CATESOL Goes to Washington for 2016 TESOL Summit

Sep 24th, 2016 | By | Category: Advocacy, News, TESOL
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author image of Judy O'Loughlin

Judith O’Loughlin


—Judy O’Loughlin, CATESOL K-12 Advocacy Chair, and Sydney Rice, CATESOL president, representing Adult Education, joined approximately 75 other TESOL educators and members of TESOL International Association on June 19-21, 2016, in Washington, DC, for the 2016 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit. The program featured two full days of issue briefings and activities around education legislation and advocacy, followed by a day of visits to congressional offices on Capitol Hill. With representatives from approximately 30 US affiliates in attendance, the goals of the summit were not only to learn more about federal policy issues affecting TESOL educators and English learners, but also to provide an interactive learning experience for participants on elements of advocacy. By the end of the event, TESOL members had visited the offices of more than 100 US representatives and senators.

image of Sydney Rice and Judy O'Loughlin met at Rep. Swalwell's office at the 2016 TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit.

CATESOL’s President Sydney Rice and K-12 Advocacy Chair Judy O’Loughlin visit Rep. Eric Swalwell’s office.

To fully prepare for the summit, participants needed to complete several important tasks before arriving in Washington, DC. For example, participants needed to schedule meetings with their congressional representatives. To assist with this, TESOL International Association provided directions, guidance, and a list of specific representatives and senators to contact.

Sydney and I contacted and were able to secure meetings with the offices of:

  • Nancy Pelosi, 12th District, Democrat, Minority leader, House
  • Eric Swalwell, 15th District, Democrat, Judy’s representative
  • Duncan Hunter, 50th District, Republican, Education, Workforce, Higher Education, Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Committees
  • Mark Takano, 41st District, Democrat, Education, Workforce, Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Committees
  • Juan Vargas, 51st District, Democrat, Sydney’s representative
  • Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat, Senate

To maximize the impact of the summit, key members of Congress serving on the Education and Appropriations committees in the US Senate and House of Representatives were identified for meetings, as you can see from the above table. We also met with the representatives for our own districts, Representatives Swalwell and Vargas. In each meeting, except one, we met with the education staff member of the congressperson’s office.  We actually were able to briefly meet with Representative Mark Takano and discovered he had been a former teacher and knew almost more than we did about second language education theory and instruction of English learners (ELs)!

Before our visits to the “Hill,” as Congress is called, TESOL International Association connected attendees with other participants from the same state to encourage collective advocacy. Sydney and I were lucky enough to be joined by two international advocates, Jorge Kormpas, from Greece, and Debbie West, from Paris and past president of France TESOL.  They observed our meetings with plans to replicate advocacy activities in their own international educational settings. For Debbie West, who has lived in California, this was the second time joining the CATESOL Advocacy Team.

K-12 Advocate Judy O'Loughlin in Rep. Nancy Pelosi's meeting room.

K-12 Advocate Judy O’Loughlin in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s meeting room.

Before our meetings, we received background information on key policy issues so that Sydney and I could begin to familiarize ourselves in advance. To help make our congressional meetings more effective, we were encouraged to find examples from our own teaching situations and programs to illustrate the talking points each of  the delegates would use in their meetings. Sydney and I prepared to piggyback our examples off each other between K-12 and ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015) and adult education legislation (WIOA). We both focused on family literacy (HR 4643, Families Learning and Understanding English Together Act of 2016) to wrap up each of our meetings.

As a K-12 CATESOL advocate, I focused on three aspects of the new ESSA.  They were:

  • Title 1, which requires states to develop rigorous college- and career-ready standards for mathematics, reading/language arts, and science, as well as corresponding English language-proficiency standards for English learners.
  • Title II, which requires schools to show how they are addressing the appropriate instructional needs of English learners in their setting; and
  • Title III, which requires schools to adopt statewide procedures and criteria for entry into and exit from EL status that is consistent across districts within a state.

Sydney focused on three significant bills affecting adult learners:

  • HR 2794, Strengthen and Unite Communities with Civics Education and English Development;
  • HR 4541, Save Teachers of Adults From Paying Out of Their Livelihood for Education Resources; and
  • HR 4643, Families Learning and Understanding English Together Act of 2016.

These bills have been introduced but no action has been taken on them as yet in the House of Representatives.

Sydney placed the information about these bills in a newsletter titled “English Language Learners: A California Responsibility.” The newsletter highlighted the statistics for both K-12 and adult learner populations in the state, indicating there are 1.5 million K-12 ELs in California; nearly a quarter of the students in K-12 classrooms are English learners and two-thirds of all adult learners over 18 are English learners. The document also stated that “being an English learner does not mean that a person is an immigrant.” We provided this newsletter, information about CATESOL, and TESOL Advocacy Position Statements to each congressional office we visited.

Additionally, we invited each congressional staff member to attend our CATESOL Annual Conference in San Diego. Stephanie Allen, field representative for the Honorable Representative Juan Vargas, accepted our invitation and is planning to attend the President’s Luncheon as CATESOL’s guest. Representative Vargas represents the 51st District and has offices in Chula Vista, CA. Sydney and I both thought this would be a good way to bring recognition to the work CATESOL does on behalf of English learners and their teachers.

We both told stories of children and adults who needed ESL/ELD services provided by more than adequately prepared staff members who understood the unique educational, emotional, and cultural needs of English learners. We mentioned the importance of educating the whole family to not only increase employment opportunities for parents, but also the key of preparing second language children to become college and career ready, as we prepare our native English speakers in school to do the same.

The summit featured a keynote from Dr. Johan Uvin, acting assistant secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the US Department of Education. In addition, representatives from the Office for Civil Rights and the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the US Department of Education, as well as the Student and Exchange Visitor Program at the US Department of Homeland Security, each presented updates from their offices. The summit also included presentations from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and author Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner presented information from her book Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators. Each participant received a copy of Dr. Staehr Fenner’s book.

At the end of the final day, after our visits to the ‘”Hill,” we shared their experiences and what we learned over dinner. It was interesting to hear what other people experienced on their visit. Overall, we all agreed this event was a very positive experience for us and for TESOL International Association.

Some highlights from the summit events of 2015 and 2016 can be found here:

TESOL Connections:

For some YouTube Participant interviews, go to YouTube ( and paste in these destinations:





Blog written for the 2015 summit by Bette Empol and Judith O’Loughlin:


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