Kathleen Leos and Public Forums about ELLs

By Mary Ann Zehr — March 02, 2007 1 min read
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Kathleen Leos, the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of English-language acquisition, hasn’t shied away from talking in public forums about English-language learners and the No Child Left Behind Act.

I heard her speak here in Washington this week on a panel about the education of Latinos sponsored by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the League of United Latin American Citizens. She said that because of the requirements in NCLB, “every single state has language standards for the first time” for English-language learners, and those English-language-development standards also have to align with states’ content standards for all students. Ms. Leos stressed the importance of schools’ teaching the “language of school” rather than “playground English.”

Then she said something on the panel that was more blunt than anything she’d every said to me in interviews for Education Week. “Are states on board? Have they pushed it down into the classroom? No.”

Her comment brought to mind some instances in which I’ve observed in classrooms where teachers were helping ELLs to learn lists of English vocabulary or answer questions in English grammar books that didn’t seem to be tied to specific standards or a curriculum.

Today, Ms. Leos participated in an online chat about English-language learners sponsored by the Washington Post. My favorite part of this online chat is Ms. Leos’ answer to a question from someone from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Question: "...The move for universal bilingual education makes sense in economic terms. Should not the USA educational system be geared towards a globalized economy?”

Kathleen Leos: “Yes.”

There’s a time to be chatty--and then there’s a time to give a one-word answer. Ms. Leos knows which is which.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.