Study Charts Growth of Limited English Proficient Population in U.S.

Children made up a “relatively small share” of the 25.3 million foreign and U.S.-born people with limited English proficiency residing within the United States in 2011, according to a new study by the Migration Policy Institute.

The study charts the tremendous growth of the population, which is about 63 percent Latino. About 9 percent of the LEP population, or 2.3 million children, fell between the ages 5 to 15 category. This corresponds with about 16 percent of the English-dominant population falling within the same age bracket.

As study after study has found, most English Language Learners in American schools are U.S. citizens. About 74 percent of LEP children ages 5 to 17 were born in the United States.

LEP individuals also made up about 9 percent of the population ages five and older in 2011, having grown by 81 percent since 1990. They made up about half of the total immigrant population in the U.S. About one out of every five people in California were LEP, with the next largest population in Texas (both states also have public school populations that are majority-Latino).

The data may be more instructive on immigrant parents. About 10.9 million children ages 5 to 17 had at least one parent who was LEP.

Most of the male LEP population was found to work in fields such as construction and transportation, while working women worked in service and personal care jobs. Indeed, LEP adults were less likely to have college degrees and more likely to live in poverty.

Although the data does not solely focus on children, it provides some good context for articles focusing on the demographics of the LEP population.

Related Links:

– “English-Learner Population in U.S. Rises, Report Finds,” Learning the Language Blog.

– “Limited English Proficient Population of the United States,” Migration Policy Institute.

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For English Language Learners, a Fast Exit Leads to Future Success

A new study by the Migration Policy Institute has found that English language learners who exit bilingual or English as a second language programs within three years perform better in meeting basic math and reading standards than students who spend five years or more in such programs.The study highlights the challenges of so-called long-term English language learners, who spend years in the system without reaching English proficiency and often are at high risk of dropping out of high school.

“The weaker academic performance evidenced by long-term ELLS raises important questions on how to address their literacy and linguistic needs,” said MPI senior vice president Michael Fix. “However, with much still unknown about the reasons why students remain in ELL status for many years, it would not be prudent to conclude that language acquisition instruction should be time-limited.”

The study analyzed data from Texas, looking at students who were first-graders in 1995 and high school seniors in 2006. In Texas, about 17 percent of public school students were classified as limited English proficient in 2011. Texas law requires bilingual education when a school district enrolls 20 or more ELL students in the same grade who share a language .

Of those students who exited within three years, 86 percent passed Texas’ 11th grade math exam, compared with 59 percent of students who were in bilingual or ESL programs for five years or more and 44 percent of students enrolled in such programs for seven or more years.

Many of the long-term students speak English proficiently but have poor literacy skills in English that hold them back. These findings are an important reminder that reporters should not assume that high-school students designated as ELLs are all new immigrants. I’ve often heard school administrators say recent immigrants limited in English are the ones who are drop out. A Texas ELL program director once told me she was frustrated that administrators in her district held this misconception that all older ELLs are recent immigrants. The uncomfortable truth is many of these ELLs have been in the system for a long time and are American-born. In the past, many of these Texas students didn’t graduate from high school because they had to pass 11th grade exams to get a diploma. Soon, students will also be required to pass end-of-course exams to move forward a grade.

In the MPI study, the top-performing students exited within three years and also attended Texas schools for all 12 grades. On the other end of the spectrum, researchers found that Hispanic ELLs whose parents refuse ESL/bilingual education programs were less likely to go to college. The study also found that students who worked while attending high school were more likely to enroll in college.

Read the complete study here. Vanderbilt University assistant professor Stella M. Flores obtained and analyzed the Texas data, and authored the report with Fix and policy analyst Jeanne Batalova. It raises a lot of questions: Are high student mobility and poorly constructed language acquisition programs to blame?