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Research Talking Points on English Language Learners

How many English Language Learner (ELL) students are there?

Based on state-reported data, it is estimated that 4,999,481 ELL students were enrolled in public schools (pre-K through grade 12) for the 2003-2004 school year.

This number represents approximately 10.3 percent of total public school student enrollment, and a 40.7 percent increase over the reported 1993–94 public school ELL enrollment. Twenty-one percent all urban public school students are ELLs.

The ELL population is the fastest-growing population of public school students in the U.S. From the 1990-1991 to the 2000-2001 school year, ELL enrollment has grown by more than 105 percent in the United States, compared with only a 12 percent growth of total student enrollment during the same period.

Three states — Georgia, Mississippi, and Montana — had over a 50 percent increase in ELL enrollment from the 1999-2000 to 2000-2001 school years. In 2000-2001, more than 45 school districts in the United States had enrollments of more than 10,000 ELLs.

In addition, an increasing number of ELLs are newcomers to U.S. schools, having just recently immigrated to the United States. In 2000-2001, just over 1 million immigrants were enrolled in U.S. schools. These students come from families that are migrant workers or from countries or situations where previous schooling may have been unavailable.

What are the most common language groups for ELL students?

Spanish and Asian languages are the most common, according to ELL student data reported by states for 2000-2001. In 2000-2001, states reported over 400 languages spoken by English language learners nationwide. The data submitted indicate that the great majority of ELL students claimed Spanish (79 percent) as their native language, followed by Vietnamese (2.0 percent), Hmong (1.6 percent), Chinese, Cantonese (1.0 percent), Korean (1.0 percent), and other (15.4 percent).

How well prepared are teachers of ELLs?

Nationwide, approximately 2.5 percent of teachers who instruct English language learners possess a degree in ESL or bilingual education (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997). In California, only one-third of ELLs have a teacher who has received a credential of any kind (Gándara & Maxwell-Jolly, 1999).

In Texas, recent data from the Institute for School-University Partnerships indicates that elementary bilingual/ESL teachers are least likely to be fully certified (40 percent "less-than-fully certified" teachers), followed closely by secondary bilingual/ESL (35 percent) ( Texas A&M University, 2002). Only 84 percent of the states offer ESL certification or endorsement; only 50 percent offer bilingual/dual language certification or endorsement.

What about regular classroom teachers who have ELLs in their classes? How well prepared do they feel when it comes to teaching ELLs?

Of the 41 percent of teachers nationwide with ELLs in their classrooms, only 12.5 percentparticipated in eight or more hours of professional development related to ELLs in the past three years. Fewer than 8 percent of teachers reported eight or more hours of ELL-specific professional development in seven states where more than one third (41 percent) of teachers were teaching ELLs (NCES, 2002).

 In fact, according to a report from the US Department of Education, "addressing the needs of limited English proficient students" is the professional development area in which teachers are least likely to participate (NCES, 2001). The same survey found that only 27 percent of teachers of ELLs felt "very well prepared" to teach students with limited English proficiency, while the majority (60 percent) felt only "somewhat" or "moderately" well-prepared and 12 percent reported feeling "not prepared at all" (NCES, 2001).

What kind of instructional programs and services do ELLs generally receive?

Approximately 15 percent of ELLs receive NO special instruction or programs designed to help them learn English and achieve in the content areas (Hopstock & Stephenson, 2003). Only 33 percent of students receive some type of service designed to support or supplement regular instruction such as an aide or specialized ESL instruction provided for fewer than 10 hours per week.

Only 8 percent of ELLs receive extensive instruction designed specifically to meet their learning needs – including 10 or more hours of ESL instruction per week, content instruction that is specifically modified for ELLs and at least 25 percent use of the students' native language for instructional purposes.

How are ELL students doing academically?

In 2000-2001, of the states that tested ELLs in reading comprehension, only 18.7 percent of ELLs were assessed as being at or above the norm. In the same year, almost 10 percent of ELLs in grades 7-12 were retained. In February 2001, it was reported that ELLs had dropout rates up to four times that of their native English-speaking peers.

                                                                                                                                                               - Denise McKeon, NEA Research
                                                                                                                                                                                                           June 2005