The Changing Face of ELL Advocacy in Washington

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 01, 2010 2 min read
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In the decade I’ve been writing about English-language learners in Washington, I’ve seen a changeover in which advocacy groups take the lead in promoting policies affecting such students.

These days, the most attentive players with members who seem to have some clout are the Working Group on ELL Policy (a group of nationally-known researchers in the field), the National Council of La Raza, and the National Council of State Title III Directors. I interviewed representatives from those groups this week when reporting for a story about what the Obama administration’s blueprint for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act says about ELLs.

The Lexington Institute also carefully follows ELL issues and TESOL puts out policy statements on ELLs from time to time. In addition, I can always count on an astute critique of ELL policy from James Crawford, a long-time writer about language policy in the United States. He’s the executive director of the Institute for Language and Education Policy.

The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund doesn’t seem to be the front-runner in Washington in focusing on ELL policy that it was a couple of years ago. That’s likely because Peter Zamora, a former teacher who has a keen interest in ELLs, left his post there as Washington regional counsel to be an aide for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat. MALDEF’s new man for that job, James A. Ferg-Cadima, a civil rights attorney, starts his leadership of the Washington office today.

The National Association for Bilingual Education used to be an active player on ELL advocacy, but I haven’t heard a peep out of anyone from that organization on policy issues for years. I tried again this week to touch base with someone there, noticing that the organization has a new Web site design and an interim executive director. When I called, the person who answered the phone said Santiago V. Wood, the interim executive director, was unavailable for a week. The person wouldn’t even take down my information and let him know I was seeking comment on ELL provisions in the Obama administration’s ESEA plan.

The National Council of State Title III Directors, whose members administer programs for the section of the No Child Left Behind Act that authorizes funds for English-language-acquisition programs, has a new Web site and seems poised to be more vocal on ELL issues. That organization, by the way, sent a letter to President Obama recently asking him to increase funding in the 2011 fiscal budget for English-language learners (to read the letter, click on “News” on the Web site).

If I’ve missed naming your organization and you’ve been trying to get your views on ELL policy heard in Washington, drop me a line.

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