As most readers are at least dimly aware, the number of English Learners in U.S. schools has increased in recent decades. Yet, unlike racial categories (which are more or less permanent) the “EL” designation is meant to be temporary. Consequently, even seasoned education policymakers tend to underestimate the number of “ever EL” students.

Because states aren’t required to report this number, clarity on this point is surprisingly hard to come by; however, based on the data we do have, it seems likely that the “true” figure is closer to 15 percent[1] than 10 percent (which is the figure that’s usually cited). And it may be higher. For example, 19 percent of students in California are current English Learners, but another 16 percent are former English Learners.[2]