Dual Language Learners: A National Demographic and Policy Profile

Maki Park, Anna O’Toole, and Caitlin Katsiaficas
Date of Publication: 
October, 2017
Source Organization: 
Migration Policy Institute

Defined as children ages 8 and under with at least one parent who speaks a language other than English at home, dual language learners (DLLs) now make up nearly one-third of all young children in the United States. This report provides a demographic overview of the DLL population and identifies policies and practices that have proven effective in educating these children. The authors point out the vulnerabilities of these children, e.g. the greater percentage of DLLs living in low-income families (58 percent compared to 43 percent of non-DLLs), lower enrollment of DLLs in pre-K programs (42 percent compared to 48 percent of non-DLLs), and substantially lower scores on standardized 4th grade reading and math assessments. Among the system-level policies that have shown promise in addressing these problems are: bilingual education; the use of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems to evaluate effectiveness in dealing with diversity; and the use of Kindergarten Entry or Readiness Assessments to measure cognitive development, not just English fluency. The authors also recommend the creative use of Child Care and Development Fund resources; the use of federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting funds to serve young DLLs and their families; and the tracking of DLL enrollment in Pre-K and Early Learning enrollment. "As the DLL population grows, early childhood policies that recognize and address DLLs' learning strengths and needs are crucial to ensuring that all young children are able to build a strong foundation for future success." (American Immigrant Policy Portal)

Download now or view online


Park, M., O’Toole, A., & Katsiaficas, C. (2017). Dual Language Learners: A National Demographic and Policy Profile (Fact Sheet) (p. 12). Washington, D.C.: Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/dual-language-learners-national-demographic-and-policy-profile