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How U.S. Schools Are Failing Immigrant Children

A 40-year-old Supreme Court decision obligates schools to assist English-language learners. San Francisco has just been ordered to figure out how.
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Jim Young/REUTERS

Population spikes of more than 135 metropolitan areas between 2010 and 2012 were due more to people coming from other countries than to domestic growth. And a recent Census report revealed that more than 11 percent of the nation’s 3,142 counties are now majority-minority. When it comes to any kind of migration, a city’s vitality depends heavily on how well it cares for its new neighbors, especially if they differ ethnically or culturally from the population receiving them. This hinges largely on how successfully young immigrants and children of immigrant families are welcomed into the school systems of the cities they land in.

The landmark 1974 U.S. Supreme Court decision Lau v. Nichols aimed to make that school transition easier for young people who speak English as their second language. That decision relied on the prior 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Civil Rights Act to force all school districts receiving federal funding to establish multi-lingual programs to ensure all students have equal educational opportunities, regardless of their national origin.