On May 9, 2018, a coalition of organizations advocating for English Learners (ELs) sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy Devos regarding a proposal to reorganize the U.S. Department of Education. The Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (NCLIS) both signed the letter.
According to the current reorganization plan, the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) would be subsumed into the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, along with other offices, such as the Office of Innovation and Improvement. The plan for the Department’s reorganization of OELA is premature at this point. The letter from advocate groups came in response to a meeting on May 7 during which the organizations were briefed on the details of the plan as it might affect OELA.
In the letter, advocates contend that such a move would disadvantage ELs. Ridding OELA of its status as a standalone office would reduce the expertise on EL issues in the Department and the focus these issues are given in higher-level policy meetings where decisions are made that could affect this student population. The letter cites U.S. Census and Department of Education data that show ELs to be the fastest-growing demographic in U.S. schools. It goes on to note how vitally important OELA is to state and local education agencies as a resource for information and practice. Advocates contend that changes to the existing structure of OELA that might diminish the quality of services and information for EL issues would just pass costs along to the state and local entities.
The letter made recommendations on how the current services and functions of OELA might be enhanced, as well as requested clarity on parts of the plan that remain unclear. For example, it is uncertain whether the Department has the legal authorities to reorganize the Department, specifically OELA, the way the plan has been proposed. By statute, OELA must have a director who reports to the Secretary directly, and the current reorganization plan seems to contravene statute by eliminating the position of Director.
For more information about the plan, read the full letter as well as recent coverage by EdWeek.