English language learning (ell) market in the u.s.

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English language learning (ell) market in the u.s.

English language learner (ELL) or English as Second Language (ESL) programs are much in demand in the United States. There is a great deal of variety in demand depending upon geography. It is a mostly underserved market as there is a shortage of properly trained instructors. Also, White House hostile to immigration may further cut funding. Both these issues may lead to opportunity to service this industry with cost-sensitive solutions.

ELLs in U.S. Public Schools by the Numbers

  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of ELLs increased from 3.8 million students in 2000 to 4.9 million in 2016. The proportion of total public school enrollees that were ELLs increased from 8.1% in 2000 to 9.6% in 2016.
  • California had the highest proportion of ELLs at 20.2% of the total enrollment in public schools, while West Virginia had the lowest at 0.9%.
  • The attached spreadsheet details the number of ELLs in public schools by grade as well as the proportion of total enrollment by grade. This data was provided by the NCES.
  • The total number of ELL students enrolled in public elementary schools (kindergarten through fifth grade) was 3.1 million in the 2008-09 school year (14.0% of total enrollment), increased to 3.3 million in the 2013-14 school year (14.7% of total enrollment) and then steadily declined to 3.2 million in the fall of 2016 (14.2% of total enrollment).
  • The total number of ELL students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools (kindergarten through twelfth grade) was 4.7 million in the 2008-09 school year (9.7% of total enrollment), increased to 4.9 million in the 2013-14 school year (10.1% of total enrollment) and dipped slightly before increasing again to 4.9 million in the fall of 2016 (10.1% of total enrollment).
  • It is noted by a number of studies and organizations that ELL students are the fastest-growing student population group and that by 2025, 25% of public school students will be ELL students. Oftentimes, the National Education Association (NEA) will be cited for this statistic: "By 2015, ELL enrollment in U.S. schools will reach 10 million and, by 2025, nearly one out of every four public school students will be an English Language Learner." It is not clear when this was written or even what the source of "one out of every four" is. The actual number of ELL students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools in 2015 was actually 4.8 million. The most likely source of this "statistic" is a speech given by former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who in a 2005 speech predicted that one in four students from kindergarten through twelfth grade would be ELL by 2025.

ELL Funding and Estimate of Market Size

  • The federal government provides block grants to the states for the funding of ELL programs through Title III: Part A — English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act.
  • The total amount authorized to be spent on Title III: Part A increased from $756.3 million in fiscal year (FY) 2017 to $885.0 million in FY2020.
  • The actual final appropriation was actually $737.4 million in both FY2017, FY2018 and 2019. This increased to $787.4 million in FY2020.
  • Although, $885.0 million is authorized for FY2021, President Trump and Secretary DeVos of the U.S. Department of Education are requesting that no funds are appropriated to Title III.
  • A report by Adroit Research pegs the global ELL market in 2018 at $33.53 billion. Children make up 15.31% of the market, which would be $5.13 billion (15.31%of $33.53 billion). According to the report, the U.S. ELL market share in 2018 was 21.95%. The U.S. ELL market in 2018 could then be estimated to be approximately $1.12billion (21.95% of $5.13 billion).

Market Leaders of ELL Services

To identify market leaders in the provision of services to the ESL K-12/ELL market in the U.S., we consulted industry online publications. The best resource was SIIA, which presents annual awards, including "Best ESL, ELL or World Language Acquisition Solution" and releases the nominees and winners each year.

Renaissance Learning

  • "myON Reader is a student-centered, personalized literacy program that gives students access to thousands of enhanced digital books. Students can read at school or at home on any internet-enabled device."
  • "Titles are dynamically matched to each individual student’s interests, grade, and Lexile® reading level. myON Reader includes a healthy mix of fiction and nonfiction content from Capstone Publishers—the leading educational and library publisher of the last 25 years—as well as more than 50 third-party publishers."
  • "Combined with a suite of close reading tools and embedded supports, myON Reader fosters student engagement and achievement."

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

  • "Escalate English is built on the new English Language Development standards and designed to deliver best instructional practices for long-term English learners in grades 4-8, supported by an intuitive and accessible online learning environment for accelerating academic language growth."
  • "When English learners experience Escalate English, they find from day one, they're engaging with compelling literary and informational texts and multi-media that offer them a world of concepts, language, and insights, and that require responding at high-depth-of-knowledge levels. The HMH Player App offers the added benefit of access to full program interactivity for students who do not have internet access at home."
  • "Escalate English builds in the flexibility teachers need for customizing instruction for their long-term English learners. One example is found in the core Student eBook. When teachers prompt students to develop a response to a critical point in the lesson, they can use their online notebooks to do so, and teachers can access these notes to gain insights into their thinking, and to offer feedback. This system provides for natural, ongoing progress monitoring seamlessly tied to instruction."


  • ELL Edition, Learning A-Z
  • "Support English language learners with tools, resources, and research-based strategies to achieve success with social and academic English. Learning A-Z's Raz-Plus ELL Edition provides reading, listening, speaking, and writing resources organized in content area topics at varying grade ranges."
  • "The Raz-Plus ELL Edition combines all the resources of Raz-Plus, as well as a collection of WIDA, TESOL, and CCSS-aligned resources designed specifically for ELLs. With this online solution, you have access to hundreds of time-saving ELL-specific resources with integrated grammar and vocabulary support."


  • Istation Reading
  • "Schools get the support they need to improve comprehension and growth with activities and lessons that provide actionable and insightful data that measures phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary, as well as many other skills."
  • "Plus, Istation’s digital Oral Reading Fluency assessment for grades K through 3 combines over three decades of educational research with more than a decade of technical development and data to provide schools with the latest voice recognition and recording technology through a partnership with Boulder Learning, Inc."

Imagine Learning

  • "Imagine Language & Literacy is an adaptive learning solution that accelerates reading and language proficiency for students in grades PreK–6."
  • "Designed to supplement core literacy instruction, Imagine Language & Literacy provides instruction and practice in all four domains of literacy—reading, writing, listening, and speaking."
  • "Development of both oral and academic language are essential to literacy."
  • "Through a systematic approach to vocabulary, grammar, and language conventions, Imagine Language & Literacy explicitly teaches students the skills that are critical to reading comprehension and language proficiency, empowering them to unlock learning across all subject areas. "


Mobile-Assisted Language Learning (MALL)

  • "In the teaching of ESL, mobile-assisted language learning (MALL) is rapidly developing as one of the most applicable domains in technology-supported learning."
  • It has been found that the use of mobile devices can make the make the learner more engaged by making the learning experience more captivating and enjoyable.
  • Apps can be customized to fit current aptitude and monitor progress.
  • "Mobile apps are very helpful in integrating meaningful cognitive thinking skills in second-language learners" and should be used in tandem with classroom instruction to enhance vocabulary, reading and writing skills.
  • Available apps that can support ESL classrooms include: "Quizlet; Duolingo; English Launch Pad; Culips ESL Podcast; MyWordBook; Speaking pal English tutor; Voxy; Grammar up; English Listening & Speaking; and KAHOOT."
  • Chinook Middle School in Bellevue, Washington — where 37% of students are ELL — uses Microsoft Translator in the classroom. It provides live captioning and translation and has proven helpful in improving oral and written skills.

Gamification Technology

  • Teachers are increasingly turning learning materials into games to increase the student's engagement.
  • Online language courses "were found to improve engagement and the learning curve"by including gaming elements such as "personalizing profiles and creating avatars; the ability to create chapters in a way that builds interest and helps with retention; an incentive for students for learning, such as earning points, receiving badges, or leveling up."
  • One study published on ScienceDirect studied a sample of five ELL preschoolers. "Results revealed that teaching language with ICT together with gamification context significantly improved language acquisition"

Dual-Language Immersion at Early Age

  • On February 5, 2020, "Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva introduced the Supporting Young Language Learners’ Access to Bilingual Education (SYLLABLE) Act in the House of Representatives."
  • The bill would support pre-Kindergarten to fifth grade dual-language immersion programs in low-income communities.
  • "While these programs remain in high-demand across the country, they tend to cluster in affluent communities that provide limited access to low-income students."
  • California is moving ahead on its own to focus on laying "a strong foundation for our state’s youngest English/dual-language learners so they can be better prepared for later grades."

Funding Shortfall

  • As previously noted, the federal government has appropriated significantly less than authorized for English Language Acquisition, or ESL/ELL programs for public schools, every year since FY2017.
  • English Language Acquisition is one of several programs completely cut out of the Trump administration's latest spending proposal for education.

Proper Evaluation of ELL Progress

  • Graduation rates for ELLs can be deceiving and hide any success of a school system's ELL program.
  • "One study of EL students in Chicago Public Schools, recently published by the University of Chicago Consortium of Research, found that ELs who achieved English proficiency by eighth grade actually fared as well as their peers who had never been classified as ELs on reading tests and that they fared better than these peers on math tests, attendance, and course grades.
  • "This study is notable because it maps the performance of the same group of ELs over time, from kindergarten until after the majority of students in the group had achieved English proficiency and exited out of EL services. This is a novel and nuanced way of looking at the achievement of ELs. Typically, media and education agency data only report on the performance of current ELs who are still in the process of learning English."
  • The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires Schools to track ELLs for four years after their English skills reach the point for them no longer to be considered ELL. This apparently doesn't go far enough, and districts are started to track ELLs (and former-ELLs) over their entire K-12 career to better evaluate their ELL programs.

Drivers of Growth

Federal policy controls at least three major drivers of ELL demand: assessment, funding and immigration.
  • Recent federal policies have emphasized the importance of ELL programs. ESSA requires all schools to report ELLs progress on both their English proficiency and core subjects.
  • There have also been substantial increases in funding ELLs. However, no federal policy currently exists that prioritizes the training of ELL teachers.
  • The Trump administration's targeted cuts to education can have a chilling effect on ELL programs across the land.
  • Immigration is necessarily a significant driver of ELL demand. The Trump administration policies that intend to reduce both illegal and legal immigration will likely reduce demand for ELL services.

Shortage of ESL teachers

  • "Ten percent of all public school students are English as a Second Language learners (ESL), meaning they have limited English proficiency. But less than 1 percent of public school teachers are ESL instructors."
  • "That means there’s just one ESL instructor for every 150 ESL students. The standard classroom ratio across America is one teacher for every 15 students."
  • "[S]ome schools across the country still struggle to support ELL students and address their specific learning needs. Some schools — particularly those serving communities with large immigrant and refugee populations."

Research Strategy

We looked at government and industry websites as well as online associations and publications.