Most State Preschool Programs Fail to Support Dual Language Learners

Most State Preschool Programs Fail to Support Dual Language Learners

Rutgers early education researchers call on states to adopt policies for preschool children

Rutgers Today, Rutgers news- Most State Preschool Programs Fail to Support Dual Language Learners, preschool children watch their teacher read a story
Hispanic dual language learners entering kindergarten show math and reading gaps twice as large as those of English-speaking Hispanic children.

"What we see across the United States is a pretty weak response to a growing population."
 
–Milagros Nores

Media Contact
Michelle Ruess

More than 20 percent of all preschool-aged children in the nation speak a language other than English at home, yet most states have no policies in place to support young children who are simultaneously learning their home language and English.

One of the most significant recent trends in the U.S. education system is that white students are no longer the majority –  a trend mainly driven by the growth in both the number and percentage of Hispanic children. Hispanic children who start kindergarten without speaking English rarely catch up with their English-speaking peers.

Hispanic dual language learners (DLLs) entering kindergarten show math and reading gaps twice as large as those of English-speaking Hispanic children, according to a policy paper published by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers Graduate School of Education. The authors call on state-funded preschool programs to identify the number of DLL children enrolled in state-funded preschool systems, screen and assess all children in their home languages, and offer DLL specialization training to teachers. They also urge state-funded preschools to adopt policies that increase participation in high-quality preschool education and allow for communication with families in their home languages.

“What we see across the U.S. is a pretty weak response to a growing population,” said NIEER’s co-director for research Milagros Nores, one of the paper’s authors. “Policymakers need to address the needs of dual language learners.”

Studies show that a high-quality preschool education can reduce achievement gaps before children enter kindergarten and more than 1.5 million children are enrolled in state-funded preschool programs nationwide – however, only 12 percent of state-funded preschool programs require training qualifications for teachers of DLLs and only a third assess children in their home languages.

Civil rights law entitles K-12 children to extra language services and federal policy requires states to determine which students qualify for such services. Each state sets its own policies for DLLs in the K-12 public school system, but many states don’t have any policies in place for state-funded preschool programs.

The first step to creating policies that improve access to high-quality preschool education is knowing how many DLLs are enrolled in state-funded preschools and the home languages of each of them – currently, 26 of the 60 state-funded preschool programs across the U.S. collect that data.

NIEER conducts independent research to inform early childhood education policy promoting physical, cognitive and social development for all young children to succeed in school and later life. The institute recently released its State of Preschool 2017 annual report, the only national report on state-funded preschool programs.

“Research is clear that knowing two or more languages is beneficial for school success, brain flexibility, and social-emotional development,” said Nores. “By meeting the needs of DLLs, we also enhance learning for English-only children.”

Media Contact
Michelle Ruess