By: Kyle Palmer and Matt Hodapp

As part of its 5 Million Voices reporting project, NPR recently released a trove of data about the nation’s 5 million or so students who are labeled as English Language Learners, or ELLs.

It’s now estimated that 1 in 10 school children in the U.S. is ELL and teaching ELLs, as the NPR report put it, is “one of the biggest challenges in public education” today. Some of the more interesting data points culled from this report:

  1. 3.8 million of ELLs speak Spanish as their primary language. Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Vietnamese, and Arabic are the next most-common home languages.

  2. Most ELLs in the U.S. are native-born American citizens. In fact, 85% of ELLs in grades K-5 are U.S.-born.

  3. The states with the largest percentage of ELLs? No surprise: California (29%) and Texas (18%). But between 2000 and 2014, the states with biggest growth in ELL populations were Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

  4. Overall, academic achievement for ELLs is lower. About 62% of ELLs graduate high school, compared with a national rate of 82%.

Our teachers on this Extra Credit corroborated much of what the NPR report’s data suggest. Teaching ELLs is difficult and often an overlooked challenge of  American education. All three of them frankly admitted they don’t feel prepared to teach ELLs and want more training.

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