and the two-way immersion classrooms saw improvements in Spanish language development for both ELL and English-speaking children without losses to English language learning (Barnett et al., 2007). It is important to note that classrooms in both types of program employed a licensed teacher and an assistant with a child development associate credential. A review of the K-12 literature on the language of instruction provides evidence that conflicts with the findings of Barnett and colleagues; specifically, Lindholm-Leary and Borasato (2006) suggest that bilingual education may be related to more positive educational outcomes for older ELL students. Given these disparate findings, additional research in high-quality early childhood settings on this topic is warranted.

One of the few studies focused specifically on mathematics competence with this population of students suggests there may not be performance differences in mathematics. Secada (1991) found that first grade Hispanic students were not at a disadvantage to their native English-speaking peers in solving addition and subtraction word problems. However, with the growing number of ELL in the student population, it vital that more attention be paid to the relationship between language status and early mathematics learning so that early childhood education can effectively accommodate and support these children.


As noted in the previous section, research has identified consistent, average differences in mathematics competence and performance depending on membership in a particular social group. Why group membership is linked to such differences is a complicated question. Research suggests that early experiences play an important role in shaping the observed differences. In this section we explore the contributions of context and early experience. We begin with a general discussion of the role of families in shaping early experience, including parents’ knowledge and beliefs about mathematics, and the support they provide for mathematics through engagement in mathematics activities. We then look more specifically at how differences in experiences at home are linked to the observed SES differences in performance. Finally, we consider the role of language in mathematics learning.

Role of Families

Families are one of the critical social settings in which children develop and learn (Bronfenbrenner, 2000; Iruka and Barbarin, 2008). Families influence children’s development in many ways, including parenting practices, provision of resources, interactions with school, and involvement in the

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