Federal

California Steps Up Focus on English-Language Learners

By Lesli A. Maxwell — January 31, 2012 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

California’s schools chief has assigned a team of experts to focus exclusively on the needs of California’s estimated 1.5 million English-language learners as the state embarks on numerous initiatives to improve the achievement of students who are learning English in public schools.

Karen Cadiero-Kaplan, an education professor at San Diego State University who has specialized in training teachers to work with English learners, joined the California Department of Education late last month to direct its newly formed English Learner Support Division.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson tapped Ms. Cadiero-Kaplan to lead the division that he formed six months ago after educators, advocates, and staff members in the state department of education said the achievement of ELLs was among the most pressing education issues facing the state.

The division is made up of about 30 staff members and marks the first time in more than a decade that California—with the largest number of English learners in the nation—has had a single unit overseeing the range of programs and services used by ELLs, including migrant education and federal Title III funds. After the passage of Proposition 227 in 1998—which put strict limits on bilingual education—staff members with responsibilities related to English-learners were scattered through the state agency.

As part of the department’s renewed focus on ELLs, Mr. Torlakson also created an “English Learner Integrated Action Team,” which is charged with developing a statewide strategic plan for English-learners, Ms. Cadiero-Kaplan said. She will be a member of that team.

“People are going to be seeing a great deal of work across the entire department of education to not only recognize the needs of English learners, but to develop policies and actions that help ensure that we are providing the best supports for districts and for students,” Ms. Cadiero-Kaplan said. “My vision and focus is that we have to do what is right for our students.”

New Standards

Nearly every state’s department of education has staff members dedicated to the oversight of Title III funds and other programs that serve English learners. The five other states with the biggest ELL populations—Texas, New York, Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois—also have units within their education agencies that focus on English learners. What may set California’s new division apart is its high-level placement within the state agency and its role in overseeing all efforts related to English learners, according to experts in the ELL field.

“It’s a smart, good investment given the significant population in the state,” said Robert Linquanti, a senior research associate with WestEd, a San Francisco-based education research group. “And developing a strategic plan for the state makes a lot of sense. It provides a real opportunity to set policy priorities for English learners rather than always being reactive.”

Chief among the team’s responsibilities will be updating the state’s current English-language-development standards to be aligned with the common academic standards in English/language arts and mathematics that California and 45 other states have adopted. That work will happen on a tight deadline, Ms. Cadiero-Kaplan said, with focus groups convening next month, experts writing the standards by June, the public commenting on them over the summer months, and final approval from the state board of education slated for November.

The English-learner support team also is responsible for overseeing the state’s new “seal of biliteracy” program, which allows students who demonstrate fluency in English and a second language to earn a special distinction on their diplomas and high school transcripts. The seal is intended for all students, not just those who are learning English.

Local educators who work with English learners say having an ELL chief at the state education department could not come at a better time.

“The field has been waiting for this for a long time,” said Yee Wan, a member of the board of directors for the National Association for Bilingual Education, who is also the coordinator of multilingual programs in the Santa Clara County Office of Education in the Bay Area. “There are so many huge issues right now, especially with the common standards, that having this leadership and this team in place will ensure that the issues unique to English learners are addressed head on.”

Advocates for ELLs also see potential for this student population to be given primary consideration in all education policy decisions.

“You need to have somebody’s voice in high-level policy conversations who will say, ‘What will this mean for English learners?’” said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, the executive director of Californians Together, a nonprofit group that advocates for English learners and is the main proponent of the biliteracy seal. “Without someone having the responsibility to ask that question, the needs of English learners many times don’t get raised and are an afterthought.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 2012 edition of Education Week as California Officials Step Up Focus on ELL Students


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Pandemic Tests Limits of Cardona's Collaborative Approach as Education Secretary
He's sought the image of a veteran educator among former peers, but COVID has forced him to take a tough stance toward some state leaders.
10 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during their visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during a visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal White House Launches Hispanic Education Initiative Led by Miguel Cardona
President Joe Biden said his administration intends to address the "systemic causes" of educational disparities faced by Hispanic students.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona writes down and draws positive affirmations on poster board with students during his visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits students in New York City at P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school in the Bronx last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal Feds Add Florida to List of States Under Investigation Over Restrictions on Mask Mandates
The Education Department told the state Sept. 10 it will probe whether its mask rule is violating the rights of students with disabilities.
3 min read
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Federal How Biden Will Mandate Teacher Vaccines, Testing in Some States That Don't Require Them
President Joe Biden's COVID-19 plan will create new teacher vaccination and testing requirements in some states through worker safety rules.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela administers a COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site for at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa.
Matt Rourke/AP