English-Language Learners

29% of Children in Public Pre-K Are English-Learners. Are Schools Meeting Their Needs?

By Corey Mitchell — June 27, 2018 2 min read
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Many state-funded preschools have done little to ensure that staff have the training and skills to support children from families in which languages other than English are spoken, a report from the National Institute on Early Education Research has found.

In its survey and analysis of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, the organization found that only 26 state-funded preschool programs even collect data on student home languages.

Nearly 30 percent of children enrolled in state-funded prekindergarten programs are English-learners.

Tracking information on children’s home languages—knowing how many young English-learners are in the general population and how many are enrolled in state preschool programs—is a starting place for “understanding and increasing access,” to state-run programs, the report argues.

That access is important because research has shown that even waiting until kindergarten to introduce English-learners to English could hinder efforts to help them learn the language.

Furthermore, not having access to home-language data makes it tough for states to create policies to support the students, argued Ellen Frede, the co-director of the institute and a research professor at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education.

While most state-run programs do have some policies in place, the guidelines vary widely across the country in both quantity and quality, the report found.

“What we see across the whole country ... is a pretty weak response to a growing population,” Frede said.

The report also found that only nine state-run preschool programs have policies that address staff qualifications for teachers of young English-learners—and no states require specific training for teaching assistants.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s missing,” Frede said. “I just don’t understand why we’re not doing much more. It’s like putting our heads in the sand and ignoring what our population trends are and what the needs of our children are.”

The National Institute of Early Education Research isn’t the only organization with concerns about how the nation’s pre-kindergarten programs are serving young English-learners.

In a report released last fall, the Migration Policy Institute argued that many young English-learners do not have access to high-quality prekindergarten courses, which can boost school readiness and provide a foundation for future success in school.

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Image Credit: National Institute for Early Education Research

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