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English Policy Challenges

  • Date Submitted: 04/21/2013 10:27 AM
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An NEA policy brief

English Language Learners Face Unique Challenges
English language learners are the fastest-growing student population group in our schools. Providing them with high-quality services and programs is an important investment in America’s future.
—NEA President Dennis Van Roekel


nglish Language Learners (ELLs) are the fastest growing segment of the public school population. Over the past 15 years, the number of ELL students has nearly doubled—to about 5 million. By 2015, ELL enrollment in U.S. schools will reach 10 million and, by 2025, nearly one out of every four public school students will be an English Language Learner. 1

Where do these students come from? Despite common assumptions to the contrary, native-born U.S. citizens predominate in the ELL student population: 76 percent of elementary school and 56 percent of secondary school English Language Learners are native-born, and more than half of the ELLs in public secondary schools are second- or third-generation U.S. citizens. 2 What else do we know about them? Two-thirds come from low-income families and three out of four ELLs are Spanish-speaking.3 But what is most significant—and troubling—is that these students’ academic performance is well below that of their peers and that ELLs have excessively high dropout rates. NEA believes that closing the achievement gap for ELLs must be a priority.

these students is not helping anyone. Under the law, each district and school must show that the student body as a whole, as well as each subgroup of students such as ELLs, must meet the same academic standards in reading and math. (A subgroup is made up of students who share certain characteristics—students who are economically disadvantaged, students of color, students with disabilities, and students with limited English proficiency, for example. These groups are not mutually exclusive, so the test results for a student who is economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, and has limited English...


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