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English-Learners Not Disproportionately Suspended, Civil Rights Data Show

English-language learners, who constitute about 10 percent of pre-K-12 public school enrollment, are not being pushed out of school through suspensions and expulsions at disproportionate rates, new federal civil rights data show.

Seven percent of English-language learners were suspended out-of-school during the 2011-12 school year, according to the just-released data that was collected from every school and every district in the country by civil rights officials in the U.S. Department of Education. ELLs were one subgroup of disadvantaged students who were not disproportionately pushed out of school for behavior issues, while their black and special education peers were, the data show.

Once we drill down into the data of specific districts, it will be interesting to see if there are places where suspension rates for English-learners are disproportionate. A quick look at New York City and Los Angeles Unified didn't reveal higher discipline rates for ELLs than their representation in overall enrollment. But it could be in other districts where there are large numbers of long-term English-learners—students who have not been reclassified as proficient in the language after six or more years in U.S. schools—we may see higher percentages of suspensions for ELLs. 


In other key areas of equity, however, English-learners do not fare as well. They are more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers—in spite of their dual need for learning the language and academic content—and are more likely to attend high schools with a limited selection of math and science courses. And while they make up 5 percent of high school enrollment, they comprise 11 percent of the total number of high school students retained in grade for a year.

ELLs are also far less likely than their non-ELL peers to be participating in gifted and talented education programs. The data found that the percentage of non-ELLs participating in gifted programs is three-and-a-half times greater than the percentage of ELLs who do.

There were also striking disparities within the nation's diverse English-learner population. Notably, 81 percent of English-learners who are American Indian or Native Alaskan are enrolled in English-language acquisition courses, compared to 92 percent of their Latino and black peers, the data show. 

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