Nearly 1 In 10 Public School Students ‘English Language Learners,’ Mostly Spanish Speakers

Nearly 10 percent of the nation’s K-12 enrollment in public schools were “English Language Learners” (ELLs) during the 2012-2013 academic calendar, according to a new fact sheet from the Migration Policy Institute.

According to the MPI, the Department of Education estimates that for the 2012-2013 school year, there were 4.85 million ELLs in public schools across the nation.

The state with the most ELL enrollment was California, where nearly one in four (24 percent) students did not speak English as their first language.

New Mexico boasted the second highest percentage of ELL enrollment, with 18 percent of students learning English, and Nevada placed third with 17 percent of students. Texas (15 percent) and Colorado (13 percent) placed fourth and fifth in the density department, respectively.

In terms of raw totals, California again placed first with more than 1.5 million ELL students enrolled in the Golden State’s public schools.

Texas (773,732 ELLs), Florida (277,802), New York (237,499), Illinois (190,172), Colorado (114,415), Washington (107,307), and North Carolina (102,311) followed.

“Together these eight states accounted for more than two-thirds of the nation’s ELL student enrollment in public schools,” MPI reported. “The next seven states with the largest ELL student enrollments comprised an additional 12 percent of the nation’s ELL population.”

Those seven states were Virginia (99,897 ELLs), Georgia (94,034), Arizona (91,382), Michigan (80,958), Nevada (77,559), Massachusetts (71,066), and Minnesota (70,436).

MPI pointed out that when broken down by county, 25 school districts made up almost 23 percent of the nation’s K-12 ELLs, eight of those school districts were in one state: California.

“With enrollment of more than 150,000 ELLs, the Los Angeles Unified School District had the largest ELL population (152,592 students), closely followed by New York City (142,572). Each of these two districts had higher ELL enrollment than the next two largest districts combined: Nevada’s Clark County School District (68,577) and Florida’s Dade County School District (66,497),” the document read.

The state with the lowest percentage of ELL students was West Virginia at 0.9 percent, and the state with the least number of ELLs was Vermont with just 1,605.

A separate MPI fact sheet issued this month found that of the ELL students, the most commonly used language in the home was Spanish, with Spanish speakers representing 71 percent of ELL students. The report based its findings on the Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey.

“Chinese was the second most common language spoken in ELL students’ homes, representing 4 percent of ELLs, followed by Vietnamese (3 percent) and French/Haitian Creole (2 percent). Of the remanding top ten languages, no other language accounted for more than 2 percent of the total. Notably five of the top ten—Chinese, Arabic, Yiddish, Korean, Hmong—are not based on the Latin alphabet,” the document read.


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