The Percentage of English Language Learners (ELLs) in U.S. Schools

In the United States, the education system is becoming increasingly diverse, with a significant percentage of students classified as English learners (ELs). As of fall 2020, approximately 10.3 percent, or 5.0 million students, were identified as English learners in public schools, representing a notable increase from the 9.2 percent, or 4.5 million students, reported in fall 2010. This upward trend indicates the growing number of individuals who require additional support in acquiring the English language proficiency necessary for academic success. These statistics shed light on the significance of bilingual and multilingual education, as well as the importance of providing comprehensive resources and programs tailored to the unique needs of English learners in American schools.

How Many ELL Students Are in the United States?

In recent years, the number of English Language Learners (ELL) in the United States has been steadily increasing. As of fall 2020, there were a total of 5.0 million ELL students in public schools, accounting for approximately 10.3 percent of the student population.

The surge in ELL student enrollment can be attributed to various factors, including immigration patterns and demographic shifts within communities. The United States has long been a destination for individuals from diverse linguistic backgrounds seeking better opportunities in education and employment. Consequently, schools have seen an influx of students whose primary language isn’t English, resulting in an increased need for support in language acquisition.

To accommodate the growing numbers of ELL students, schools have implemented various programs and support services. These include English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, bilingual education, and additional language support in mainstream classrooms. By providing these resources, educators aim to facilitate language development and academic success for ELL students, ensuring they’ve equal access to educational opportunities.

Despite the challenges posed by language barriers, ELL students have shown resilience and determination in their pursuit of education. With the continued growth of the ELL population, it’s crucial for schools and policymakers to address the unique needs of these students and provide the necessary support to maximize their potential. By fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment, the United States can continue to empower ELL students and reap the benefits of their diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

Challenges Faced by ELL Students in the United States

English Language Learners (ELL) students in the United States face a number of challenges when it comes to learning English and succeeding academically. One of the main difficulties they encounter is the language barrier. Since English isn’t their first language, ELL students may struggle to understand and communicate in the classroom. This can hinder their ability to fully comprehend and participate in lessons and discussions.

Another challenge faced by ELL students is cultural adjustment. Moving to a new country with different customs, traditions, and social norms can be overwhelming and isolating. ELL students often find it challenging to adapt to their new environment and feel a sense of belonging. This can impact their self-esteem and overall academic performance.

Additionally, the lack of resources and support services tailored to the needs of ELL students can pose significant challenges. Many schools may not have enough qualified teachers or proper materials to provide specialized instruction for this population. As a result, ELL students may not receive the necessary support to catch up with their English-speaking peers.

Lastly, standardized tests can be particularly challenging for ELL students. These exams are typically designed for native English speakers and may not accurately assess the skills and knowledge of ELL students. This can create added pressure and hinder their ability to demonstrate their true abilities.

Overall, ELL students in the United States face numerous challenges including language barriers, cultural adjustment, lack of resources, and standardized testing. Recognizing and addressing these challenges is crucial to ensure their academic success and overall well-being.

Many English Language Learners (ELLs) in the United States are predominantly located in states such as California, Arizona, Florida, Texas, New York, and Illinois. California, for instance, has a significant ELL population of over 1.5 million individuals, amounting to around 25% of the state’s entire K-12 student body (Ruiz Soto, Hooker, and Batalova, 2015).

Where Are Most ELL Students From?

ELL students, or English Language Learners, are students who’ve a native language other than English and are in the process of acquiring English language skills. These students are often concentrated in states that have a history of immigration and diverse populations. Some of the states with the highest numbers of ELL students include California, Arizona, Florida, Texas, New York, and Illinois.

California, in particular, stands out as having a large population of ELL students. With more than 1.5 million ELLs, these students make up nearly 25% of the states total K-12 population. This is likely due to Californias proximity to the Mexico border and it’s long history of immigration. Additionally, Arizona, another border state, also has a significant ELL student population.

With it’s diverse population and high number of immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean, Florida has become a hub for ELL students. Similarly, Texas, with it’s large immigrant population and proximity to Mexico, is home to a considerable number of ELL students.

Moving eastward, New York and Illinois are also states with a high concentration of ELL students. New York, specifically New York City, welcomes immigrants from all around the world and has a vibrant and diverse population. Illinois, with it’s large cities like Chicago, attracts immigrants from various countries and backgrounds, contributing to it’s ELL student population.

The presence of ELL students in these states highlights the importance of providing effective and targeted support for English language acquisition, as these students navigate both language and cultural barriers.

The Benefits of Bilingual Education for ELL Students

  • Bilingual education promotes cognitive development.
  • It improves academic performance.
  • Bilingual students have better problem-solving skills.
  • It enhances cultural awareness and sensitivity.
  • Bilingual education fosters better communication skills.
  • It provides career and job opportunities.
  • It promotes a sense of identity and belonging.
  • Bilingual students develop better multitasking and decision-making abilities.
  • It improves overall language proficiency.
  • Bilingual education enhances adaptability in different environments.


In conclusion, the percentage of English learners (ELs) in U.S. schools has seen a steady increase over the past decade, with the figures rising from 9.2 percent in fall 2010 to 10.3 percent in fall 2020. This signifies a growing population of students who require additional support and resources to thrive academically. Understanding the dynamics and needs of this diverse student group is crucial in ensuring equitable and inclusive education. By acknowledging the changing demographics and implementing effective strategies, educators and policymakers can work towards providing a quality education for all students, regardless of their English language proficiency.

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