ED Wraps Up National Conversations on English Learner Education

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


  1. This so-called “human capital” is already being squandered by the deleterious cuts to educational funding in the state of California, among others. President Obama needs to see this situation rectified first before he can start making any pronouncements about what he wants to be true in 2020.

  2. I’m blessed that when I went to schools in the 70’s we were taught bilingual education this allowed me to retain Spanish (first language) and learn English at the same time. Today I send my kids to a dual immersion program where they learn Spanish and English. I see our Spanish speakers only learning English must faster than Spanish speakers that are immersed in English. Our test scores show that our students and the dual language school are out performing our English only schools….this should be a wake up call to all that we should be teaching two languages it worked for me and today for my kids…..

  3. It is crucial to follow up on the identified needs and continue with the preparation of administrators, teachers, and support personnel. In doing so, we should be able to prepare students with what Dr. Richard Ruiz, has called language as a resource. Five million students, with a language other than English, could be a potential bilingual-bicultural human capital resource for any institution who is looking for trully bilingual-biliterate and bicultural students. Hope is what make us strong and we should be able to identify educational institutions that are breaking the odds and are preparing all students, especially speakers of other languages. We need to prepare more bilingual professionals who can continue preparing students in two langauges as much as we can. This will get us closer to the goal of 2020. According to US Secretary of Education a World Class Education is no longer in English only (December 2010).

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