Early Childhood

Early Education for Young Dual-Language Learners Weak in Many States, Report Finds

By Corey Mitchell — October 12, 2017 2 min read
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Many states have failed to enact policies that support young children from families in which languages other than English are spoken, a new report from the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute has found.

In its survey and analysis of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Migration Policy Institute found that many states don’t support the early learning 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.

The dual-language-learner population has grown by about 24 percent since 2000, and now represents about 32 percent of the nation’s children in that age group.

A patchwork of policies across the country has meant that many of the children lack access to high-quality prekindergarten courses, which can boost school readiness and provide a foundation for future success in school. That lack of access contributes to the gaps in achievement between English-learners and non-English-learners that begin in elementary school and can continue throughout their K-12 education.

“Ensuring these young learners have an equal opportunity to get their academic careers off to a good start requires strategic policies that support access to high-quality programs,” write the report authors, Maki Park, Anna O’Toole, and Caitlin Katsiaficas.

In 24 states and the District of Columbia, dual-language learners comprise more than 20 percent of children age 8 and younger. But, in pointing out that “policy responsiveness to this population remains uneven,” their survey of state policies found that only 17 provide recruitment and enrollment materials for families in languages other than English.

The Migration Policy Institute also compiled individual fact sheets for the 30 states with the highest enrollments of English-learners and looked at state guidelines for kindergarten entry and readiness assessments, reviewed tools that assess how well early-childhood education supports dual language-learners, and explored how some states use home visiting programs to connect with families who have limited English skills.

The report also explored why less than 10 percent of Spanish-speaking families who are eligible for federal child-care assistance actually use the funds and the role that linguistic and cultural supports can play in boosting the numbers. Children whose first language is Spanish make up the majority of the dual-language learner population.

Here are some data highlights from the report:

  • The top five home languages for dual-language learners are: Spanish, which represent 60 percent; Chinese, including Cantonese and Mandarin, at 3.3 percent; and Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Arabic, which each represent just under 2 percent.
  • 43 states and the District of Columbia offer publicly funded preschool programs, but only about half track dual-language-learner enrollment and only a third collect data on the home language of the students.
  • More than 40 percent of dual-language learner’s parents have limited English skills and nearly 60 percent of the families are low-income.

Here’s a look at the full report.

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