Kathleen Leos Starts an ELL Policy Institute--and a Company

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 02, 2008 1 min read
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Kathleen Leos, who resigned as the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of English-language acquisition in September, is setting up a new policy institute that will focus on English-language learners. It will be called the International Institute for Language and Literacy Development and will have offices in Dallas and Washington, D.C.

She’s particularly interested in how English-language learners develop basic language skills—the new organization will have a goal of pushing for the U.S. Congress to establish a commission on this topic, she told me in a phone interview yesterday. Ms. Leos said it will build on the history of a nonprofit organization, Basic English Inc., that she ran before coming to Washington more than six years ago to work for the Education Department.

The country has plenty of policy institutes that follow education issues. I can only think of a few, though, that focus on ELLs. One of them is the Institute for Language and Education Policy, where James Crawford, a longtime writer about language issues and an advocate of bilingual education, is the executive director.

Ms. Leos said she believes educators and policymakers have thought a lot about reading and writing when it comes to English-learners. But they haven’t relied much on the expertise of linguists and language-development specialists. She’s interested in research about how babies develop language and how language stimulates thought.

If you don’t really get what is meant by “basic language development,” you are not alone. I’m having a hard time imagining what kinds of policies the new institute might recommend. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Since leaving her post at the Education Department, Ms. Leos has started a for-profit outfit in Washington, D.C., called the Global Institute for Language and Literacy Development Skills. (Yes, the name sounds a lot like that of the policy institute.) The company is developing videos, tool kits, and training manuals that can be used to train educators on how to effectively instruct ELLs, Ms. Leos said. She’s the president and CEO.

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