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Study: U.S.-Born Kids Lacking English Proficiency Outnumber Foreign-Born Students

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U.S.-born children who are struggling to speak English outnumber foreign-born kids.

The data in an Education Writers Association report suggest that students born in America to immigrant parents may not be assimilating as quickly as those from past generations.

The disadvantages that come with not being proficient in English are “cumulative” in nature and may put these students in the so-called funnel of failure early in life.

According to a Migration Policy study based on 2012 Census data, “the overall percentage for 6-to-21-year-olds enrolled in a K-12 program who were born outside of the United States is 4.7 percent, or 2.37 million students.” But a whopping 9.1% of U.S.-born students are not proficient in English, according to the Department of Education’s 2013 data.

As author Mikhail Zinshteyn notes in his report, the “gulf between the number of students born abroad and those considered English-language learners is particularly wide in several states”:

California, with roughly 93 percent of its child population considered native-born in 2012, had nearly a quarter of its students enrolled in programs for English language learners that same year.

Eleven percent of Oregon’s students are English-language learners while just 4 percent of children in that state were born abroad.

Texas and Nevada have ELL student populations of 15 and 20 percent, respectively. The non-native child population in each state is around 6 percent.

In addition, younger children who are not proficient in English are more likely to be U.S.-born. According to the report, “nearly nine in 10 ELL [English Language Learners] students between kindergarten and grade five were born in the United States.”

Migration Policy Institute’s Jeanne Batalova told the outlet that disadvantages for these kids are “cumulative” because “the gap between abilities and skills for students who lack language proficiency can seem narrow in earlier grades… But when the academics become more complicated and complex, children are lagging more and more behind.”

As the report noted, 2012’s Census data found that “nearly 41 million people in the United States age 5 and above are considered foreign-born,” representing a three-fold increase since 1980. And “of those 41 million, roughly half either speak only English at home or speak English ‘very well.'”

This is a problem that many states that have not traditionally been associated with a high number of immigrants are confronting in recent years, according to the report:

Between 2001 and 2012, 10 states experienced colossal growth in the number of students enrolled in English-language learning programs, ranging from 135 percent in North Carolina to 610 percent in South Carolina… Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Kansas and Virginia also are on the list of states that have seen steep growth.


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