Raise the Bar: Pathways to Multilingualism

Raise the Bar: Pathways to Multilingualism

Goal: Provide every student with a pathway to multilingualism.

The Problem



The number of people in the United States who speak a language other than English at home has nearly tripled over the last three decades, our nation is continuing to grow more diverse, and our economy is becoming ever more globally connected. But only 20 percent of Americans can converse in two or more languages. Additionally, English learners are one of the fastest-growing student populations in our nation’s public elementary and secondary schools; yet, far too often, the opportunities for English learners in school are limited.

We must do all we can to improve the learning environments in which English learners are learning English and increase access to high-quality language programs so that they, along with all students, have the opportunity to become multilingual.

Our Strategies

To be sure, the over 5.1 million English learners in our nation’s classrooms must be seen as assets—young people who come to school with wonderful languages and cultures to be shared and valued—and multilingualism should be viewed as the superpower that it truly is.

The Department is committed to working with leaders at the state and local levels to invest in, promote, and support evidence-based language practices and programs. Strategic action in the areas below represent key levers to provide every student with a pathway to multilingualism.

Equitable Access for English Learners:

To expand equitable access to a high-quality education to all English learners, the Department is developing and implementing processes that enhance oversight for the civil rights protections of English learners, as well as related funding obligations for English learner services. We also are promoting evidence-based practices to address the barriers that English learners can encounter in education. And importantly, the Biden-Harris administration has expanded funding for Title III over the last few years, which is crucial to supporting millions of multilingual learners across the country. Through $890 million in Title III grants to states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, the Department will continue to help improve the education of English learners and immigrant youth.

The Department also is continuing its robust oversight of the obligations that schools have to serve English learners under Title VI. The law requires that schools, districts, and state educational agencies take affirmative steps to address language barriers so that English learners may participate meaningfully in their schools' educational programs.

Despite progress across the country, the current, unfortunate reality is that English learners continue to graduate from high school at a lower rate than their peers and face barriers to a high-quality education that other students do not have to overcome. It is important to pay close attention to graduation rates because this data can be indicative of larger issues around equitable access to core curriculum, advanced coursework, and extracurricular programs.

The table below shows the percent of English learners graduating in four years compared to the overall graduation rate across the United States for the 2020-2021 academic year.

High School Graduation Rates for English Language Learners SY 2020-2021
(download data as a spreadsheet)


Increase Access to Quality Bilingual Education for All:

Knowing additional languages along with English is a much-needed skill that will have an enormous impact on our nation’s future workforce as well as our ability to compete and engage globally.

The Department is working diligently to increase access to high-quality language programs. We are continuing to provide technical assistance and oversight to promote research-based bilingual educational opportunities and language instruction in early childhood education settings and beyond.

The Department also is highlighting states and districts that are implementing innovative approaches to serving multilingual students and we are elevating evidence-based programs, including seals of biliteracy at the state level.

The map below shows the total number of districts and the percentage in each state with dual language or two-way immersion programs that receive federal Title III funding.

Being bilingual and biliterate are proven to have significant academic, cognitive, economic, and socio-cultural benefits that are important to recognize and leverage as we prepare students to move into post-secondary education or careers.

Bilingual Education for English Language Learners, 2020 - 2021
(download data as a spreadsheet)


Prepare a Diversified Bilingual/Multilingual Educator Workforce:

To develop and grow a diverse educator workforce that can robustly serve our English learners, multilingual leaners, and multicultural students, the Department is providing technical assistance and funding opportunities through competitive grants, including through first-time funding for the August F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence program.

We also are disseminating information about and supporting evidence-based state and local programs that are building educator workforce capacity, including grow-your-own programs, teacher residencies, and apprenticeship programs. Additionally, the Department is supporting graduate fellowships and colleges and universities that are prioritizing English as a Second Language and bilingual educator preparation programs for bilingual and multilingual educators.  If we are to prepare students for a global society and economy, we must continue to increase opportunities for future educators to participate in state, local, traditional, and non-traditional educator preparation programs that provide teacher candidates with the knowledge and skills to serve English learners and multilingual students.

Through the use of the bully pulpit, grant funding, and a new Native Language Resource Center, the Department will continue to elevate the need to support a diverse and multilingual educator workforce to serve our increasingly diverse students and ensure they have the skills to meet the needs of a global economy and society.

Sampling of ARP Funding Highlights:

  • Through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), states and districts are engaged in important work to expand pathways to multilingual education and to support English learners. For example:
    • Indiana's Teacher of English Language Learners (I-TELL) program is paying for tuition and fees for current educators to earn the additional licensure they need to become teachers of record for students who are learning English. This program is a partnership between the Indiana Department of Education and the University of Indianapolis' Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning.
    • The Red Hawks Rising Teacher Training Academy is a partnership among Montclair State University, the Newark Board of Education, and the American Federation of Teachers. The program prepares students of color to become teachers who reflect the diversity of the Newark community.
    • Collier County Public Schools in Florida has launched specific strategies to bridge the digital divide for migrant students based on feedback from migrant students and families and community partners. Schools within the district also are home to Migrant Resource Centers where students and families can go to receive targeted supports, services, and mentoring.
    • California's West Contra Costa Unified School District is using surveys to keep track of English learners' overall well-being and providing their families with translated communications on available services, including school counseling.
    • The Illinois State Board of Education has created a $4 million grant from federal pandemic relief funds that will help to increase the number of bilingual educators in the state.

Grants and Resources:

  • To capture the ways in which the Department is working to provide every student with opportunities for multilingual learning, the agency released a one-pager with links to federal resources and grants.
  • For the first time ever, the Department awarded funding for the Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence program. Through this program, $18 million in federal funds will be put to use to support colleges and universities in prioritizing educator preparation programs that prepare multilingual teachers of color to become fully certified to teach multilingual learners, including in dual language programs.​
  • The Department's National Professional Development grant program is supporting 44 colleges and universities to deliver professional learning for teachers of English learners, with a focus on school readiness and early childhood development.
  • The National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition has disseminated more than 25,000 resources to the field, including briefs, fact sheets, toolkits, podcasts, and other information to serve multilingual learners and highlight their needs.