This is a guest post by Alpha A. Martínez-Suárez, a doctoral student in the culture, language, and literacy program at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She works as a research scientist for the Academy for Teacher Excellence and volunteers as an advocate for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, helping unaccompanied minors detained by immigration officials. Alpha also serves as board member and chair of the Advocacy Committee for TexTESOL Region II. In this post, she discusses what she learned at the 2017 TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit.
This past summer, I attended the TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. These three days of presentations, conversations, and discussions gave me a better understanding of policies and legislation affecting the English language learners (ELLs) in the United States, the population that we serve and care about. The summit also provided an opportunity to connect with like-minded teachers and administrators from all over the United States, sharing their experiences and ideas. As TESOL professionals, we are already at the forefront of the realities and challenges our students and their families encounter daily, many of which stem from short-sighted legislation, poorly designed programs, a lack of proper local funding, a shortage of prepared teachers, and limited opportunities for teachers’ professional development.
During the three-day summit, participants had the opportunity to review issues regarding funding for federal education programs serving our ELL population and their families. We also had the opportunity to learn about Title III of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and why it is paramount to fully fund it. The conversation also included the need for improved and fully funded professional development for current and future teachers of ELLs. It is important that our teachers and administrators have opportunities to acquire the skills necessary to meet the needs of our country’s ELL population, currently at over 4 million students and counting (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). As the fastest-growing student population in the country (The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2015), ELLs will be a majority of the workforce by 2040. Ensuring our ELLs have had quality instruction with culturally, instructionally, and linguistically efficacious teachers could prevent the United States from having the least educated workforce in the last 70 years.
What can you do to better advocate for your ELL students?
- Be involved in your local TESOL affiliate! Sign up for advocacy opportunities to learn more about legislation, preparedness, and the issues pertaining to your ELL population.
- Attend the TESOL International Convention and the Advocacy Summit in 2018!
- Write, call, text, mail, or email your local and state representatives and discuss these topics. For this year’s Policy and Advocacy Summit, the priorities, according to provided documents, are
- PreK-12 education, English language acquisition, and teacher preparation: Full funding of Titles I, II-A, and IIIof ESSA for FY 2018.
- Adult Education: Full funding of Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) for FY 2018. WIOA Title II funding allows adult English learners to receive education and workforce training to improve their English language proficiency, which helps families integrate and assist in their children’s educational journeys.
- International education and cultural exchange programs: Maintain funding at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State This bureau manages programs like the Fulbright scholarships and the Office of English Language Programs, which works to foster U.S. policies through cultural exchanges and English language teaching programs abroad.
This summit stressed the importance of passing legislation like the Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream of Growing Our Economy (BRIDGE) act and Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Another key piece of policy for ELLs who are K-12 school age is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which affords temporary protected status to young, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, also known as Dreamers. Recently, however, the president chose to end the DACA program effective in March 2018 unless Congress takes action. DACA provides Dreamers with protection from deportation and allows them to continue contributing to the economy by working legally, enrolling in colleges and universities, and paying their fair share of taxes. According to reports from the U.S. National Immigration and Naturalization Services, there are more than 750,000 young people that have benefited from DACA and who actively and positively contribute to U.S. society (American Council on Education, 2017). The U.S. economy and local communities could ultimately benefit from a well-prepared young workforce. Supporting legislation such as the DREAM Act (and letting your representatives know that you do) is a bipartisan solution that will be beneficial for both the U.S. economy and the communities that these young people serve.