Bilingual education was featured in several presentations and a luncheon speech at a “summit” meeting last week on English-language learners sponsored by the Department of Education—a departure from the previous five such conferences, in which the educational method got little attention.
At last year’s Education Department conference on English-language learners, for example, a panel of researchers presented findings for a “practice guide” for teaching ELLs commissioned by the department that deliberately avoided bilingual education, according to the researcher who headed the panel. (“Guides Avoid Bilingual vs. English-Only Issue,” Nov. 8, 2006.)
At a 2002 ELL meeting, then-Secretary of Education Rod Paige never mentioned the words “bilingual education” or “English immersion,” even while announcing that a name change for the federal office serving ELLs, from the office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs to the office of English-language acquisition.
Kathleen Leos, the official from that office who has planned the six annual meetings on ELLs, said bilingual education was squarely addressed in this year’s session, held Oct. 29-31 in Washington, because the conference was designed to be “more comprehensive” than previous such meetings.
For the first time, Ms. Leos added, enough solid research was available to warrant presentations on “research-based” methods for teaching ELLs, which she contends wasn’t the case before.
Included in the research, she said, is an ongoing study by the department’s Institute of Education Sciences comparing four approaches to teaching ELLs: transitional bilingual education, two-way bilingual immersion, maintenance bilingual education, and structured-English immersion.
Ms. Leos herself didn’t attend the conference. She resigned as the director of the Education Department’s office of English-language acquisition on Oct. 26, the Friday before it opened.
Ms. Leos said she doesn’t have any policy conflicts with the Bush administration, but quit so she can lead an effort in the private sector to provide language development to ELLs in classrooms.
A version of this article appeared in the November 07, 2007 edition of Education Week