The TESOL President’s Blog
Last month, I had a great opportunity to be part of TESOL’s 2014 Advocacy & Policy Summit, held on 22–24 June. This is the largest such event yet, with nearly 70 TESOL educators representing 25 affiliates from across the United States (and a few from outside the United States) coming together to learn more about national policy issues affecting the field, and to advocate for the needs and interests of English learners and TESOL educators. This was my first time participating in the TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit, and I was very excited to be part of this important event to learn, share, and shape the future of education together with other advocates.
This year is very special as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Lau v. Nichols Supreme Court decision, the passage of the Equal Education Opportunity Act, and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at this event, which is unique in the United States.
The TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit is a new approach which allows us to broaden our focus to a wider policy agenda. In previous years, we held TESOL Advocacy Day, which was designed to address a single piece of legislation. Our program for this year was divided into two parts: policy and advocacy. Our objective was twofold: to learn more about the impact of federal policy on ESL and ELLs, and to provide a hands-on learning experience about advocacy.
The policy-focused portion of the program was held on 23 June, with presentations by Carlos Martinez and Emily Davis from the U.S. Department of Education. Martinez provided a general overview and update from the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) while Davis, an ESL teacher and Teacher Fellow Ambassador, discussed teacher preparation and teacher quality initiatives at the department.
Other presentations included a discussion from the U.S. Department of Justice on civil rights of English learners, a Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) update from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, an overview of Common Core State Standards and ELLs, and an update on adult English language learning programs the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE). I was so glad that I was able to use the information from the OCTAE for my meetings on Capitol Hill.
Following these briefings, the Summit shifted its focus to advocacy with activities to help participants learn more about the advocacy process, and prepare for our meetings with members of Congress.
The highlight of the summit was our meetings with the legislators on Capitol Hill on 24 June. I teamed up with my two WAESOL (Washington Association for the Education of Speakers of Other Languages) colleagues, Adam Sweeney and Julie Baumgartner, and we were able to meet with staff from the offices of Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, as well as staff from the offices of eight representatives of Washington State. We had the opportunity to discuss issues around adult education, the need to pass the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act, now called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, and the issues around K–12 education, as well as the impact of immigration laws on international and immigrant students.
I was particularly honored to have the opportunity to thank Senator Patty Murray in person for her outstanding work to include the Ability to Benefit provision as part of the 2014 Appropriations Bill. Ability to Benefit allows many ABE/ESL students to access federal financial aid for professional/technical education opportunities even if they don’t have a high school diploma. It was part of the 2014 Appropriations bill, and was specifically added as an amendment by Senator Murray. The bill aims to restore Pell Grant eligibility to adult students without a high school diploma who are enrolled in adult and postsecondary education, as part of a career pathway program. This provision increases opportunities for low-income adults seeking new skills and job retraining, and helps reduce the “skills gap.” It has been key to the success of integrated education and training programs, like I-BEST in Washington State.Senator Murray was very pleased when I conveyed deep appreciation to her on behalf of all the TESOL educators.
At the end of the day, we shared our experiences and what we learned over dinner. It was very helpful to hear what other participants experienced on their visit. When Adam, Julie, and I realized that we were the team who visited the most legislators in one day (a total of 10), we shared a high-five!
The summit is just the beginning for all of us to continue our advocacy work to make a difference in our students’ lives and make a difference to our profession. My special thanks to all of the participants and to our special event partners, AFT and NEA, for their continuous support, and, most importantly, to TESOL Associate Executive Director John Segota and his team who have been so instrumental in organizing such a successful event! I’d love to see more of you join the TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit next year, so we can keep working together on advocating issues that we all care about for our students, our profession, and our field.
For more information about the 2014 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit please check the TESOL website.