- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

School enrollment growth of immigrant non-English speaking students in 18 states through mid-America has surpassed 200 percent since 1990.

Teachers and administrators in those states have faced a surprising demographic reality as enrollment of students who don’t speak English, mostly Hispanic, has grown more than 10 times faster than the overall rise in school enrollment in the past 15 years, according to a biennial report to Congress by the Education Department.

The fast-growing number of students who don’t speak English — now an estimated 9 million and increasing by almost 1 million a year — is forcing a sea change in language development in schools and the way teachers help children achieve required reading and math proficiency in each grade under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), education leaders say.

“They do have to learn English,” Donna Christian, president of the federally funded nonprofit Center for Applied Linguistics, said of schoolchildren from immigrant families.

“We must share a common language. It is important for all children to learn English to a high degree so they can be successful. But that does not exclude the possibility of them developing their native language while learning English,” Mrs. Christian said.

It is similarly important for English-speaking teachers and students “to become bilingual” in our increasingly diverse schools, with a total of 440 different languages being spoken nationally, she said.

Booming migration of families that do not speak English is now happening in less-populated states as well, mostly where there are migrant jobs and the economy is prospering: Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin.

According to the Education Department, local school districts spent an average $110 in federal Title III funds per student last year to teach English to foreign language students. The amount was as high as $288 per student in Jackson, Miss.

While the growing language problem has placed increased pressure on schools and districts to have enough children pass required reading and math tests under the NCLB, most still achieved adequate yearly progress, department officials said.

Florida, with 292,000 English language learners, or 13 percent of total enrollment, did not have a single school district targeted for needing improvement because it failed to meet adequate yearly progress two years in a row.

In California, students who do not speak English are now more than one-fourth of the state’s 6.4-million school population; in Texas, Nevada and New Mexico, almost one-fifth; and more than 10 percent of students in six other states, according to the Education Department’s 503-page report.

It is not known how many students are children of illegal alien parents because, under federal privacy laws, state officials and federal census surveys are not permitted to ask about the legal status of aliens, officials said.

Vietnamese ranks third nationally behind English and Spanish, with other languages ranking high in some states: Serbo-Croatian in Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Vermont; Chinese in New York; Portuguese in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island; Russian in Oregon, South Carolina and Washington; Arabic in Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia; Korean in Maryland and Virginia; Blackfoot in Montana; Navajo in Utah.

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