MPI Analysis Finds Weaknesses in Early Childhood System Designs for Limited-English Families; State Fact Sheets Offer Data on Dual Language Learner Households
WASHINGTON, DC — Of the 22.7 million children ages 0–5 in the United States, one-third are Dual Language Learners (DLLs), meaning they have at least one parent who speaks a language other than English at home. DLLs participate in early childhood education and care (ECEC) programs at lower rates—even as they stand to benefit disproportionately from them. A new policy brief from the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy finds that despite requirements under federal civil rights law to overcome language barriers, the country’s major ECEC programs often fail to require collection of relevant data and/or adopt accountability measures that would allow them to ensure meaningful and equitable access to services for DLL children and their families.
The brief is accompanied by a series of fact sheets that offer data profiles of DLLs and their families in the 25 states with the largest DLL populations. The fact sheets offer data that can help ECEC policymakers and other key system actors improve program access and quality for these young children and their parents, whose ability to navigate services and interact with providers to whom they entrust their children is essential. Key data elements include:
- Size of the DLL population and DLLs’ share of all children ages 0-5
- Top non-English languages spoken in DLLs’ households
- Share residing in low-income households
- Parental levels of education
- Residential internet and computer access
The fact sheets reflect the differing realities by state—for example, while one-third of young children nationally are DLLs, the share rises to 59 percent in California and 49 percent in Texas. And while Spanish is the top non-English language in DLL homes nationwide and in many states, dozens of other languages are spoken, including Arabic and French in North Carolina, Russian and Chinese in Oregon and Polish and Urdu in Illinois.
The policy brief explores federal and state efforts to implement language access policies in major ECEC programs: the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG); the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program; Head Start; and state pre-kindergarten (pre-K) programs. It also discusses evidence of disparities in access to these programs and highlights opportunities to improve language access across early childhood services. Although these key federal early childhood programs contain some measures related to language access, their requirements are quite limited, often lacking specificity and accountability mechanisms. Broadly speaking, ECEC programs also do not require the collection and reporting of comprehensive data related to language access and serving DLL families.
“The extent to which language services are or are not being provided in a way that meets family needs is impossible to know fully, though lags in the participation of limited English proficient (LEP) families and workers suggest that such services are significantly lacking,” authors Maki Park, Jacob Hofstetter and Ivana Tú Nhi Giang write. “Moreover, even when LEP families are able to enroll, these programs are less likely to be able to provide high-quality, culturally and linguistically responsive services to these families due to an inability to communicate effectively with and provide basic program information that the families can understand.”
The brief offers a series of strategies to bridge enrollment gaps for the nation’s nearly 7.5 million DLLs, who have the potential to thrive as multi-lingual and multi-cultural individuals given the appropriate supports. Among the recommendations are improved data collection and accountability mechanisms.
Access the policy brief here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/language-access-early-childhood.
The state fact sheets are available here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/dual-language-learner-characteristics.
For a related infographic: www.migrationpolicy.org/content/learning-more-about-dual-language-learners.
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy is a crossroads for elected officials, researchers, state and local agency managers, grassroots leaders, local service providers and others who seek to understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities.