Equity & Diversity

Schools Are Ill-Prepared to Educate ‘Superdiverse’ English-Learners

By Corey Mitchell — February 22, 2018 2 min read
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Public policy, research, and teaching methods have not adjusted to accommodate the nation’s increasingly diverse English-language-learner population—and the problem begins well before children enter K-12 classrooms, a new report from the Migration Policy Institute finds.

While more education programs and systems now have practices in place to support Spanish-speaking children, the “sheer diversity of languages spoken by families with young children makes providing bilingual education to all [dual-language learners] an unrealistic and unattainable goal.”

The nation’s dual-language-learner population has grown by about 24 percent since 2000, and those students represent a wider range of languages and cultures than in the past. The report authors refer to the demographic shifts, fueled in part by immigration and refugee resettlements patterns, as the “diversification of diversity” or “superdiversity.”

In addition to exploring the policy implications of the growing diversity, the report examines the needs of three specific groups—Asian American and Pacific Islander language-learners, black language-learners from African and the Carribbean, and young children of refugees—and analyzes the growth of language diversity in states and counties across the United States.

The authors found that a failure to track state-level data on language backgrounds, beginning in early-childhood education programs, has left teachers, administrators, and lawmakers in a bind, trying to make policy and program adjustments to serve these students without a full understanding of their linguistic and cultural diversity.

“At a time when DLL children are speaking a far more diverse range of languages, many communities across the United States are experiencing classroom diversity with little to no guidance on effective practices for promoting their cognitive and socioemotional development,” the authors write.

“As this diversity continues to grow and shift, [early childhood education and care] systems and programs will need to build strategies to effectively meet the learning needs of these children and support their parents in doing the same.”

To help address those concerns, the report makes the case for a more diverse early-childhood workforce, improved tools to assess the development of dual-language learners in early-childhood programs, and more research to develop teaching approaches that can work in “superdiverse” classrooms where students speak several languages.

The latest report builds upon a body of work the Migration Policy Institute has produced that explores the early education of dual-language learners, which the organization defines as children who are 8 or younger with at least one parent who speaks a language other than English. In a report released last fall, the organization found that many states fail to provide access to high-quality early-childhood education to these children.

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Image Credit: Migration Policy Institute

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