One-third of the nearly 23 million preschool-age children in the U.S. live with a parent who speaks a language other than English. Despite the size of this population and its distinct linguistic assets and learning support needs, nearly all states lack any standardized policies for systematically identifying these children. Yet doing so would provide the means for early childhood education and care (ECEC) programs to determine if these children are being effectively and equitably served—rather than waiting until they enroll in kindergarten. It is only at the kindergarten stage that federal laws kick in requiring identification of children who speak a language other than English at home, and require accountability for provision of appropriate instructional designs for English learners.
Two reports authored by analysts with the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy provide a framework for the most critical steps early childhood systems should take to identify, understand, and track language development of young Dual Language Learners (DLLs), as well as a national scan of the procedures some state and local ECEC programs use to identify DLLs. An accompanying data tool provides state-level data on DLLs and a host of socio-demographic information on their families.
Ending the Invisibility of Dual Language Learners in Early Childhood Systems: A Framework for DLL Identification offers a framework describing the most critical elements that should be included in standardized, comprehensive DLL identification and tracking processes for early childhood systems, based on program and policy needs.
The key elements of this framework are:
- identifying young children who have exposure to a language other than English in their home environment;
- collecting comprehensive information about DLLs’ language environment and experiences;
- obtaining in-depth information about DLLs’ individual language and preliteracy skills in English and in their home language(s); and
- making these data and other relevant information accessible to programs and policymakers across early childhood and K-12 systems.
“The young child population is at the forefront of the nation’s growing cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity,” the authors, Maki Park, senior policy analyst for early care and education, and Delia Pompa, senior fellow for education policy, conclude. “Developing responsive systems that recognize this diversity and are built to make fully visible the important characteristics, needs and experiences of DLLs, which have to date remained largely invisible, will be critical to realizing early learning systems that help young children harness their strengths and give them the opportunity to thrive.”
In the other report, Taking Stock of Dual Language Learner Identification and Strengthening Procedures and Policies, analysts Melissa Lazarín and Maki Park examine the extent to which federal agencies, states, and localities have procedures or guidance in place to identify DLLs in major early childhood programs. The report discusses the obstacles and substantial costs of failing to identify DLLs and taps into the literature on identification and classification of English Learners in the K-12 sector for potential lessons relevant to identification efforts of early childhood systems. The report also explores the innovative strategies several states and localities have taken to improve DLL identification and concludes with a discussion of opportunities to advance more comprehensive DLL identification policies and practices.
“Early childhood systems across the U.S. are at a crossroads,” said Margie McHugh, director of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “With the pandemic having laid bare the multiple disparities facing immigrant families with young children, and the American Relief Plan and other legislation providing significant new support for states to expand and improve quality in their ECEC systems, measures that recognize and include the needs of DLL children in ECEC system frameworks are long overdue. They are central to providing effective, equitable services to this very large and growing segment of the U.S. child population.”
Access the national scan report here.
Click here for the framework.
For a new data tool with U.S. and state-level sociodemographic and family characteristics for young children by DLL status and by race/ethnicity, click here.