Access to and Enrollment in Early Learning Programs, Advanced Coursework, and Dual Credit Programs
The achievement gap between English learners (ELs) and their English proficient peers is well documented, including both their lower scores on standardized tests and their lower graduation rates.1 Because the early years are critical for children’s later academic success, this story begins with an examination of ELs’ access to and enrollment in preschool.2 Next, because research has shown positive relationships between advanced coursework in high school and such outcomes as high school graduation and postsecondary participation and completion, the story examines ELs’ access to college preparatory courses and dual credit programs.3, a
For information on the characteristics of English learners, including information on where they go to school and the languages they speak, see our related data story Our Nation’s English Learners: What are their characteristics?
Participation in high-quality early learning programs, such as center-based preschool, improves school readiness and may have long-term educational benefits.4 Studies have found that ELs gain more from their preschool experiences than their non-EL peers.5 Participation in preschool also provides early exposure to English, which in turn may lower the age at which full proficiency is achieved. Reaching proficiency prior to first grade has been shown to reduce or eliminate reading and math achievement gaps between ELs and non-ELs.6
In these analyses, “access to preschool” is defined as going to school (enrollment) in a district that provided preschool programs or services. Given the available national-level data, the analysis is limited to students in schools with preschool or early elementary grades (any of grades preschool through grade 2). It does not include students in schools that include only upper elementary, middle, or high school grades.
The analyses below primarily use data from the 2015–16 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) to explore ELs’ access to and enrollment in fee-based or free public preschool, including access to and enrollment in full-day and part-day preschool.7
Ninety-three percent of ELs were enrolled in districts that provided preschool compared with 89 percent of non-ELs. Eighty-nine percent of ELs were in districts that provided free preschool and 63 percent were in districts that provided full-day preschool compared with 82 percent and 58 percent of non-ELs, respectively.
Overall, 13 percent of children enrolled in preschool were ELs. However, less than 5 percent of preschoolers in districts that provided preschool only for a fee were ELs. Only 13 percent of preschoolers enrolled in districts that provided full-day preschool were ELs.
Students who participate in more rigorous courses are more likely to experience positive academic outcomes, such as attending and graduating from college, than students who do not participate in them.8 However, research has demonstrated unequal participation by ELs in such courses.9 They may not attend schools that offer these courses or may enroll in less academically rigorous courses due to their lower levels of proficiency in English or performance on state assessments. Other factors that may inhibit ELs’ enrollment in rigorous courses are the lack of course prerequisites (e.g., Algebra I) and equitable learning opportunities through appropriately trained teachers and developmentally suitable instructional materials, texts, and curricula in their native languages.10
The analyses below use the 2015–16 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) to explore ELs’ access to and enrollment in Algebra I and advanced math and science courses.
Algebra I is a “gatekeeper” math course that students must pass to be prepared for higher-level math courses. Sixty-five percent of ELs had access to Algebra I in grade 8 (defined as attending a school that offered the course in grade 8). However, only 2 percent of ELs enrolled in Algebra I. In comparison, 72 percent of non-ELs were in schools that offered Algebra I in grade 8, and 7 percent enrolled in the course. A similar pattern was found for advanced math and science courses. A majority of ELs and non-ELs were in high schools that offered physics (81 and 85 percent), chemistry (88 and 92 percent), or calculus (75 and 79 percent). However, low percentages of each group enrolled in the courses, with ELs at lower rates than their non-EL peers.
Students in schools that do not offer Algebra I or advanced math or science courses do not have the opportunity to take these courses. Schools with high concentrations of EL students were less likely than schools with low concentrations to offer these courses.b For example, 48 percent of schools with grade 8 and a high concentration of ELs offered Algebra I compared with 70 percent of schools with a low concentration of ELs. About 58 percent of all schools with those grades offered this subject.
The pattern was the same for high schools offering physics, chemistry, or calculus.
Although ELs accounted for 7 percent of students enrolled in schools that offered Algebra I in grade 8, they accounted for only 3 percent of students enrolled in the course. The pattern was similar for advanced math and science courses. For example, in high schools that offered calculus, ELs accounted for 5 percent of school enrollment but 1 percent of students enrolled in the course.
Dual credit programs provide opportunities for students still in high school to take college-level courses and earn concurrent credit toward a high school diploma and a college degree, resulting in college tuition savings. As noted in the Civil Rights Data Collection, these programs are for students who are academically prepared to enroll in college and are interested in taking additional coursework, for example, a subject not offered at their high school. Students in dual credit programs may be more likely to attend college after graduating.11 They may also experience other academic benefits, such as attaining higher grades in college and accumulating credits toward college graduation at a faster pace than those who did not participate in dual enrollment.12
Thirty-five percent of high schools with high EL concentrations offered dual credit programs. In contrast, 69 percent of high schools with low EL concentrations offered dual credit programs.
Although somewhat more than half of all high schools offered dual credit programs, ELs were somewhat less likely than non-ELs to attend these schools. Sixty percent of ELs were in high schools that offered dual credit programs, compared with 70 percent of non-ELs.
Preschool, rigorous coursework, and dual credit programs may improve the readiness of students for key phases of the education pipeline. While public preschool programs were widely available to ELs through their school districts, preschool-aged EL children enrolled in preschool at a lower rate than their non-EL peers. ELs were underrepresented in districts that provided preschool only for a fee, which may suggest that cost is a barrier to preschool.
EL high school students had broad access to Algebra I and advanced math and science courses, but were less likely to enroll in these courses than non-ELs. ELs also were less represented among students enrolled in these courses than expected given their representation in school as a whole. This analysis did not explore whether such factors as lack of course prerequisites contributed to ELs’ lower enrollment in these courses. Yet, we do know that access to Algebra I and advanced math and science courses was uneven across high schools. High schools with high percentages of ELs offered these courses at lower rates than high schools with lower EL percentages. Access to dual credit programs across high schools followed a similar pattern.