FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Howie Berman
703.894.2900 ext. 106
There is little doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic changed what teaching and learning looked like this past spring. But it didn’t change ACTFL’s mission: to provide vision, leadership, and support for quality teaching and learning of languages. And it certainly didn’t change the goal of our more than 13,000 member educators and the profession at-large: to ensure that language learners have access to high-quality language instruction, regardless of where or how the learning takes place.
When the 2019-2020 school year across the U.S. ended a few short months ago, the job of dedicated language educators continued. They immediately envisioned what the return to school in the fall might look like. Educators spent their summers reflecting on what worked and what didn’t after the abrupt transition to virtual teaching and learning in March. They collaborated with colleagues to share stories and offer support and guidance. Collectively, they took part in thousands of hours of professional development to hone their skills.
Despite these efforts, there are real concerns that language educators will be unable to meet the needs of their learners, not only this fall but into the future, if federal, state, and local entities do not intervene. For this reason, ACTFL is making the following five (5) recommendations in support of the language education community:
- Prioritize Educator and Learner Health and Safety
Regardless of the decisions made by individual school districts, colleges, or universities on what instruction looks like this fall, it is imperative that they be grounded in science, supported by federal, state and local guidelines, and that the health and safety of educators and learners be considered paramount.
Where teachers and students do return to the physical classroom, (1) physical distancing, deep cleaning, and health assessment protocols should be established and followed; (2) adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) should be provided to teachers and students; (3) accommodations should be made to protect those educators and learners with underlying medical conditions; and (4) adequate mental health and emotional support services should be made available to teachers, students, and their related school communities.
ACTFL recommends that all educational institutions put in place the measures necessary to ensure the health and safety of educators and learners.
- Include Language Educators in the Decision-Making Process
Let’s be clear: Language educators must be included in all decision-making processes that impact their learners. This is regardless of whether teaching and learning happens face-to-face, virtually, or in a hybrid model. It is the teachers who know best the challenges faced by their students and their families—and it should be the guidance of those same teachers that is relied upon to ensure that sound decisions are being made.
If a virtual learning model is adopted, it is critical that language teachers play a major role in the selection and implementation of any online platform and the development or modification of course curriculum. Per ACTFL’s Statement on the Role of Educators in Technology-Enhanced Language Learning, language educators must be “responsible for the planning, instruction, assessment, and facilitation of any language course, leveraging technology to support language learning.”1 Language instruction should be standards-based, learner-focused, and intend to develop target language proficiency through meaningful, engaging, and authentic learning experiences.
ACTFL recommends that world language educators play an integral role in the decision-making process affecting language learners, regardless of how instruction is delivered.
- Focus on Equity and Access
The pandemic has shone a bright light on the unacceptable racial and economic inequalities that exist in our society, resulting in disproportionately negative effects on Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in the U.S., as well as those coming from low-income households. Not surprisingly, our language learners have been adversely affected by these same inequalities.
Weeks and even months into the transition to distance learning last spring, many students, especially those in low-income households, those living in rural communities, English Learners (ELs), and Native American students, lacked the devices and internet connectivity necessary to be successful. To further exacerbate this digital divide, teachers of low-income students and students of color were more likely to report that their students were not regularly engaged during distance learning.2 Combine this with the fact that up to 400,000 K-12 teachers in the U.S. live in households without sufficient internet connectivity (roughly 1 in 10) and about 100,000 teachers don’t have access to a device in their home to facilitate remote instruction3, and the result is increasing inequality of access to education.
Language access for parents of students whose first language is not English has been uneven across districts and schools. Instructional materials and communications to families about student progress and other resources should reflect the linguistic and cultural diversity of the communities being served. Districts must invest in professional translation of these materials to address equity and access for all students.
Access to paraeducators, who provide invaluable support for our students with diverse needs from EL services to IEPs, has also been uneven across schools. With tightening budgets, these staff members are often the first to be cut. Districts and schools must re-commit to maintaining their para-professional staff, providing ongoing training for them, and supporting them with the resources they need to work with students remotely.
ACTFL recommends that Congress make important investments in the next stimulus package and beyond to address the growing technology gap, language access, and support for students with diverse needs.
- Invest in a Pipeline of Well-Prepared and Diverse Educators
Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. saw a shortage of qualified world language educators in at least 46 states and the District of Columbia. Reopening schools safely will likely require more teachers, not fewer . At the same time, the economic impact of COVID-19 and ensuing cuts to education at the state level will make it more difficult for students from low-income families to access higher education, including teacher preparation programs. We know that the pandemic is having a disparate effect on the education plans of students of color, with half of Hispanic and nearly 40% of Black and Asian-American students either changing or outright canceling their plans.5 Efforts to increase the diversity of our teacher workforce will now be even more difficult without intentional efforts like investing in college affordability and teacher preparation programs across the country.
ACTFL recommends increased funding for programs like the Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence Program, which supports teacher preparation at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), the Teacher Quality Partnership Grant program under Title II of the Higher Education Act (HEA), and higher levels of loan forgiveness for language educators.
- Make Professional Development Widely Available
As shifts to remote instruction and investments in technology continue this fall, so too must investments in the language educators who will be charged with facilitating the remote instructional models. Without such investments, technology is ineffective at best and even detrimental to the learning process. At the same time, the virtual space presents a unique opportunity for language educators to take advantage of numerous professional learning offerings—mentoring, coaching, professional learning communities (PLCs). Whether offered online or face-to-face, professional development should be content-focused, support collaboration, utilize examples of effective practice, and provide opportunities for job-embedded application, feedback, and reflection. Supporting the long-term professional learning needs of educators not only benefits students by improving learner outcomes, it also helps address the bigger issue of teacher recruitment and retention, a problem that will be made worse by the pandemic if we do not act as a nation.
ACTFL recommends that Congress increase Title II funding under Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to support training high-quality teachers.
The five recommendations above are essential to supporting all teachers and learners in the upcoming year and beyond. While the classroom experience is important, we cannot lose sight of the enormous pressure the pandemic is causing. We know educators are stressed. They are experiencing feelings of anxiety, confusion, and worry. We owe them the social and emotional support that is required to manage simultaneously their own families, the rigors of new teaching requirements and guidelines, and their students, many of whom are facing their own COVID-related trauma. Schools should consider dedicating specific blocks of time to focus on the emotional well-being of both teachers and students. Additional funding for counselors and training for staff must be prioritized. Resources that address self-care should be made widely available.
We know the numerous benefits of multilingualism, which include increased cognitive function, career competitive advantage, better cultural understanding, and increased empathy. If we are serious about giving every student in the U.S. this critical skill set, we must prioritize access to high-quality language education. In a normal year, this would mean addressing issues like teacher recruitment and retention, teacher development, racial and socioeconomic inequalities in education, and respect for the teaching profession. With the emergence of COVID-19 and its profound effects on the education landscape, the stakes have been raised dramatically. If we fail to act in a measured way on behalf of today’s learners, we risk losing a generation of incredibly dedicated educators and support for language programs across the country could diminish considerably. Now is the time to act.
- ACTFL. (2017, May 14). Role of educators in technology-enhanced language learning. Retrieved from https://www.actfl.org/advocacy/position-statements/the-role-technology-language-learning
- Education Week. (2020, May 28). Data: students are getting less instruction time during coronavirus. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/data-students-are-getting-less-instruction-time.html
- Chandra, S., Chang, A., Day, L., Fazlullah, A., Liu, J., McBride, L., Mudalige, T., Weiss, D., (2020). Closing the k–12 digital divide in the age of distance learning. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media. Boston, Massachusetts, Boston Consulting Group
- Learning Policy Institute. (2020, June 25). Raising demands and reducing capacity: COVID-19 and the educator workforce. Retrieved from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/blog/covid-raising-demands-reducing-capacity-educator-workforce
- Inside Higher Ed. (2020, June 11). Latinos, African Americans most likely to change education plans. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2020/06/11/latinos-african-americans-most-likely-change-education-plans