Limited English Proficiency:

A Growing and Costly Educational Challenge Facing Many School Districts

HEHS-94-38: Published: Jan 28, 1994. Publicly Released: Jan 28, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed how the nation's schools are educating limited-English-proficient (LEP) students, focusing on: (1) the characteristics of LEP students and the challenges that school districts face in educating them; (2) how districts with students from linguistically diverse backgrounds educate LEP students and the extent that academic subjects are taught in the students' native languages; (3) what alternative educational approaches exist when the diversity of languages spoken by LEP students makes native language instruction difficult; and (4) whether key federal programs targeted to LEP students provide the types of support districts need to implement LEP programs.

GAO found that: (1) many districts have substantial numbers of LEP students and face significant challenges in educating them; (2) school districts often provide limited support to help LEP students understand academic subjects; (3) almost half of all LEP students are immigrants with little or no education and have significant social, health, and emotional needs; (4) districts cannot provide bilingual instruction to all LEP students, since they have difficulty obtaining bilingual teachers and class materials in most languages; (5) researchers have developed promising approaches to provide academic instruction to LEP students when native language instruction is unavailable, but implementation of these programs will be difficult; and (6) federal programs for LEP students provide support for important activities, but funding is limited.

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