Number of English Learners Decreasing in O.C. Schools

Scott Martindale, Orange County Register, March 6, 2008

The number of English learners in Orange County public schools has been decreasing steadily since 2002, while the number of bilingual students has been increasing over the same time span, according to a report on the state of Orange County released this week.

English learner enrollment has fallen 11 percent since the county’s 10-year high in 2002, to 141,762 students from 159,145 students, according to the 2008 Orange County Community Indicators report presented Tuesday to the board of supervisors. Orange County has about 504,000 children enrolled in public school.

Meanwhile, the number of students designated bilingual when they entered school has grown 23 percent since 2002, to 99,892 students from 80,998 students.

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In the Santa Ana Unified School District, where about 60 percent of students are English learners, district officials say that increased focus on passing proficiency exams has led to lower numbers of English learners. Meanwhile, the high cost of living appears to be gradually changing the composition of neighborhoods, causing an increase in the number of bilingual students.

“The cost of home prices being so high, what used to be a neighborhood of all immigrant, port-of-entry people, now has some bilingual families moving into the neighborhood,” said Howard Bryan, director of English learner programs for Santa Ana Unified. “More children are coming from homes where the parents speak both languages, as opposed to only one language.”

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