Kidsdata.org offers the number and percentage of English Learners among public school students, the number and percentage of English Learners by status (i.e., English Learners-Spanish speaking, English Learners with a primary language other than Spanish, or not an English Learner), and the top 10 languages spoken most frequently by English Learners. English Learners are students who have a primary language other than English and who lack the clearly defined English skills of listening comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing necessary to succeed in a school's regular instructional programs.
Trends in English proficiency and primary languages spoken among children and families can be useful in projecting potential needs and planning appropriate services in health care, education, child care, and other settings. For example, quality health care requires effective communication between families and providers. Research shows that children in families with a primary language other than English experience disparities in health status, quality of health care services, and access to care, compared to children with English as a primary household language (1). Academically, children with limited English proficiency tend to have lower test scores than their native English-speaking peers. English Learners face the challenge of mastering content presented in the school curriculum at the same time they learn a new language (2, 3, 4). These circumstances create exceptional challenges for later educational attainment and socioeconomic success.
California’s public school system is charged with serving a diverse student body. In 2010-11, more than 2.3 million California students (37%) spoke a language other than English at home (3); this far exceeds the national estimate of 22% in 2010 (5). Sixty different primary languages are reported among California students classified as English Learners (6). To ensure that children with limited English proficiency reach their maximum academic and health potential, it is critical for California’s education, health, social service, and community systems to be adequately prepared to meet the needs of the state’s increasingly diverse child and family population.
For more information on English Learners please see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.
Sources for this narrative:
- Flores, G. & Tomany-Korman, S.C. (2008). The language spoken at home and disparities in medical and dental health, access to care, and use of services in U.S. children. Pediatrics, 121(6):e1703-14. Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/121/6/e1703.full
- Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (2012). America’s children in brief: Key national indicators of well-being. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved from: http://childstats.gov/americaschildren/
- California Department of Education. (2012). Facts about English learners in California. CalEd Facts. Retrieved from: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/sd/cb/cefelfacts.asp?print=yes
- Fry, R. (2007). How far behind in math and reading are English language learners? Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center. Retrieved from: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2007/06/06/ii-introduction-7/
- U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). American Community Survey. Retrieved from: http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml
- California Department of Education. (2012). Statewide English learners by language and grade, 2010-11. DataQuest. Retrieved from: http://data1.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/
California schools face the need to educate an increasingly diverse student body, many of whom do not speak English as a primary language. English Learners in public schools confront particular challenges to learning that school districts, and state and federal policymakers can help address by delivering targeted instruction and setting high expectations for academic achievement for all students. Since English Learners are significantly overrepresented among those who drop out of high school (1), dropout prevention policies can be adopted with those students in mind. In addition, students learning English often have parents with limited or no English speaking ability, which may result in barriers to accessing health care or governmental services.
According to research and subject experts, policy options for addressing the challenges faced by children who are English Learners include:
- Adopting successful practices at the district and school level, such as: strategic use of academic assessment data; ensuring availability of teaching resources; implementing a coherent, standards-based curriculum and program; using measurable and monitored achievement objectives; securing district-level support for English Learners; using resource teachers for individualized programs; and using ESL or immersion techniques to teach math to English Learners (2)
- Setting school and district policies to incorporate formal and informal strategies to promote family and community engagement, as in successful charter schools (3)
- Setting a national teacher education policy to ensure teacher candidates understand second language and literacy acquisition and how that informs effective instruction (4)
- Improving access to publicly funded social services, including targeted outreach to non-English speakers for state child care subsidies (5), conducting public education on language access rights for medical patients and their families, and enforcing existing language access laws in health care settings (6)
For more policy ideas and information on this topic see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section or visit the Urban Institute, UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, EdSource, or the National Immigration Law Center. Also see Policy Implications on kidsdata.org under Immigrants, and Reading and Math Proficiency.
Sources for this narrative:
- EdSource. (2008). English language learners in California: What the numbers say. Retrieved from: http://www.edsource.org/pub_ELvitalstats3-08.html
- EdSource. (2007). Similar English learner students, different results: Why do some schools do better? Retrieved from: http://www.edsource.org/assets/files/SimELreportcomplete.pdf
- Lazarín, M., & Ortiz-Licon, F. (2010). Next generation charter schools: Meeting the needs of Latinos and English language learners. Center for American Progress and National Council of La Raza. Retrieved from: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/09/pdf/charter_schools.pdf
- Short, D. J., & Fitzsimmons, S. (2007). Double the work: Challenges and solutions to acquiring language and academic literacy for adolescent English language learners. Alliance for Excellent Education for the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Retrieved from: http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/2479
- Center for Law and Social Policy. (2009). Ten policies to improve access to quality child care for children in immigrant families. Policy Solutions That Work for Low-Income People. Retrieved from: http://www.clasp.org/admin/site/publications/files/0479.pdf
- The California Endowment. (2008). Language access needs in Alameda County: New and emerging immigrant and refugee communities. Retrieved from: http://www.calendow.org/uploadedFiles/Publications/By_Topic/Culturally_Competent_Health_Systems/Language_Access/Language%20Access%20Needs%20in%20Alameda%20County%20-%20Final.pdf
Almost one in four (23.2%) California public school students was classified as an English Learner in 2011, which equates to more than 1.4 million students with limited English proficiency. The percentage of students who are English Learners remained around 25% between 1998-2008, but has declined slightly since then. At the county level, the percentages of English Learners range widely, from 1.6% in Tuolumne County to 42.5% in Imperial County in 2011.
In 2012 and previous years, Spanish was by far the most common first language of students classified as English Learners, statewide and in all counties with available data. Nearly one in five (18.9%) California public school students were Spanish-speaking English Learners in 2012; 3.4% were English Learners with a primary language other than Spanish; and 77.7% were not classified as English Learners.