The List: Top 10 School Districts Where English Is Not the Primary Language

Colleen O'Dea | February 28, 2018 | The List
Nearly a quarter of New Jersey’s public school students live in homes where the main language used is not English. Here are the top 10 districts

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That New Jersey is among the most diverse states in the nation is a given, but anyone who has doubts can just look at the most recent District Performance Reports issued by the state Department of Education.

These report cards for districts include information about languages spoken in the homes of the state’s 1.4 million public school students; they provide information about the 48 most common languages — in addition to English — spoken around the state, but there are many more. Statewide, almost one quarter of students live in a home where a language other than English is spoken most of the time. Most often, that language is Spanish; it’s the primary language spoken in 15.2 percent of homes statewide. The DOE even produces Spanish-language versions of the performance reports.

While there are about 100 districts where everyone, or almost everyone, comes from an English-speaking home, there are 45 across the state where fewer than half of students do. Dealing with students who don’t speak English well, or at all, can be a challenge for educators. This is especially true when teachers are faced with children speaking a relatively uncommon language, such as Afar, spoken by some people from Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia — or Mandar, spoken in one Indonesian province.

These are the districts with the largest percentage of students living in homes where English is not the primary language, the percent speaking something other than English most of the time, and the dominant home languages:

1. Academy for Urban Leadership, 86.4 percent

In this charter-school district in Perth Amboy, Spanish dominates. Fewer than 14 percent of students come from homes where English is the main language spoken.

2. Fairview, 85 percent

While Spanish is the most common language spoken in this Bergen County district, in 74.4 percent of homes, another 6.8 percent of students are Arabic-speaking, and 3.9 percent come from homes where other languages dominate, including 1.2 percent of Lincoln School students from Chinese-speaking households and another 1.2 percent from Turkish-speaking households.

3. Passaic, 82.9 percent

In addition to the 81.2 percent of students from Spanish-speaking households, 1.1 percent of students in the city’s schools live in homes where Gujarati is spoken and less than 1 percent in households where other languages are spoken.

4. (tied) Dover, 76.4 percent

This small Morris County borough has had a vibrant Hispanic community for decades, so it is not surprising that 74.2 percent of students come from Spanish-speaking households. Other languages are dominant in 2.4 percent of homes, including 1.5 percent of East Dover Elementary students from Chinese-speaking households.

4. (tied) Lakewood, 76.4 percent

Spanish is the most common language spoken in this Ocean County community’s public schools, with 75.3 percent speaking it. About 1 percent speak other languages at home.

6. Red Bank, 75.7 percent

Virtually all the non-English-speaking students in this Monmouth County district live in homes where Spanish is the dominant language, with 0.2 percent speaking other languages.

7. East Newark, 75.5 percent

About two-quarters of students in this small Hudson County district are from Spanish-speaking homes. Portuguese-speaking households make up another 7.3 percent. Another 1.5 percent of students live in homes where other languages are spoken.

8. Union City, 74.6 percent

This Hudson County city has long been a Latino-majority community. Some 73 percent of public-school students come from Spanish-speaking homes. Another 1.3 percent are from households where some other language is spoken, with 1.3 percent of Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School students and 2.2 percent of Woodrow Wilson Elementary students hailing from Arabic-speaking households, and another 1.1 percent of Woodrow Wilson students living in a home that uses the Sinhala language spoken in parts of Sri Lanka.

9. Hudson Arts and Science Charter School, 73.6 percent

This charter school in Kearny, Hudson County, is something of a melting pot. A bare majority of students, 51.1 percent, are from homes where Spanish is spoken at home. Another 14.2 percent hail from Portuguese-speaking households, 1.9 percent from Arabic and 1.1 percent from Creole homes. Other languages are spoken in 5.7 percent of homes.

10. New Brunswick, 72.9 percent

Virtually all the students from non-English dominant homes in this Middlesex County district are from Spanish-speaking households.