Welcome to Learning the
Mary Ann Zehr is an assistant
editor at Education Week. She has written about the schooling of
English-language learners for more than seven years and understands through her
own experience of studying Spanish that it takes a long time to learn another
language well. Her blog will tackle difficult policy questions, explore learning
innovations, and share stories about different cultural groups on her beat.
ELL Expert Lands
Fenty, the mayor of the District of Columbia, gets approval from the D.C.
Council to take charge of the District of Columbia schools, he'll have an expert
on hand who understands the needs of English-language learners.
headed various initiatives to benefit English-learners for 20 years at the
Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers, but left that
organization in June. After some gardening and relaxation, she started a new job
on Jan. 16, she told me in a telephone interview last week, as the special
assistant for the D.C.'s deputy mayor for education, Victor Reinoso.
most recent claim to fame was directing a consortium for the CCSSO that produced
a test for English-language proficiency that states can use to comply with the
No Child Left Behind Act. I
wrote about these tests
Education Week in July. The test
Ms. Lara helped to create is designed to meet federal requirements for assessing
children in reading, writing, speaking, and listening and is estimated to take
four to six hours to administer. I can see why she needed to garden and relax
after leaving her CCSSO job.
In her new
post, Ms. Lara's first task is to try to improve early childhood education in
the District of Columbia. "My job's not focused on English-language learners,"
she told me, "but because of who I am and where I've been, I plan to infuse
those considerations into the work, so we always include the needs of children
with special needs as we talk about early childhood education and education."
I'm curious to
see what the next move will be in the chess game between Virginia education
officials and U.S. Department of Education officials regarding how to include
beginning English-language learners in large-scale testing under the No Child
Left Behind Act.
The No. 2
official in the U.S. Department of Education,
Deputy Secretary of Education Raymond J. Simon,
has told Virginia officials to enforce testing requirements for such students OR
ELSE. Mr. Simon said in a
Jan. 31 letter to Virginia’s superintendent of public
Billy K. Cannaday Jr., that he was “greatly distressed to hear
that some of Virginia’s districts voted on resolutions that may cause them to
be out of compliance with certain assessment requirements” of the NCLB law.
in Fairfax County, Prince William County, and Harrisonburg, Va., have passed
resolutions saying they will not give some beginning English-learners the
state’s regular reading test, as federal officials require. See the Feb. 6
on how the
issue is playing out. You can also read my
Jan. 31 article
school officials in Harrisonburg took a stand on the issue.
One thing that
stuck with me was that Donald Ford, the
superintendent of Harrisonburg City schools, liked the idea that
Harrisonburg school board members were going on the record criticizing federal
demands on how to test beginning English-learners in time for discussions in the
U.S. Congress about reauthorization of NCLB. This sweater-vest and plaid-shirt
kind of guy has already been to Washington twice to express his views on the
subject and seems very capable of holding his own.
education officials seem to be doing what they can to back the school districts.
Charles B. Pyle, the director of communications for the Virginia Department of
Education, told me in an interview for
Education Week that there's no need for Virginia officials to take
any action right now because no school districts are disobeying the law. How can
they be, he said, when standardized testing doesn't happen until spring?
people are going to jump into this debate over the effect of the provisions of
the No Child Left Behind Act on English-learners. Jack Jennings, the president
and CEO of the Washington-based
Center on Education Policy,
just invited nearly 30 organizations to a symposium on the subject to be held
March 20. He told me in a telephone conversation last week that Diane August, a
researcher who specializes in studying English-language learners, and Stanley
Rabinowitz, a program director for
have agreed to write background papers for the one-day meeting.
says Mr. Jennings, is to have organizations share their proposals for how to
reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act's requirements for English-language
learners. He says that congressional staff are telling him they're hearing about
the problems with the law concerning such students but not solutions.
Welcome to Learning the
Learning the Language, a new blog at edweek.org about immigrant children in U.S.
schools and the teachers and policymakers who help them to learn English.
working for Education Week more than nine years ago writing about school
technology. But I soon realized that I really wanted to be the reporter who
wrote about immigrant students. I wanted to travel to pockets of the country and
learn about people from interesting parts of the world.
ago I got the beat I wanted, and I've had a blast with the cross-cultural
experiences that it has given me. I've reported on Somali refugee teenagers in
Columbus, Ohio, schools; Ukrainian Pentecostals in Harrisonburg, Va., schools;
Mexicans in the Senath-Hornerville school district in the "boot heel" of
Missouri; and recently, Hmong in St. Paul Schools. I've visited mosques, tasted
Hmong egg rolls, shared a meal seated on the living room floor with a Kurdish
family, and dropped in on a quinceañera
(a 15th birthday celebration for a Mexican girl). This is all in the United
But I didn't
forget that I work for a newspaper about education policy. I've also written
about how voters in Arizona and Massachusetts approved ballot measures to
curtail bilingual education, and lots of articles about new requirements for
English-language learners under the No Child Left Behind Act. A couple of times,
I compiled 50-state charts about the progress of states in meeting those
It's taken me
a while to realize how much state and federal policy affects English-language
learners at the classroom level, but I have seen the light. Otherwise, I
wouldn't have just written four articles in a row for
Education Week about testing.
In this blog,
look for insight about some of the interesting groups of immigrant students in
schools, such as the thousands of Meskhetian Turks from Russia who have recently
resettled in this country, and new developments in education policy concerning
let me know what's going on in your schools. What have you learned about the
culture of a group of immigrants who has come to your school? What kind of
training do you think teachers need to work well with English-language learners?
What methods have you found to be effective? What are the biggest challenges
your school or state faces in improving schooling for English-language learners?
You can reach me by e-mail at