AMERicAN EdUcATOR | SUMMER 2008
educational and occupational choices.Sound intimidating?his is the situation aced by millions o students in U.S.schools who do not speak English uently. Teir number hasgrown dramatically just in the past 15 years. In 1990, one in 20public school students in grades K-12 was an English languagelearner (ELL), that is, a student who speaks English either not atall or with enough limitations that he or she cannot ully partici-pate in mainstream English instruction. oday the gure is 1 in9. Demographers estimate that in 20 years it might be1 in 4. Te ELL population has grown rom 2 million to5 million since 1990, a period when the oerall schoolpopulation increased only 20 percent.
States not typi-cally associated with non-English speakers—Indiana,North Carolina, South Carolina, and ennessee—eachsaw an increase in the ELL population o at least 300percent between 1994-95 and 2004-05.
ELL students in the U.S. come rom oer 400 dier-ent language backgrounds. What may come as a sur-prise to many readers is that most ELLs were born inthe United States. Among elementary-age ELLs, 76percent were born in the U.S. Among middle- and high-school students, 56 percent were born in this country.Howeer, about 80 percent o ELLs’ parents were bornoutside o the U.S.
By ar, the majority o ELLs—80 percent—are Spanish speak-ers. his is an important act to bear in mind, since Spanishspeakers in the U.S. tend to come rom lower economic andeducational backgrounds than either the general population orother immigrants and language minority populations.
Forexample, nearly 24 percent o immigrants rom Mexico andCentral America are below the poerty leel, compared with 9to 14 percent o immigrants rom other regions o the world (and11.5 percent o the U.S. natie-born population). Fewer than 40percent o immigrants rom Mexico and Central America haethe equialent o a high school diploma, in contrast to between80 and 90 percent o other immigrants (and 87.5 percent o U.S.-born residents). Consequently, most ELLs are at risk or poorschool outcomes not only because o language, but alsobecause o socioeconomic actors.Speakers o Asian languages (e.g., vietnamese, Hmong,Chinese, Korean, Khmer, Laotian, Hindi, agalog) comprisethe next largest group—about eight percent o the ELL popula-tion. Students o Asian origin tend to come rom amilies withhigher income and education leels than do other immigrantamilies. For example, among immigrants rom the major world regions, the poerty rate o Asian immigrants is thesecond lowest (at 11.1 percent); only immigrants romEurope hae a lower poerty rate. Oer 87 percent o Asian immigrants hae the equialent o a highschool diploma, the highest among immigrantsrom major world regions.
But these gureshide the tremendous diersity within the Asian populations in the U.S. For exam-ple, 50 percent or ewer Cambodian,Laotian, and Hmong adults in the U.S.hae completed the equialent o highschool and ewer than 10 percent haea college degree. In contrast, Filipinos, Indians, and Japanese inthe U.S. hae high school completion rates around 90 percent.Oer 60 percent o aiwanese and Indians in the U.S. hae collegedegrees.
What sort o instructional enironments are ELLs in? Tisquestion is difcult to answer, partly because o denitional andreporting inconsistencies rom state to state.
Te most recentnational data come rom a 2001-02 school year surey.
o theextent the portrait is still accurate six years later, a majority o English learners—approximately 60 percent—are in essentially all-English instruction: one-th o these students—about 12percent o all ELLs—apparently receie no serices or supportat all related to their limited English prociency;* the other our-ths—nearly 50 percent o all ELLs—receie all-English instruc-tion, but with some amount o “LEP serices.” (ELLs were or-merly called “LEP” or limited English proicient; the term issometimes still used.) “LEP serices” can include aides orresource teachers specically or ELLs, instruction in English asa second language (ESL), and/or content instruction specially designed or students with limited English proiciency. heremaining ELLs—about 40 percent—are in programs that makesome use o their home language, but it is impossible to say whatis typical. In some cases, students receie one o seeral orms
On the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress, fourth-grade ELLsscored 36 points below non-ELLs inreading and 25 points below non-ELLsin math. Te gaps among eighth-graders were even larger—42 points in readingand 37 points in math.