The lack of valid and reliable assessments for English learners (EL), the loss of instructional time due to an overemphasis on testing, and the lack of English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching strategies in teacher preparation and professional development programs were dominant themes that emerged from the six National Conversations on English Learner Education hosted by the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) over the last four months. The needs for fostering greater family and community engagement, and ELs with special needs were also themes that cut across all six conversations held in Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Other themes from these conversations will be identified and synthesized in a report, which will inform the work plan for this office for the coming year.
Hosted in collaboration with the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), the office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH), the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), these meetings brought together a diverse group of EL stakeholders including educators, researchers, policymakers, university instructors, and advocacy groups who were asked to consider and discuss the question, “What makes for a quality education for English Learners in the 21st Century?”
Utilizing a format that was intentionally meant to be participatory, interactive, and action-oriented, these meetings were characterized by dynamic and engaging dialogues that served to identify current areas of major concern, share promising practices for classrooms and schools, and define new directions for reform and transformation in English learner education.
In addition to this series of national conversations, our office has many complementary efforts planned in the coming months. These include two forums: one on English learners with disabilities that will take place in Las Vegas on May 18th in collaboration with the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS), and a second on English learners and STEM education that will take place in DC in July. OELA will also host webinars for practitioners and continue working to inform key initiatives including ESEA reauthorization.
There is no question that human capital is our nation’s greatest resource. Failure to prepare the nearly 5 million ELs in our pre-K–12 systems – more than a tenth of all our students – would squander something very precious and is something our nation cannot afford. Ensuring that all students are ready for college and careers has never mattered more than now, if we hope to realize President Obama’s goal for the United States to have the best-educated workforce and the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.
Rosalinda B. Barrera, Ph.D. is assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education