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International Teacher Exchanges: An Overlooked Approach to Meet the Instructional Needs of Limited English Proficient Students

Press Release
Thursday, November 19, 2009

International Teacher Exchanges: An Overlooked Approach to Meet the Instructional Needs of Limited English Proficient Students

WASHINGTON — With 1 in 10 children in U.S. schools having limited English proficiency, school districts across the country face challenges in meeting the students' educational needs and finding enough qualified bilingual and English as a Second Language educators. In a report released today, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) identifies international teacher exchanges as an innovative strategy for school administrators to respond to immediate teaching needs, particularly in subject areas where knowledge of a foreign language is necessary.

The report, The Binational Option: Meeting the Instructional Needs of Limited English Proficient Students, examines collaborative teacher exchanges some U.S. states and districts have established with Mexico and Spain. It illustrates how these relatively small programs can offer unique solutions to some of the more complex educational challenges resulting from the increasingly diverse student population in U.S. schools. The exchanges also provide a model for cooperation between countries who share common K-12 education challenges, and further evidence that immigrant integration is a concern not just for destination countries but also for some countries of origin.

"Exchange teachers cannot address long-term teacher undersupply, but they could complement other more farsighted efforts to improve the teacher education pipeline," said the report's co-author, MPI Associate Policy Analyst Aaron Terrazas.

Exchange teachers may have a comparative advantage for instruction in fields where extensive knowledge of a foreign language is necessary — such as foreign language instruction, dual language instruction and academic content instruction in a foreign language. Similarly, exchange teachers might prove an effective means of providing dual language instruction to speakers of rapidly growing language groups where the teacher training infrastructure is not yet in place or is unable to keep up with demand. Given the minimum three years of teaching experience required for participation, teacher exchange programs may also provide access to experienced educators who can teach in schools that suffer from high teacher turnover.

However, teacher exchanges cannot address the problem of teacher shortages in the long term. Without broader reforms to the U.S. elementary and secondary education system and to teacher recruitment and training, it is unlikely that school districts will be able to fully meet their needs through any single strategy. Teacher exchanges may be seen as controversial by some concerned with preserving jobs for U.S. citizens, but they are also a pragmatic approach to addressing immediate teaching needs and provide an important avenue for educational and cultural enrichment. Additionally, current teacher exchange programs are very limited in scope (mainly between the United States, Mexico and Spain) and there is only anecdotal evidence of their success.

"These programs hold the potential to alleviate teacher shortages, particularly in districts that face rapid, unexpected or short-term changes in the student population," said MPI Senior Vice President Michael Fix, who co-authored the report.

The report is available here.

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The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit: www.migrationpolicy.org.