An overview of English learners

In the 2013-14 school year, U.S. schools enrolled more than 4.9 million English learners. So who are these English learners? A new report from the U.S. Department of Education provides data on the number of English learners (ELs), what languages they speak, where they live, and how schools are educating them.

Since 2002-03, the number of ELs in U.S. schools has increased by 13.6% (an average of 1.2% each year). During the same period, total student enrollment increased 3.6%. In 2013-14, 92.% of identified ELs received services through Title-III funded language instruction programs.

The most common first language among these students was Spanish, which was spoken by more than 3.6 million ELs. The next most common language was Arabic (spoken by 100,461 students), followed by Chinese (99,943), Vietnamese (80, 283), and Haitian Creole (35,467). In all but five states, Spanish was the most common language spoken among ELs. The only exceptions were Alaska (where Yup’ik languages dominated); Hawaii (Iloko); Maine (Somali); Montana (German); and Vermont (Nepali).

The number of immigrant children, meaning children born outside the United States and attending U.S. schools for no more than three full academic years, totaled 651,895 in 2013-14, with 25.9% of these students receiving Title III services.

Most U.S. states offered multiple types of literacy programs for English learners, with some programs building students’ literacy in English and their native language and some programs focused solely on English. However, 10 states only offered programs that built English literacy skills.

The full report includes data on individual states, as well as reporting on how states are doing in meeting goals in helping students achieve proficiency in English and make adequate yearly progress in reading/language arts and mathematics.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students. (2018, September). The Biennial Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Title III State Formula Grant Program, School Years 2012-14. Washington, DC: Author.

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