More than 250 participants braved ice storms in Dallas and just-above zero temperatures in Chicago to attend sessions on February 10-11 that kicked-off the “National Conversations on English Learner Education” (NCELE), a U.S. Department of Education initiative to bring key stakeholders together with federal officials in six cities. The purpose of these conversations the NCELEs is to engage in dynamic and meaningful discussions about ensuring quality education for English learners in the 21st century.
The Dallas conversation was led by Rosalinda B. Barrera, assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition, and Juan Sepúlveda, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Jose Rico, deputy director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, led the Chicago forum.
“English learners are the fastest growing student population in America. They represent 10% of the nation’s students in grades K-12,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. By video, he welcomed Chicago and Dallas educators, school administrators, researchers, parents, students, advocates and policymakers to the NCELE.
Noting that many of the nearly 4.7 million English learners currently attend K-12 schools “in areas of the country with less experience serving these students,” Secretary Duncan stressed the importance of the NCELE forums.
“Your work and collaboration is important and essential to reforms in the way we educate English learner students,” he said. “Your ideas will inform the national dialogue about how to educate ELs.”
While the Dallas and Chicago sessions occurred more than 800 miles apart, they were often connected by streaming video to enable participants from each site to benefit from the other’s discussions. People who were interested in the conversations but couldn’t attend were able to observe them online. Although high tech broadened the discussions’ scope, their focus was relaxed and individualized.
“We all know that the best conversations often occur during coffee breaks,” said Rico, at the beginning of the 2nd day’s session in Chicago. “Consider this a day-long coffee break.”
Dispensing with traditional conference format, participants were invited to develop discussion topics, lead small group conversations, and report to the total audience the key points and recommendations that were generated. In Chicago alone, more than 15 small group discussions occurred on topics ranging from how the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act may address English learners to the preparation that colleges of education are providing future teachers of English learners. Registration information for National Conversations on English Learner Education in Los Angeles and Seattle, March 7-8, and in New York City and Charlotte, NC April 11-12 , are at http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/meetings/2011elconversation/. Key feedback gained from both the Chicago and Dallas sessions will also be posted at that site as it becomes available.
Office of Communications and Outreach, Region V