Student-Teacher Ratios for English Learners
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
There are many Facebook groups out there for those working with English Learners (ELs) and there are often posts about how to best advocate for ELs and what specifically to advocate for. A common topic of discussion is student-teacher ratios or “caseload” size. Of course, there are many factors affecting an EL teacher’s caseload, such as one’s program model (i.e. push-in, pull-out, co-teaching, etc.) and how spread out students are among schools, but nevertheless, it’s important to look at just how many students one EL teacher is ultimately responsible for.
And WOW do caseload sizes vary across the United States! While there are many EL teachers who have caseloads in the range of 50-75, there are way too many EL educators out there with caseloads over 100. In at least one case, I saw someone’s caseload was over 300 students, which is absolute insanity! Inevitably, these exhausted educators then go on to beg their Facebook colleagues for advice and suggestions on how to “maximize their time” (i.e. how to be 8 places at once!). So many are in untenable situations and are set up to fail, which of course will impact their students’ success.
The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education reminded us all in 2015 that “School districts have an obligation to provide the personnel and resources necessary to effectively implement their chosen EL program. This obligation includes having highly qualified teachers to provide language assistance services, trained administrators who can evaluate these teachers, and adequate and appropriate materials for the EL programs” (p. 14).
Unfortunately, there is no student-teacher ratio for English Learners set at the federal level. Like all guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, it is vague and left up to states and districts to decide how to implement their programs. So do any states have student-teacher ratios for English Learners? Yes! Here are some examples:
Illinois: The student-teacher ratio in the ESL programs must not exceed 90 percent of the average student-teacher ratio in general education classes for the same grades in the same school.
Indiana: The Indiana Department of Education recommends that the EL Teacher of Record caseload not exceed 30 English Learners.
Missouri: According to state guidance, "districts are required to have a full-time ESOL certified teacher if there are more than 20 ELLs enrolled in the district" (page 19) and "when enrolling more than 20 ELLs, the district must strictly follow their local student-teacher ratio" (page 22).
Tennessee: The state's proposed staffing ratio is 35 to 1. (See here, page 5.)
Virginia: The state assigns a student-to-teacher ratio of 1000 to 17 for ELLs. (See here, page 148.)
Do you know of another state that should be added here? If so, please email firstname.lastname@example.org!
Also, please note, in some cases these staffing ratios are suggestions and not necessarily mandates. Furthermore, some districts follow their state's guidance better than others.
How did these ratios come to be? Advocacy! Advocacy by students, parents, and community partners as well as educators at the local, state, and national levels. Stay tuned for our next blog post where we’ll talk about how educators gain the skills needed to advocate for their English Learners.