Chapter 1: Bilingualism, American-Style
By James Crawford

Immigration and Its Impact
Making Sense of Census 2000
Diversity in Historic Perspective
Causes of Language Shift
LEP Enrollment Growth
Challenges for Educators
Achievement (Data) Gaps
Dropout Rates
Patterns of Acculturation
Costs of Language Loss

A generation ago English learners were just a small blip on the radar screen of American educators. Language diversity attracted little attention because, in most parts of the United States, there was so little of it. To be sure, pockets of minority language speakers could be found in urban barrios and Chinatowns, South Florida, the rural Southwest, backwoods Alaska, northern New England, and a few Indian reservations. Children in these socially and geographically isolated communities were targeted for assistance under the Bilingual Education Act of 1968. But they were the exceptions. By and large, to be American meant to speak English, and probably not much else – or so it was assumed.

Three decades later that premise is no longer viable. Bilingualism, both individual and societal, has become a fact of life in the United States and promises to remain so for generations to come. The reason for this trend is no mystery: immigration has reached its highest level in U.S. history, at least in numerical terms. An estimated 14 million immigrants arrived in the 1990s, legally and otherwise,1 according to the Urban Institute. Over 90 percent of them came from non-English- speaking countries. Along with their 4 million U.S.-born children, these new Americans accounted for more than half of the nation’s population growth – and more than a third of its school enrollment growth – during the decade.

As important as their numbers has been their diversity. “Never before has the United States received immigrants from so many countries, from such different social and economic backgrounds, for so many reasons,” write sociologists Alejandro Portes and Rubén Rumbaut. Latin America and Asia have contributed the largest share: economic migrants from Mexico and the Caribbean, political exiles from Cuba, and war refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Civil strife and deprivation have brought newcomers from eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Horn of Africa. Meanwhile globalization has created a brain drain of professional and technical workers from countries like India, Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

Perhaps the most obvious result of increased immigration is the changing racial and ethnic profile of U.S. residents. Between 1970 and 2000, Asians and Pacific Islanders increased by 592 percent and Latinos by 268 percent, while blacks increased by 53 percent and non-Hispanic whites by a mere 15 percent (see Table 1–1). Expressed another way, one in six Americans were Asians or Latinos in 2000, up from one in 20 three decades earlier. Over the same period, non-Hispanic whites declined from 83 percent to 70 percent of the population.

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