Equity & Diversity

Limited-English-Proficient Population Rises 80 Percent Since 1990

By Lesli A. Maxwell — December 20, 2011 1 min read
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On a fairly regular basis, we get updates on where the latest waves of immigrants to the U.S. are settling and which countries of origin are most widely represented among the new arrivals.

Drawing from the latest U.S. Census data, we also can see how these patterns are playing out linguistically, thanks to a new analysis from the Migration Policy Institute which examines how the population of individuals who don’t speak English or have limited proficiency is growing and where they are choosing to settle. These patterns are hugely important for educators to understand and prepare for as they encounter more English learners in their classrooms.

In the two decades between 1990 and 2010, the number of people who are limited English proficient (LEP) grew 80 percent, according to the Migration Policy Institute‘s report. Some state’s experienced staggering rates of growth. Nevada’s population grew 398 percent during this time, the most of any state. North Carolina and Georgia weren’t far behind, with 395 percent and 379 percent jumps, respectively.

Obviously that kind of growth has huge implications for public schools, where most LEP children will end up. Despite the incredible growth in Nevada, for example, the state does not provide additional funding to local schools to educate its English-language learners beyond what it pays for regular students. That’s incredible, really, especially when you consider that Clark County Public Schools, which includes Las Vegas, ranks second only to Los Angeles Unified School District in terms of the percentage of ELLs in its schools.

Spanish remains the dominant language spoken by LEP individuals, followed by Chinese. But French, Italian and German, which still ranked in the top five languages spoken by LEP individuals in 1990, no longer rank in the top 10 as of 2010.

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