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High Concentration of Limited-English Students Challenges Implementation of No Child Left Behind Act

Document date: September 30, 2005
Released online: September 30, 2005

Contact: Latricia Good, (202) 261-5709, lgood@ui.urban.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 30, 2005—New research from the Urban Institute finds that limited English proficient (LEP) students are highly concentrated in a small share of America's public schools. Seventy percent of LEP students in kindergarten through fifth grade are enrolled in only 10 percent of the country's public elementary schools.

These "high-LEP" schools are located mainly in urban areas and have larger enrollments, larger classes, and higher incidences of student poverty than schools serving low percentages of LEP children. High-LEP schools also generally have less experienced and more uncertified teachers and principals than schools serving fewer LEP students.

Immigration and the success of school reform-particularly the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)-have become inextricably bound together, said researcher Michael Fix. "No Child Left Behind," he said, "may be one of the most important pieces of immigrant integration legislation in the past decade."

NCLB requires schools to report, as a separate group, LEP students' scores on standardized tests and holds schools accountable for their results. As a result, NCLB is forcing schools to give special attention to the education of LEP and low-income students, two groups that are growing rapidly as a result of immigration-led changes in the makeup of the nation's child population.

The Institute's research finds that

  • the share of students in kindergarten through 12th grade with a foreign-born parent tripled from 6 percent in 1970 to 19 percent in 2000. By 2010, children of immigrants will represent over one-quarter of the student population.
  • children of immigrants dispersed rapidly during the 1990s to such states as Nevada, North Carolina, Georgia, and Nebraska that had little experience settling newcomers. Nevada, for instance, witnessed a 206 percent jump during the decade in the number of children of immigrants.
  • the linguistic isolation that many LEP children find in their schools is replicated in their homes. Six out of seven LEP students in elementary schools live in households where no one over age 14 is proficient in English.
  • most LEP students are natives. Three-quarters of those in elementary school and over half of those in secondary school are U.S.-born and many have U.S.-born parents.

"Clearly many of these students are not learning English even after seven or more years in school-a worrisome trend that underscores the need to hold schools accountable for the progress of these children," said researcher Randy Capps.

First-Time Picture of High-LEP Schools

The Urban Institute research, contained in two studies released today, also presents the first statistical and analytical portrait of high-LEP schools, which are educating a large and increasing share of LEP students. Other studies have found that schools in need of improvement enroll a disproportionately large number of LEP students.

High-LEP schools, where almost a quarter of students are LEP, are more likely than others to have teachers with provisional, emergency, or temporary certification, and their teachers are substantially more likely to be uncertified. At the same time, high-LEP schools outdistance other schools in providing professional development for teachers as well as support and enrichment programs for students.

"There are certain economies of scale in high-LEP schools, where the large numbers of LEP students make providing tailored educational programs and other services relatively cost- effective," said researcher Clemencia Cosentino. "On the other hand, these same students may be segregated and socially isolated, potentially lowering their interaction with English-speaking students to the detriment of both groups."

Cosentino and her coauthors caution that "the shortage of teachers in high-LEP schools who have experience, adequate academic preparation, and appropriate credentials poses the most significant problem for LEP students." Also of concern: the lower availability of LEP-geared services in low-LEP schools, home to about one-third of LEP students, and the relative isolation of many LEP students in individual schools and in areas that have not been traditional locales for immigrants.

Cosentino is a research associate at the Urban Institute, where Randy Capps is a senior research associate. Michael Fix, a former Institute researcher, is vice president and director of studies at the Migration Policy Institute.

"Who's Left Behind? Immigrant Children in High- and Low-LEP Schools," by Clemencia Cosentino de Cohen, Nicole Deterding, and Beatriz Chu Clewell, may be found at http://www.urban.org/url.cfm?ID=411231. "The New Demography of America's Schools: Immigration and the No Child Left Behind Act," by Randy Capps, Michael Fix, Julie Murray, Jason Ost, Jeffrey S. Passel, and Shinta Herwantoro, is available at http://www.urban.org/url.cfm?ID=311230.

The reports are the first products of a multiyear study of the No Child Left Behind Act and its implications for pre-kindergarten, elementary, and secondary students in immigrant families and for students with limited English skills. A report to be released later this year will provide educators and others with a road map of NCLB's immigrant and LEP-related provisions.

The study began in fall 2004 and is funded primarily by the Foundation for Child Development, with additional support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Annie E. Casey Foundation. The research, which will include case studies of large, urban districts and schools, uses data from the U.S. Department of Education's 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, the 2000 Census, the 2002 U.S. Current Population Survey, and the Urban Institute's 2002 National Survey of America's Families.

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation.

Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Education | Immigrants | Race/Ethnicity/Gender

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