language learners (DLLs), 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 immersion, transitional bilingual and other models). But as good as instructional language diversity might be for DLLs, scaling up multilingual instructional programs is no simple matter. 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.

National demand for more multilingual teachers is prompting policymakers to explore ways of helping paraprofessionals surmount these financial, academic, bureaucratic, and linguistic obstacles. This brief summarizes policies related to these challenges and existing research on paraprofessionals.

Over the next two years, New America’s Dual Language Learners National Work Group will undertake 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 http://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/dual-language-learners/.