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Kathleen Leos Starts an ELL Policy Institute--and a Company

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Kathleen Leos, who resigned as the director of the U.S. Department of Education's office of English-language acquisition in September, is setting up a new policy institute that will focus on English-language learners. It will be called the International Institute for Language and Literacy Development and will have offices in Dallas and Washington, D.C.

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She's particularly interested in how English-language learners develop basic language skills—the new organization will have a goal of pushing for the U.S. Congress to establish a commission on this topic, she told me in a phone interview yesterday. Ms. Leos said it will build on the history of a nonprofit organization, Basic English Inc., that she ran before coming to Washington more than six years ago to work for the Education Department.

The country has plenty of policy institutes that follow education issues. I can only think of a few, though, that focus on ELLs. One of them is the Institute for Language and Education Policy, where James Crawford, a longtime writer about language issues and an advocate of bilingual education, is the executive director.

Ms. Leos said she believes educators and policymakers have thought a lot about reading and writing when it comes to English-learners. But they haven't relied much on the expertise of linguists and language-development specialists. She's interested in research about how babies develop language and how language stimulates thought.

If you don't really get what is meant by "basic language development," you are not alone. I'm having a hard time imagining what kinds of policies the new institute might recommend. I guess I'll have to wait and see.

Since leaving her post at the Education Department, Ms. Leos has started a for-profit outfit in Washington, D.C., called the Global Institute for Language and Literacy Development Skills. (Yes, the name sounds a lot like that of the policy institute.) The company is developing videos, tool kits, and training manuals that can be used to train educators on how to effectively instruct ELLs, Ms. Leos said. She's the president and CEO.

4 Comments

Sounds a bit worrisome. There is plenty of research out there on how people learn languages. The government chooses to ignore it so what is it that this woman hopes to accomplish and what is her agenda? Why are there so few TESOL certified teachers in the US? Many states have only an endorsement, why?

It is a trend for Administration staff who leave to continue to want to serve the community, and Katherine Leos should be applauded for her zeal and commitment.

However, as Lynn pointed out, the efforts of the Department to increase the number of ESOL and bilingual ed teachers remain minimal and suspect. May be, if you truly believe the Department should be closed down, you are much more effective working outside of public education then you are inside it.

It is fascinating that Michael Brown is doing quite well helping clients write up hurricane preparedness plans. There is always hope in faith.

I am gratified to see that Ms. Leos also observed the lack of interest in the expertise of linguists and language development experts when some educators and policymakers consider reading and writing for ELLs. In the State of Florida, such expertise is marginalized, trivialized, or made invisible.

Second language acquisition is a field where there is much relevant research and many individuals with valuable expertise.

Too bad that the Department of Education has been unable to enlighten the important role the field.

good evening, I was reading comments that were posted as I resigned from the US Dept of Ed to pursue exactly what the individuals above recommended. Unbeknownst to the general public we tried for 6 years to explain/advocate to everyone the importance of multiple language development/language acquisition aligned to academic content standards at grade level for ELL academic achievement and to literally fulfill ELLs basic civil rights. Oct 2007, I decided it could/would best be accomplished from both a non-profit and for profit perspective- we were right. ALL- teachers in all classrooms are now responsible for the language acquisition and academic achievement of ELLs in K-12 settings and did not have the instructional strategies and tools to effectively teach ELL students in all academic environment based on standards and scientific research. We have developed the tools and strategies "from theory to practice" and are training educators to great success!!! thank you for all your good wishes and continued support. Kathleen

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