AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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English Language Learners

The AFT seeks to promote educational excellence and equity for English language learners (ELLs)—students in preK-12 who are not yet proficient in reading, writing and communicating in the English language—to ensure they meet the same challenging standards required of all students. ELLs make up more than 5 million students—nearly 10.3 percent of public school enrollment. In addition to learning a new language, most ELLs also have to adjust to a new environment and culture, as well as learn new academic skills and content knowledge. We must address the educational needs of ELLs and provide educators who teach them with the instructional support and assistance they need.

ELLs are multiracial, multinational and diverse in their educational and socioeconomic background. While more than 460 native languages are spoken in U.S. public schools, Spanish speakers account for approximately 80 percent of the total number of ELLs in the nation. For more than 30 years, ELLs' levels of academic achievement and educational attainment rates have remained low. Factors that contribute to ELLs' poor academic outcomes include high mobility rates, low enrollment in early childhood education programs, little or no prior formal schooling in their home country, and lack of health services. Additionally, most ELLs attend schools with larger class sizes and less access to the specialized instructional programs and social support systems they need.

ELLS are poised to become an even more significant percentage of the nation's school population and workforce (approximately 20 percent of the workforce and half of the population under 18 by 2025), and their economic and social impact on the nation's future cannot be underestimated or overlooked. Without considerable educational improvements and investments, these students will not be prepared to be successful participants in our global and technologically advanced economy. In calling for change, we uphold our core values and tradition of full inclusion and participation, which are so essential to a democracy.