Early Childhood Programs Failing English Learners

A 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 early childhood education and care (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% in California and 49% 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 prekindergarten (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 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 multilingual and multicultural individuals given the appropriate supports. Among the recommendations are improved data collection and accountability mechanisms.

Access the policy brief at www.migrationpolicy.org/research/language-access-early-childhood.


  1. I was already disappointed with some English language learning programs and realized that the best way for a child to learn English is to study through English books and texts. For example, I teach my younger sister based on renamed masterpieces such as the play “Antigone” by Sophocles and so on. This method also teaches about English culture and I think it is perfect. The samples I presented to my sister made her understand the message of the play that it is not wise to never admit error or change your mind. So don’t expect some special programs to be effective for everyone, because the learning process is individualized for everyone.

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