In the last decade the total U.S. population grew by about 12%.1 During this same period, the limited English proficient (LEP) population nearly doubled. English learners (ELs) now make up almost 10% of the country’s K-12 students. Ten years ago, 1 out of 6 middle-and high-school students in the United States was from a linguistic minority background (Blanton, 1999). The 2000 Census places that number at 1 out of 4 nationally, and 1 out of 2 in California. English learners account for 1.5 million of California’s nearly 6 million students. The state has slightly under 1 million additional linguistic minority students who come from homes where English is not the dominant language. Overall, then, students who speak a language other than English at home account for 40% of California’s K-12 school population (California Department of Education, 2003). The state’s English learners, students who are not yet proficient in English, represent 32% of the nation’s English learners, followed by Texas with 12% and Florida and New York with 5% each. As the poet Richard Armour wryly noted,

Most of the languages on the planet are spoken in some school in the United States, Spanish is the language spoken by the great majority, with 79% of nonnative English speakers. The next largest concentration of English learners is among Vietnamese and Hmong students, with only 1.9% and 1.6%, respectively. For most schools serving English learners, the challenge is primarily one of providing an equitable education to students who speak Spanish.