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little research existed focused on middle- and upper-middle-class Cuban exiles, populations of a different cultural background and generally of higher socioeconomic status than the typical English-language learner.
Beginning in the early 1970s and continuing to the present, a research base on English-language learner issues has been built in response to a number of circumstances. Major developments in basic research, especially in the areas of language and cognitive development, followed on the heels of the cognitive revolution of the 1960s and stimulated such research on English-language learners. The political controversy over bilingual education (i.e., use of the native language in instruction) led to a line of research aimed at evaluating the comparative effectiveness of bilingual education and other approaches using only English. Moreover, general concern with educational effectiveness led to research on English-monolingual populations aimed at identifying characteristics of schools that proved effective with respect to student outcomes, and this in turn stimulated parallel work to identify characteristics of effective programs for English-language learners. Efforts have also been made to incorporate English-language learners into large national surveys, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. These and other developments have resulted in a rich portfolio of research on English-language learners, ranging from basic processes to program evaluation and from program characteristics research to the collection of national statistics.
Almost 30 years after congressional passage of the Bilingual Education Act as Title VII of the Hawkins-Stafford Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we are now in a position to take stock of what we know and to consider ways of improving our knowledge building in this area. This task is of critical importance given the demographics of the school-age population. There has been an increase of almost 1 million English-language learners in U.S. public schools (grades K-12) in the last 10 years. As a consequence, these students make up approximately 5.5 percent of the public school student population. They are dispersed across the country, with about 6 percent of school districts serving student populations that are at least 40 percent English-language learners (Fleischman and Hopstock, 1993). Yet while the numbers of these students are increasing, their educational attainment remains low. For example, a recent Congressionally mandated study indicates that English-language learners receive lower grades, are judged by their teachers to have lower academic abilities, and score below their classmates on standardized tests of reading and math (Moss and Puma, 1995).
In this context, the Committee on Developing a Research Agenda on the Education of Limited-English-Proficient and Bilingual Students was formed and given the following charge:
To review what is known about the linguistic, cognitive, and social processes involved in the education of these students.