A Look at ELLs in Los Angeles

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 16, 2008 1 min read
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A team of researchers at the Migration Policy Institute argue that primary and secondary schools are perhaps the most important institutions for integrating immigrant families into American society. In a report released today, “Los Angeles on the Leading Edge: Immigrant Integration Indicators and their Policy Implications,” they use data about English-language learners from Los Angeles—and also some national data—to document a couple of troubling trends. (Los Angeles refers to the Los Angeles-Long Beach metro area. The Los Angeles Unified School District alone has 330,000 ELLs, who make up 43 percent of the system’s students.)

The first disturbing trend is that 80 percent of ELLs in kindergarten through 5th grade and half of ELLs in 6th grade through 12th grade in Los Angeles were born in the United States. The fact that so many of these children likely have been served by U.S. schools for many years and not moved out of the ELL category indicates that “schools do not appear to have served them well,” write the authors of the report.

The second “worrying trend,” according to the researchers, is that ELLs are increasingly concentrated in schools with a very large share of ELLs. Nationwide, over half of ELLs go to schools where 30 percent or more of students in the school are also ELLs. The problem with this, they say, is that children are not only economically and ethnically segregated, but linguistically isolated as well. (I’m wondering: How are they going to get practice speaking English if practically everyone they are surrounded by has limited English skills?)

The report does have some good news about ELLs. Those children from Los Angeles who are reclassified as fluent in English and have thus left the ELL category do almost as well as a group on California’s regular reading test as all students.

Let me note that Michael Fix, the vice president and director of studies for the Migration Policy Institute, is one of the researchers behind the report on Los Angeles. He’s one of the few researchers in the country who has provided information about “long-term ELLs” and continually tries to get the word out to the public that most ELLs in U.S. schools were born in this country.

As I mentioned in a post recently, “What to do With Long-Term ELLs?,” educators need some fresh insights about how to serve long-term ELLs.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.