Grant to aid teaching English in Iowa

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The UI College of Education recently won a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education so teachers can help English-language learners excel.

By Jenna Larson

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A $2.2 million grant will soon be put toward teaching English to students new to the language.

The number of non-English-speaking students in Iowa has increased by more than four times in the past two decades.

The U.S. Department of Education is funding a five-year grant for the University of Iowa College of Education’s Advocacy, Capacity, and Collaboration for English Learning in Iowa program. This program will use the funding to implement a stronger program for teachers of English language learners.

“The grant covers professional development for pre-service teachers, in-service teachers, and administrators,” said David Cassels Johnson, a UI associate professor of foreign language and English as a second language education.

The number of students in the state who need help learning English has increased 452 percent over the past 20 years, he noted.

“What the grant helps us do is train teachers to work with those students,” he said. “And to provide better education and equal education opportunity.”

There is a big need to help these students, and in many ways Iowa is behind, compared with other states, in how its schools teach those students, Johnson said.

“A big part of this grant focuses on dual-language education, [in which] both English-learning students and native English speakers are educated in two languages,” he said.

This allows students to take their classes in either language, which is another part the grant will focus on.

“The grant [will also] help support and improve dual-language education in the state of Iowa,” he said. “We know that those types of programs [cause learners to] respond positively because [they] reflect, support, and promote [the student’s native languages].”

Jobi Lawrence, the director of Title III in the Iowa Department of Education, said she is excited about the UI tackling the teacher shortage.

“That funding went just to the University of Iowa, [but] they partnered with local education agencies,” Lawrence said. “[There were] specific partnerships requirements [in which] they select local education agencies to work with.”

Because of this, the specific districts that were chosen will receive benefits from the grant, she said.

“The state in general has been working very hard at trying to find solutions for certifying teachers to work with English learners,” she said.

Rural schools struggle more compared with urban ones because getting the proper number of teachers per student is difficult, she said.

“We have a lot of cooperative initiatives that affect our English-learning students, and we recognize as a department that collaboration is key,” Lawrence said. “Without collaboration, we wouldn’t be able to build policies that were responsive to all of the different needs in our state.”

Although the state doesn’t receive any of the funding from the UI grant, Lawrence hopes to see a change in numbers of teachers who are endorsed to teach English-learning students.

“We are really excited to make sure that every one of our teachers, whether responsible for those programs or not, are all capable of working day-to-day with those kids when they are in the classroom,” Lawrence said.

As for K-12 programs, a lot of districts are experiencing new enrollment from students who are not fluent yet, said Lisa Wymore, a consultant for English language learners for the Marshalltown Area Education Agency.

“Not only are we seeing an increased number of students overall,” Wymore said. “We are seeing districts who haven’t had English learners previously getting some of their first students.”

Most districts Wymore works with have at least one English-learning student enrolled, which presents a lot of challenges for the schools.

“We have districts with very large populations such as Marshalltown, [which] have just under 2,000 English-learning students [and] their total district enrollment runs about 5,000,” Wymore said.

In that district, officials cannot find enough teachers with the proper training and endorsement, she said. The UI grant may help potential teachers fill the high demand for K-12 schools through their training.

“My hope is that as our population increases that we are able to keep up with providing training to teachers so that students have access to high quality instruction that meets their language needs,” Wymore said.

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