ELLs to Keep Increasing as K-12 Schools Cross ‘Majority-Minority’ Threshold

By Lesli A. Maxwell — August 21, 2014 1 min read
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The 2014-15 school year—officially underway in many districts—is expected to be the one in which the nation’s K-12 population enters a new era: White students will no longer constitute the majority of public schoolchildren in the United States.

Of course, this demographic milestone will remain a projection until we have official school census data that will take the federal government many months to collect and report.

But it’s still a significant moment in time that raises a whole range of challenges and opportunities for educators. A team of Education Week reporters and data crunchers delved into this issue in a package of stories and multimedia features published online that looks at the implications—both symbolically and practically—of this new era when the collective number of Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and Native American students will ounumber their white peers.

It’s a shift that’s been headed our way for a couple of decades and one that’s already happened in many school districts around the country.

But I’d argue that the most dramatic transformation to public schooling in so many communities has been, and will continue to be, the rise in students whose first language is not English.

As thousands of communities, particularly in the Southern states, became booming gateways for immigrant families during the 1990s, many districts have really struggled with how to serve a large influx of students who are English-learners.

And that trend is expected to continue. By 2050, 34 percent of U.S. children younger than 17 will either be immigrants themselves or the children of at least one parent who is an immigrant, according to projections from the Pew Research Center. That portends an ever-growing share of children coming to schools with little or no English-language skills, says Richard Fry, a senior researcher at Pew.

So, will educators and public policymakers take heed of these demographic projections and start planning for the increasing need for English-language instructional programs and teachers who can not only deliver solid core-content instruction, but English-language-development and literacy instruction as well? The answer to that question has huge implications for second-language learners, who trail their native English-speaking-peers on most measures of academic success.

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