MinneTESOL sends 3 attendees to 2017 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit

Michael, Sam and Rachel at Rep. Tim Walz’s Office

Michael, Sam and Rachel at Rep. Tim Walz’s Office

On June 18-20, 2017 Rachel Casey, Michael Schwartz and Sam DiVita joined approximately 100 other TESOL educators and members of TESOL International Association in Washington, D.C. for the 11th Annual TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit – the largest Summit to date! The program featured two full days of issue briefings and activities around education legislation and advocacy, followed by a day of visits to Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. The goals of the Summit were to learn more about current federal policy issues impacting TESOL educators and English learners, and to provide an interactive learning experience for participants on the elements of advocacy. By the end of the event, TESOL members had visited the offices of over 140 Representatives and Senators!

On the first day of the Summit we received a U.S. Federal Education and Language Policy update, information about the federal budget – what is proposed and what is likely to pass, updates on ESSA and WIOA (the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act), as well as DACA and the Bridge Act, including how the current administration’s immigration policies are impacting DREAMers.

Sam with Ester de Jong, President of TESOL International Association and José A. Viana, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA)

Sam with Ester de Jong, President of TESOL International Association and José A. Viana, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA)

Additionally, John Segota presented a session titled: Summit on the Future of the TESOL Profession: Update and Next Steps. We learned about the goals of this Summit – to commit to collaborating on a comprehensive shared vision to guide policy, practice, and research. The Summit took place in Athen, Greece this past February. We also got to hear from Ester de Jong about her advocacy work in Florida. She shared some strategies to help prepare us for our legislative meetings.

The second day included a presentation by OELA in which we learned about a data disaggregation initiative grant Minnesota received in 2016. See more here.

This is something I recall discussing with legislators in 2015! I discussed this grant with the new Deputy Secretary and Director, José A. Viana. We agreed that having more exact data about specific populations will help us in the future.

The day continued with information and updates related to WIOA provided by Christopher Coro, from the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education. This topic continued in another session led by Margie McHugh, Director of the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy (MPI). Margie’s presentation was titled: Adult Education Under the WIOA and Trump Regimes: Current and Projected Challenges and included information about the importance of family-focused literacy programs for newly arrived immigrant and refugee families.

Sam with Dr. Diane Staehr-Fenner

Sam with Dr. Diane Staehr-Fenner

Finally, we heard from Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, from the National Skills Coalition. Amanda presented an overview of key issues facing adult education. Her presentation, titled: Advocating for English Language Learners in a Changing Federal Landscape included materials and new opportunities to advocate for adult ELs.

Another highlight was hearing from author Dr. Diane Staehr-Fenner. She presented information from her book Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators. Dr. Staehr-Fenner’s during her lunchtime keynote titled: Honing Your Leadership Skills to Advocate for ELs in Challenging Times. We were all challenged to share examples of the ways we currently advocate for our students. Much time was dedicated for participant idea exchange.

Following these updates and information sessions, the Summit shifted its focus to advocacy with preparations for meetings with members of Congress.

Michael, Sam and Rachel were able to schedule 8 meetings with legislative aides for Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Betty McCollum, Rep. Collin Peterson, Rep. Jason Lewis, Rep. Tim Walz, Rep. Rick Nolan and Rep. Tom Emmer. All of the legislative aides we met were responsible for educational issues. All of the aides we met with had some knowledge of English Learners in Minnesota and several had personal experiences to share with us. We focused our time on illustrating how current legislation and policy is impacting learners and their families in Minnesota. We also highlighted how current budget proposals that fund ESSA do not appear realistic based on the need we see around our state. For example, much of our discussion centered around Title I, II and III funding. We specifically asked for support of these important funding streams so that work around improving learning environments for our newest students can continue to expand. We shared our concern about professional development opportunities being reduced for all educators and administrators without adequate funding of Title II. Each of us shared stories of our learners, many of whom are SLIFE, and the incredible challenges they face as they pursue their education.

Michael, Sam and Rachel at Sen. Al Franken’s Office

Michael, Sam and Rachel at Sen. Al Franken’s Office

Some of the support we heard related to workforce and technical education programs, college and career readiness, developmental classes that do not require students to borrow, and sustainable financial lending programs for learners pursuing higher education opportunities. Through our discussion with Sen. Franken’s office, we learned that support for Title II does not currently have a Republican co-sponsor. Sen. Franken’s Senior Education Policy Advisor encouraged us to reach out to educators in red states and ask that they contact their representatives to apply pressure around these important funding streams that serve low-income families.

All of our meetings with legislative aides were successful. We were able to share data for specific populations within Minnesota, provide anecdotal evidence through student stories, and invite all of our representatives to experience our programs and schools…to meet the English learners that are working hard each day to reach their dreams. We invited everyone we met with to join us at MELEd 2017! We also look forward to building these relationships and continuing the dialog around ELs in Minnesota, what they add to our communities and ways we can support them.

Sam with John Segota and David Cutler

Sam with John Segota and David Cutler

I came away from the Summit with a renewed sense of our democracy. I understand that time and energy are all that is needed to continue to advocate for ELs in Minnesota. Our state and federal legislators do take time to listen and so we must use our voice to advocate until such time as our learners and their families can advocate on their own behalf.

Many thanks to MinneTESOL for this incredible opportunity! I encourage all EL professionals to explore new ways that you can advocate for your students.

More information on the Summit (with our attendees in a video on the front page) can be found here.


MinneTESOL participates in 2016 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit

 

Kristi and Janet at Senator Al Franken's office

Kristi and Janet at Senator Al Franken’s office

On June 19-21, 2016 Kristi Herman Hill and Janet Cleland Dullinger joined approximately 75 other TESOL educators and members of TESOL International Association in Washington, DC for the 2016 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit. The program featured two days of issue briefings and activities around education legislation and advocacy, followed by a day of visits to Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. With representatives from approximately 30 US affiliates in attendance, the goals of the Summit were not only to learn more about federal policy issues impacting TESOL educators and English learners, but also to provide an interactive learning experience for participants on elements of advocacy. By the end of the event, TESOL members had visited the offices of over 100 Representatives and Senators.

The Summit featured a luncheon keynote from Sylvia Acevedo, Chair of the Early Childhood subcommittee of the Commission for Educational Excellence for Hispanics. In addition, representatives from the Office for Civil Rights, Office of English Language Acquisition and the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) at the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the Student & Exchange Visitor Program at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, each presented updates from their offices. The Summit also included presentations from the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, Migrant Legal Action Program, Migration Policy Institute, American Immigration Council and author Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner presented information from her book Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators. Ellen Fern from Washington Partners updated all on the Every Student Succeeds Act and spent considerable time with Janet and Kristi personally talking about Minnesota’s legislators and how to build rapport with them.

Kristi and Janet by the Capitol

Kristi and Janet by the Capitol

All of the presentations offered valuable information. The session that resonated with participants was given by Sara Burnett and Clare Tesh from the American Immigration Council (AIC), who informed through activities designed to raise awareness about obstacles immigrants and their children face. They also warned about online lesson plans that embed anti-immigrant sentiments into curriculum and how to contact the AIC for a list of reliable (and not so much so) resources.

A close second was Ellen Fern from Washington Partners’ presentation comparing and contrasting the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to the superseded NCLB.  The major takeaways were that EL issues have been moved from Title III to Title I signaling a priority upgrade, that states will have more autonomy, and that teacher scrutiny has been relaxed — yearly progress and highly qualified teacher status has been eliminated.

Another highlight was meeting author Dr. Diane Staehr-Fenner. She presented information from her book Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators. Dr. Staehr-Fenner shared that advocacy is a focus in the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and emphasized the importance of respect for what all stakeholders bring to the table. Since the conference, Janet has read the book and recommends it. She found it well written, research-driven, and very practical,  it is a must-have addition to any EL teacher’s library.

Lot Kwarteng, Legislative Aide to Senator Amy Klobuchar

Lot Kwarteng, Legislative Aide to Senator Amy Klobuchar

To fully prepare for the Summit, participants were required to do several things in advance. For example, participants had to set up their own individual meetings with their Congressional representatives. For Kristi and Janet, this was a first. To assist with this, TESOL International Association provided directions, guidance, and a list of specific representatives and senators to contact. Additionally, TESOL International Association connected attendees with other participants from the same state to encourage collective advocacy.  Janet and Kristi were able to schedule meetings with legislative aides for Representatives Keith Ellison, John Kline and Betty McCollum, and Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar.

Of the five legislative aides they met with, three were former English Learners, so that made the prior knowledge portion of those meetings quick! This was nice as Kristi and Janet could launch into the meat of their message. They began by sharing information and statistics on immigrants and refugees in Minnesota and descriptions of the different types of English Learners. Janet covered three House bills they  wanted supported, and Kristi discussed some areas of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) where they felt that states may need additional guidance in implementing, specifically the guidelines involving four-year graduation rates and consequences for long-term English Learners.

Connor Lentz, Legislative Aide to Congressman John Kline

Connor Lentz, Legislative Aide to Congressman John Kline

Both Kristi and Janet were impressed with the caliber of the aides for all the legislators. They found them to be attentive, interested and action-oriented. For example, Legislative Aide Connor Lentz focused in on which House Bill was most feasible for John Kline to support given he was not seeking re-election. Representative Ellison’s aide Hassan Ali spent twice as much time as was allotted to share stories of his own experience as an immigrant from Ethiopia, and Senator Franken’s educational policy aide Gohar Sedeghi made time for them late in the day and was full of suggestions. They left feeling heard, inspired and appreciated for their efforts.

Participants at the Summit received background information on key policy issues so that they could begin to familiarize themselves in advance. To help make their Congressional meetings more effective, participants were also encouraged to find examples from their own programs to illustrate the talking points they would use in their meetings.

In their legislative meetings, Kristi spoke effectively about SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education) and described the primarily Karen refugees that she works with at Washington Technology Magnet in St Paul. She shared stories of the challenges many of her students encounter as they navigate the American high school system and try to graduate career and college ready.

Janet connected with personal anecdotes from her time student teaching at Wellstone International High School and assistant coaching the girls’ soccer team there. Being able to personalize the conversation with examples built rapport and interest. Janet and Kristi also shared digital stories that their students created so that the legislators could hear the students’ stories in their own words and voices. Follow up meetings with the field representatives for the legislators here in Minnesota have been planned to carry out the work started in D.C. The goal is to keep the conversation going and to act as a resource on English Learners to our elected representatives. All meetings ended with invitations from Janet and Kristi to visit their schools and to the upcoming Minnesota English Learner Education (MELEd) conference, a two-page handout with information, and a pledge to keep in touch — and, of course, a “thank you for your time.”

Rebecca Taylor--Legislative Aide to Betty McCollum

Rebecca Taylor–Legislative Aide to Betty McCollum

At the end of the day on Capitol Hill, the participants shared their experiences and what they learned over dinner. It was interesting to debrief and hear what other people experienced on their visits. One meaningful outcome of this event was the opportunity to meet TESOL advocacy leaders from across the country. Our intention is to use these introductions as opportunities to network on behalf of English Learners in Minnesota.

Another pertinent result was learning more about the complex web of Federal agencies and laws affecting EL policies. We also became more aware of how difficult it can be to impact policy decisions, and how different advocacy groups need to know how to make compelling arguments to move Federal decision makers. Additionally, we learned that it is possible to meet with our Federal representatives as long as we have the time and the commitment to do so.

Regarding the effectiveness of the whole event, The experience was inspiring, motivating and left us with a sense of purpose and the will to do more. Our next steps include meeting with local legislative aides in August and encouraging political involvement at the state level. Additionally, we will present about our experience at the October MELEd conference to spread the skills, the knowledge and the word.  Overall, all of the participants agreed this event was a very positive experience for them and for the TESOL International Association.

Additional information about the 2016 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit is online at http://www.tesol.org/AdvocacySummit.


MinneTESOL participates in 2015 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit

On June 21-23, 2015 Pam Mercier and Sam DiVita joined approximately 90 other TESOL educators and members of TESOL International Association in Washington, DC for the 2015 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit. The program featured a full a day of issue briefings and activities around education legislation and advocacy, followed by a day of visits to Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. With representatives from approximately 30 US affiliates in attendance, the goals of the Summit were not only to learn more about federal policy issues impacting TESOL educators and English learners, but also to provide an interactive learning experience for participants on elements of advocacy. By the end of the event, TESOL members had visited the offices of over 100 Representatives and Senators.

Pam and Sam at Sen. Al Franken's Office

Pam and Sam at Sen. Al Franken’s Office

To fully prepare for the Summit, participants were required to do several things in advance. For example, participants had to set up their own individual meetings with their Congressional representatives. For many, this was a first. To assist with this, TESOL International Association provided directions, guidance, and a list of specific representatives and senators to contact. Additionally, TESOL International Association connected attendees with other participants from the same state to encourage collective advocacy.  Pam and Sam were able to schedule meetings with legislative aides for Rep. Betty McCollum, Sen. Al Franken and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. All of the legislative aides we met were responsible for educational issues. We learned that early planning was beneficial and flexibility was important, as all of the aides seemed to be juggling multiple tasks. For example, our meeting with Senator Klobuchar’s aide was changed from 9 AM to 3PM. It was also important to explain our requests effectively and briefly, both orally and in writing, since the meeting times were so short. Understanding what was happening legislatively in English learner (EL) policy at that time was also important to know as these are the topics that might be on the minds of the aides focusing on education issues.

Sam with John Segota

Sam with John Segota

Participants received background information on key policy issues so that they could begin to familiarize themselves in advance. To help make their Congressional meetings more effective, participants were also encouraged to find examples from their own programs to illustrate the talking points they would use in their meetings. Both Sam and Pam have been working on issues related to students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE), and, as a result, our meeting goal was to describe the situations of SLIFE in Minnesota and to request passage of EL policies to improve SLIFE education. With the legislators we shared data and stories about the growing number of SLIFE. We also pointed out recent changes in Minnesota EL law including the identification of SLIFE as an EL category for the first time. Another change in Minnesota law affecting ELs, including SLIFE, is a stronger focus on the need to prepare secondary students for the demands of post secondary education. We were able to connect these Minnesota legislative actions directly to the two requests made in our talking points: identification of SLIFE as an EL category at the Federal level as well as increased funding to support the needs of SLIFE in post secondary institutions.

The Summit featured a keynote from Dr. Libby Gil, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition at the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, representatives from the Office for Civil Rights and the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) at the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the Student & Exchange Visitor Program at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, each presented updates from their offices. The Summit also included presentations from the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education, Association, and author Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner presented information from her book Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators.

Pam and Sam with Dr. Libi Gil

Pam and Sam with Dr. Libi Gil, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director, Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), US Department of Education.

All of the presentations offered valuable information. Dr. Gil from the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) shared a few details of a new Tool Kit for those working with ELs that is in the works along with The Department of Education’s systemic strategy for ELs. That strategy includes a shift from a deficit conversation to an asset conversation with goals such as college and career readiness thru building on learner’s linguistic and cultural assets and ensuring all educational policies and initiatives address opportunities for ELs. Dr. Gil spoke about the advantages of multl-lingualism and the new bilingual seal that is now present in 10 states – including Minnesota! Dr. Gil stressed that currently most states do not collect data on SLIFE. A greater effort to collect disaggregated data is necessary in order to affect change. At least one legislative aide that we met agreed. The question of why there are currently no incentive programs for ESL/bilingual teacher education programs came up with respect to an increased need for global economic competitiveness. This seems to be one area to be addressed with legislators.

Two representatives from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice provided some insightful facts from their work including that more than 10,000 complaints come in annually and that current staffing limits them to handle only 30 cases on average. How guidance of ELs for state educational agencies is applied was a main theme. Participant questions dominated here!

NEA Senior Policy Analyst Luis-Gustavo Martinez shared 5 steps for advocating for ELs and highlighted All In!, a handbook for EL advocacy. Luis also shared that NEA has a variety of professional development opportunities available to members. This is especially relevant due to an increase in the EL population nationwide – 1 of 4 public school students will be English learners by 2025!

Christopher Coro, Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education, spoke with us about major changes to Adult Education programs that are being implemented through passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in 2014. Hopefully, because the intention of WIOA is to create a better educated workforce, SLIFE students’ adult education needs both to complete high school diplomas and to receive appropriate, effective and long term EL instruction leading to further education and jobs will be addressed. Mr. Coro’s presentation alerted us to the need to learn more about how this law is affecting programming in Minnesota.

Dr. Diane Staehr-Fenner and Sam

Dr. Diane Staehr-Fenner and Sam

Another highlight was meeting author Dr. Diane Staehr-Fenner. She presented information from her book Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators. Dr. Staehr-Fenner shared that advocacy is a focus in the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and emphasized the importance of respect for what all stakeholders bring to the table.

Following these briefings, the Summit shifted its focus to advocacy with preparations for meetings with members of Congress. Our meetings with legislative aides lasted about 25 minutes each. It quickly became evident that these aides had limited background in EL data or policies in Minnesota. We were grateful that we were able to share with them some focused information and requests about SLIFE that they might be able to address through Federal legislation. We were happy that we were aware of the impending vote on ESEA, and that, as a consequence, we could argue for continued legislative support for Title III.  We both intend to follow up these meetings with an additional request to meet with the Senators and Representative in Saint Paul or with local aides. Additionally, we intend to invite these representatives to one of MinneTESOL’s annual events, as well as our schools.

Pam and Sam at Sen. Betty McCollum's Office

Pam and Sam at Rep. Betty McCollum’s Office

To maximize the impact of the Summit, key members of Congress serving on the education and appropriations committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were identified for meetings. In addition, participants attending from the same state were teamed up so they could meet with the legislators in small groups. This year, MinneTESOL met with staff from the offices of Representative Betty McCollum, Senator Al Franken and Senator Amy Klobuchar to discuss the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education ACT (ESEA) and proposed language around Title I and Title III funding, the LEAPS ACT that was passed in Minnesota during the 2014 legislative cycle and its impact on ELs was discussed along with information about who the current ELs are and their changing needs. Specifically, details about SLIFE in Minnesota were shared with all of the legislative aides, as well as the need for disaggregated data for current EL populations

On June 23, participants went to Capitol Hill to have meetings with members of Congress and staff.

We had our three scheduled meetings with legislative aides. The meetings were fast paced, and it was important to be prepared to explain well the purpose of the meeting. It was also important to describe how we would follow up with this initial meeting. The aides were responsive and seemed attentive to our concerns.They all took notes and asked pointed questions about our requests. It was apparent that these staffers have a multitude of tasks and people to address each day, yet we were greeted warmly in all three offices. In our case, we noted that the staffer for Senator Franken, despite his hectic schedule, interacted with us in the most respectful and effective way. He not only met with us in a meeting room, he spent the most time with us and asked the most meaningful questions about SLIFE. In addition, he responded to our meeting with a request for more information that Senator Franken might use to argue for more funding, more effective policies, for SLIFE.

Pam and Sam at Sen. Betty McCollum's Office

Sam at Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s Office

At the end of the day, the participants shared their experiences and what they learned over dinner. It was interesting to hear what other people experienced on their visit. One meaningful outcome of this event was the opportunity to meet TESOL advocacy leaders from across the country. Our intention is to use these introductions as opportunities to network on behalf of SLIFE in Minnesota.

Another pertinent result was learning more about the complex web of Federal agencies and laws affecting EL policies. We also became more aware of how difficult it can be to impact policy decisions, and how different advocacy groups need to know how to make compelling arguments to move Federal decision makers. Additionally, we learned that it is possible to meet with our Federal representatives as long as we have the time and the commitment to do so.

Regarding the effectiveness of the whole event, we felt it a meaningful way to connect state advocates with national policy developments.  We have a couple of suggestions for next year’s event. First, we would like to see more formal opportunities for leaders from different states to discuss their most urgent concerns. Second, we would like to see more training for advocacy at the state level. Overall, all of the participants agreed this event was a very positive experience for them and for TESOL International Association.
Additional information about the 2015 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit is online at http://www.tesol.org/AdvocacySummit.