Did you know the TESOL U.S. Advocacy Action Center now features weekly updates on what’s happening in English language education in Washington, DC? You can view the updates online at http://capwiz.com/tesol
Michelle Benegas Participates in 2013 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit
On June 16-18, 2013, I joined more than 50 other members of the TESOL International Association in Washington, DC for the 2013 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit. Now in its eighth year, the program featured a full day of issue briefings and activities about education legislation and advocacy, followed by a day of visits to Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. I am honored to share with you what took place at the Summit and my experiences meeting with aides in Minnesota legislative offices.
With representatives from more than 20 US affiliates in attendance, the goals of the Advocacy Summit were not only to lobby on key issues for TESOL, but also to provide an interactive learning experience for participants on elements of advocacy. Prior to the summit, we were sent talking points and background information on key issues so that we could begin to familiarize ourselves with the issues in advance. I considered the topics raised by TESOL in addition to concerns from Minnesota teachers when drafting my talking points. The main issues that TESOL took up in this summit were the impact of the sequester on English Learners and proposed legislation to replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB) under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). I was fortunate to be teaching a course at Hamline University called Advocacy for English Learners, so I had access to a group of reflective practitioners who are deeply invested in the well being and success of ELs. They shared their concerns with me about NCLB, rallied for immigration reform initiatives such as the DREAM Act, and voiced hesitation for other initiatives such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The first part of the Summit focused on policy issues. Following a welcome reception and overview of policy issues the previous evening, the program started the morning of June 17 with briefs from experts on key issues and legislation. Adam Fernandez, Legislative Associate with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and co-chair of the Hispanic Education Coalition (HEC), began the morning with a discussion of some of the issues in immigration reform and reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) impacting ELLs. This was followed by a panel featuring Joanne Urrutia from the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) and Supreet Anand of the Title III Group at the U.S. Department of Education who co-presented on the activities of their offices. To close out the morning, Debra Suarez from the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) at the US Department of Education provided an update on new initiatives for adult ESL and adult education. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to learn about current and proposed policy from such an impressive panel of experts.
The two main topics presented by the panel were immigration reform and an alternative to NCLB under the ESEA. While I was aware of the DREAM Act. I was surprised to learn about Little DREAMers, a piece of proposed legislation to help undocumented students who are too young to qualify for the DREAM Act but who want to expedite the path to citizenship. Under this legislation, children could become citizens at 15 years of age. Another piece of proposed legislation that was of interest to me is the Student Success Act (SSA), which was drafted by Minnesota’s own Congressman John Kline (R), who is also the Chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee. The SSA recognizes many of the ills of NCLB and proposes an alternative to it. Two topics stand out in this legislation as it relates to ELs. First, it would require all ELs to have IEPs. This is certainly a topic worthy of debate. Secondly, under this legislation, all Title I, II and III funds would be given to districts as a lump sum for them to determine how they believe the funds should be allocated. TESOL sent a letter to John Kline’s office spelling out why our organization is not in support of his proposed bill. See this link if you would like to read the letter: http://www.tesol.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/tesol-comments-on-student-success-act-hr5.pdf?sfvrsn=4
Following these briefings, the Summit shifted its focus to advocacy with a series of activities to help participants learn more about the advocacy process, and prepare for our meetings with members of Congress. We met in seven small groups comprised of roughly seven participants each small to discuss various issues that we face locally. In our groups, we wrote action plans for the issue that we found to be the most pressing in TESOL. Three of the seven groups designed their action plans around advocating for mandatory preparation of all school employees (teachers, administrators and staff) who work with ELs. I was impressed that so many people in the nation had the same concerns. Following our share-out, I approached the organizer, John Segota, and asked if we might examine TESOL’s position statement on the issue to make sure that it is in line with the concerns of the greater TESOL community, since this is an area that I am interested in discussing with members here in Minnesota. Many institutions of teacher preparation are moving toward preparing all teachers to meet the needs of ELs, and it was truly amazing to learn that the issues and concerns that we have in Minnesota are the same as those in places like New Jersey, Texas and California.
On June 18, I set out for Capitol Hill for my four meetings with legislative aides. I started in the Senate office buildings. My first appointment was in Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office (well, in the hall outside of her office). I spoke with her aid about TESOL’s concern about the Student Success Act that was set to be marked up that day. I also shared with her that TESOL is asking that legislators ask that Title I, II and III funds be kept at pre-sequester levels. She relayed that the Senate was in favor of these recommendations and asked that we stay in contact with her. Overall, it was a very positive meeting. My next meeting was with Senator Al Franken’s office. His aid was very attentive to the same requests that I had previously posed to Senator Klobuchar and she also affirmed that Senator Franken was in support of our recommendations.
Following these two meetings in the Senate, I walked to the House buildings for meetings with representatives. My first meeting was with Congressman John Kline’s office. His role as the House Chair of the Education and Workplace Committee places him as a national figure of great influence with regard to education. Of my four meetings, he was the only Republican legislator that I spoke with. His aide brought me into a meeting room with two interns, one of whom was a graduate of the same private high school that I attended. We chatted about our backgrounds and I used our commonality as a spring board to begin our conversation. I shared the shock and dismay that I felt when I began teaching ESL and saw how ELs were educated on our schools. I saw teachers teaching in hallways and closets, photocopies from 20 year old textbooks used as curriculum and a hot lunch that consisted of daily pizza delivery. I also shared how much has changed regarding funding for ELs since I started teaching. One of the positive aspects of NCLB is that funds for English learners were specifically allocated for them. I explained that it is crucial that funding for ELs stay at its current level and not be lumped in with funding for other student populations. I closed by sharing my experience as the parent of a child with special needs. I explained that parents of special needs children are often loud and effective advocates for their children. Parents of ELs usually are not. I called Congressman Kline to take into account the silent voices of immigrant families when considering reforming how funds are allocated to districts. My final Senate meeting was with an aide in Congresswoman McCollum’s office. Her aide was very receptive to the concerns that I expressed and like all of the other aides, she requested that MinneTESOL keep her office in contact if any issues came up that we wanted her to advocate for at the capitol.
Overall, the TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit was truly transformative. By the end of the event, TESOL members had visited the offices of approximately 100 Representatives and Senators. I am so appreciative that MinneTESOL sent me to learn about policy and to advocate for ELs. Thank you MinneTESOL!
Additional information about the 2013 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit is available online at http://www.tesol.org. If you are interested in learning more about your Congressional representatives’ current legislative issues, go the TESOL U.S. Advocacy Action Center at http://capwiz.com/tesol.
Click here to read about TESOL Advocacy Day 2011 and 2012.
Advocacy Issues: Get Involved!
MinneTESOL is working to do more in the area of advocacy for ESL teachers and learners, as well as issues related to our profession such as immigration, language, and education policy. Are you interested in getting involved? We are forming an Advocacy Committee, and we need your help! Please contact Patsy Vinogradov at email@example.com.
Watch this page for more links and information related to advocacy issues. And if you have a link or resource we should share with our membership, please let us know!
Click here to access our ADVOCACY RESOURCES.
Notice from International TESOL
TESOL Position Statement on EFL for Young Learners available here (835)
TESOL International Association has just published its first Policy Brief on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in the United States. The brief outlines the new policy by the Obama administration, and provides details on where you can find additional information.
The brief is available for download now on the TESOL web site.
At its recent meeting, the TESOL Executive Committee approved two position statements for the association:
- Position Statement on the Rights of Deaf Learners to Acquire Full Proficiency in a Native Signed Language
- Position Statement on Independent Short-Term TESL/TEFL Certificate Programs
Copies of each of these position statements are attached; copies are also available online at http://www.tesol.org/PositionStatements.
Minnesota Legislative Reports on World Language
The legislature requires an annual district survey and report on the status of world languages published in February from 2008-2012. The reports are posted on the Minnesota Department of Education Website. There are several other reports with related information. Each report contains an executive summary, background information, research and legislative recommendations.
Status of K-12 World Languages in Minnesota (2010)
- Statewide world language enrollment by grade-level bands
- Comparison between Minnesota data the National K-12 Foreign Language Survey
- MDE Pilot World Language Grants Summary
- Minnesota World Language Proficiency Certificates
- Minnesota Visiting Teacher Program