Which Ed Department Post is Most Crucial to ELLs?

By Mary Ann Zehr — November 07, 2008 2 min read
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I agree with eduflack that president-elect Barack Obama should give careful consideration to who he appoints to oversee programs for English-language learners in the U.S. Department of Education, particularly given the fact that Latinos supported him by a two-to-one margin in the election. (Also see “Education Secretary May Not Be Most Important K-12 Job” over at Campaign K-12.) I think that’s what eduflack means when he writes that one of the most important posts in the U.S. Department of Education is the head of the Office of English Language Acquisition. One consideration is whether Mr. Obama will appoint someone to oversee programs for ELLs who views transitional bilingual education, which the president-elect has publicly supported, as a viable educational method.

But I question eduflack’s implication that the head of the Office of English Language Acquisition is the person who calls the shots in the Education Department for how programs for ELLs are implemented these days. As of October, the responsibility for monitoring and implementing Title III, the section of NCLB authorizing funds for English-acquisition programs for ELLs, was moved from that office to the Office of Student Achievement and School Accountability Programs, or SASA, the same office that monitors and implements Title I. It’s a change that hasn’t been widely publicized. An organizational chart for the current staff of SASA provides some insight into the reorganization (click on the “organization chart” in the second to last gray area on this Web page). Zollie Stevenson, Jr., is now the director of that office.

For months now, when I have sought a comment from the Education Department regarding policy for English-language learners, the department public affairs officials have referred me to Kathyrn M. Doherty, a special assistant to Deputy Secretary of Education Raymond J. Simon, not Richard Smith, the acting director of the Office of English Language Acquisition. At the recent meeting of the LEP Partnership—a partnership between state and federal education officials to examine issues affecting students with limited-English proficiency—both Ms. Doherty and Mr. Stevenson took the lead in speaking about implementation and monitoring of programs for ELLs.

Some people in the field feel that the marriage of Title III and Title I, which serves disadvantaged students, including some ELLs, under the same administrative office has the potential to give the education of ELLs more clout. Others feel that the reorganization could decrease attention for ELLs because the needs of such students could get swallowed up by the needs of all students served by Title I.

Of course, the new Education Secretary could make the decision to undo the recent reorganization concerning programs for ELLs. But right now it seems that the position that Mr. Stevenson holds, as director of SASA, is the most crucial one for ELLs.

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