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Young Latina student smiling in the classroom at her desk

English Language Learners

Pre-K and Latinos

Latino children make up the largest and most rapidly growing racial/ethnic minority population in the U.S. Find out how pre-K programs can play a key role in helping these children in school readiness and educational achievement.

The future productivity of the U.S. workforce depends on our current commitment to providing high-quality early childhood education programs for all children, but especially for the quickly growing Latino population. Although many states have a history of primarily serving at-risk children through targeted programs like Head Start, a pre-k-for-all approach is more effective in increasing Latino participation and addressing disparities in school readiness, achievement, and attainment.


  • Latino children make up the largest and most rapidly growing racial/ethnic minority population in the United States.
  • Of children in the U.S. under age five, 4.2 million or 21 percent are Hispanic.
  • Ninety-three percent of Latino children in the U.S. under age 5 are U.S. citizens.
  • The largest percentage increases in the Latino population during the last ten years have occurred in the South (North Carolina, 394 percent; Arkansas, 337 percent; Georgia, 300 percent; Tennessee, 278 percent; South Carolina, 211 percent; and Alabama, 208 percent).

School readiness gap

  • Hispanic children often start kindergarten less prepared than Caucasian children and are unable to catch up during the primary grades.
  • Nationally, the dropout rate for Hispanics is much higher than for other ethnic groups -more than double that of African Americans and more than three times the rate for Caucasians.
  • A recent Georgetown University study showed that Latino children in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s pre-k-for-all program experienced the greatest academic gains of all groups.


  • Only 40 percent of Hispanic three to five year olds are enrolled in early education programs, compared to 59 percent of Caucasians and 64 percent of African Americans.
  • Latino enrollment in Head Start increased far more than that of any other ethnic group between 1994 and 2004 (20 percent versus 3 percent for Caucasians and 8 percent for African Americans).
  • Financial, linguistic, educational, and access barriers, as well as a lack of awareness of program availability and benefits account for large portions of the pre-k enrollment gap.

English language learners (ELLs)

  • Research indicates that ELLs acquire literacy skills in English faster and do better in school if they have a strong foundation in their home language.
  • Schools report that 80 percent of ELLs are native Spanish speakers.


  • While the testing of all pre-k-aged children can be controversial, assessment of ELLs is especially complex. Nevertheless, these evaluations are still valuable and necessary.
  • Few of the assessments developed specifically for young ELLs meet the rigorous standards necessary for use as part of program evaluations.
  • Evaluations should not compare the scores of ELLs to the scores of monolingual English-speaking children.
Pre-K Now. (2008). Pre-K and Latinos [Fact Sheet]. Retrieved from
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