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Duncan Doesn't Mention ELLs While Visiting Bilingual School


U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan focused on early childhood education, not the needs of English-language learners, while visiting the Oyster-Adams Bilingual School yesterday, according to my colleague Christina Samuels, who reported on the press conference there.

Samuels told me this morning she can't recall that he made any mention of ELLs. That's despite the fact he was visiting a school that gives instruction in both English and Spanish to all students, including many ELLs. He could have worked ELLs into the conversation in a number of ways, but didn't.

I'm puzzled why the Obama administration seems to be missing opportunities to discuss its priorities for ELLs, which is a rapidly growing group of students in this country.

Some researchers who specialize in the education of ELLs would have been delighted if Duncan had encouraged schools to use stimulus funds for ELLs in the same way that he encouraged them to consider using such funds for early childhood education.


Duncan is not an educator. He probably doesn't know that much about ESOL students. In Chicago, his focus was on creating Charter schools and closing down public schools. I have never seen anything that mentioned students who weren't proficient in English though Latinos are mentioned. I assume there wasn't much thought put into the fact that Latinos are not a "race" but are distinguished by language. Other ESOL students groups were never mentioned in what I've read. I'm surprised he visited a bilingual school, was it public?

Dear Mary Ann,

Like you, I am puzzled at the omission of ELLs in President Obama’s and Secretary Duncan’s commentary.

It hasn’t always been thus. Here is a quote I saved from Duncan's nomination hearing for Secretary of Education. At the time, it delighted me to know that this was going to be an area of focus for his administration. I also, at the time, noted other references, from him and the President (I believe) regarding ELLs that I wish I would have captured and saved.

Arne Duncan speaks at the Nomination Hearing for Sec. of Education:

“There are many other issues that the new Administration and Congress will need to tackle, including:

* Appropriately supporting students with disabilities, making sure that they are assessed fairly, and making real and necessary learning gains to meet their full potential;
* Helping English language learners to be successful, not only in learning our common language, but in gaining the knowledge and skills they need for success;
* Promoting innovation that accelerates student learning; and
* Aligning our education system not only to prepare students for the jobs of the future, but also for the responsibilities of active citizenship in our democratic society.”

You can listen to his January 13 comments at the hearing at c-spanarchives.org. He mentions ELLs in his opening remarks and the above in his answers to the committee’s questions.

I have to wonder now, if they have decided that speaking about ELLs is too politically risky. Why? Obama hasn’t seemed reticent to take on other hot-topics. But, if not that, why have they stopped referring specifically to one of the largest populations at risk in our nation’s public schools? And why, oh why, aren’t they referred to in the summaries of the Stimulus Funding Plan?

I don’t get it.

Susan Preator
CEO Imagine Learning

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