A Nation with Multiple Languages: The Many Faces of English Language Learners (ELLs) (page 2)
Many immigrants and refugees have come to the United States over the years, and when an increase in newcomers reminds us of this fact, we often express concerns. In the past 30 years, the foreign-born population of the U.S. has tripled, more than 14 million immigrants moved to the U.S. during the 1990s, and another 14 million are expected to arrive between 2000 and 2010. These numbers have lead to reports about an emerging and underserved population of students who are English language learners (ELLs).
Some reports portray English language learners as a new and homogenous population. Actually ELLs are a highly heterogeneous and complex group of students, with diverse gifts, educational needs, backgrounds, languages, and goals. Some ELL students come from homes in which no English is spoken, while some come from homes where only English is spoken; others have been exposed to or use multiple languages. ELL students may have a deep sense of their non-U.S. culture, a strong sense of multiple cultures, or identify only with U.S. culture. Some ELL students are stigmatized for the way they speak English; some are stigmatized for speaking a language other than English; some are stigmatized for speaking English. Some ELL students live in cultural enclaves while their fellow ELL students are surrounded by non-ELL families; some ELL students’ families have lived in the U.S. for over a generation. Some may be high achievers in school while others struggle. They may excel in one content area and need lots of support in another. Some feel capable in school while others are alienated from schooling.
In the largest sense, all students are learning English, and each ELL student falls at a different point on the spectrums of experiences described above. One thing is certain: there is no one profile for an ELL student, nor is one single response adequate to meet their educational goals and needs. ELL students are a diverse group that offers challenges and opportunities to U.S. education and to English language arts teachers in particular. 1
ELLs are the fastest growing segment of the student population. The highest growth occurs in grades 7–12, where ELLs increased by approximately 70 percent between 1992 and 2002. ELLs now comprise 10.5 percent of the nation’s K–12 enrollment, up from 5 percent in 1990. 2
ELLs do not fit easily into simple categories; they comprise a very diverse group. Recent research shows that 57 percent of adolescent ELLs were born in the U.S., while 43 percent were born elsewhere. ELLs have varied levels of language proficiency, socio-economic standing, expectations of schooling, content knowledge, and immigration status. 3
ELL students are increasingly present in all U.S. states. Formerly, large ELL populations were concentrated in a few states, but today almost all states have populations of ELLs. States in the Midwest and Intermountain West have seen increases in the number of ELL students; in Illinois, for example, enrollments of Hispanic undergraduates grew by 80 percent in the last decade. 4 Nationwide, approximately 43 percent of secondary educators teach ELLs. 5
ELLs sometimes struggle academically. In 2005, 4 percent of ELL eighth graders achieved proficiency on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) versus 31 percent of all eighth graders who were found to be proficient. Non-native English speakers 14–18 years old were 21 percent less likely to have completed high school than native English speakers. 6
1 These characterizations are based on ELL students described in the following:
Furman, C. (2007, May 10). Reaching Jigme. New York Teacher: United Federation of Teachers City Edition, XLVIII (16): 47.
Leki, I. (1999). “Pretty much I screwed up:” Ill-served needs of a permanent resident. In L. Harklau, K. Losey, & M. Siegal (Eds.), Generation 1.5 meets college composition: Issues in the teaching of writing to U.S.-educated learners of ESL (pp. 17-43). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Nieto, S. (2000). Linguistic diversity in multicultural classrooms. In Affirming diversity: Creating multicultural communities. (pp. 189-217). New York: Addison, Wesley, and Longman. Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive schooling: U.S.-Mexican youth and the politics of caring. New York: SUNY.
2 Hoffman, L., & Sable, J. (2006). Public elementary and secondary
students, staff, schools, and school districts: School year 2003-2004. Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics.
Kindler, A. (2002). Survey of the states’ limited-English-proficient students and available educational programs and services: 2000-2001 summary report. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition.
3 Batalova, J., Fix, M. & Murray, J. (2005). English language learner adolescents: Demographics and literacy achievements. Report to the Center for Applied Linguistics. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Hoffman & Sable, 2006.
4 From Comppile online resources. 3 Nov. 2007. Accessed 22 Nov. 2007. http://comppile.tamucc.edu/wiki/TESOLBibliography/Introduction.
5 U.S. Census. 2000. People who spoke a language other than English at home. Washington, DC: Census Bureau. Retrieved May 22, 2007, from http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/GRTT.
6 Boyson, B., & Short, D. (2003). Secondary school newcomer programs in the United States. Research Report No. 12. Santa Cruz, CA, & Washington, DC: Center for Research on Education, Diversity, & Excellence.
Short, D. J., & Fitzsimmons, S. (2007). Double the work: Challenges and solutions to acquiring language and academic literacy for adolescent English language learners. Report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. New York: Alliance for Excellent Education.
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