TESOL Members Meet With Congress at Advocacy Day 2011 (June 2011)

On June 6–7, TESOL members from across the United States met in Washington, DC, for TESOL Advocacy Day 2011. Now in its sixth year, Advocacy Day 2011 featured a new, expanded format with a full day of briefings and activities on legislation, followed by a full day of visits to congressional offices on Capitol Hill. The goals of Advocacy Day were not only to lobby on key issues for TESOL, but also to provide an interactive learning experience for participants on elements of advocacy. This year was the largest Advocacy Day yet for TESOL, featuring more than 40 participants, with close to 30 affiliates represented.

Responding to recent action in Congress and from the White House, TESOL Advocacy Day 2011 was focused on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently revised as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). To maximize the impact of TESOL Advocacy Day, key members of Congress serving on the education and appropriations committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were identified for meetings to discuss TESOL’s newly revised recommendations for ESEA reauthorization and the impact of the current law upon English language learners and their teachers.

Click HERE for pictures from TESOL Advocacy Day 2011.

In preparation for Advocacy Day, each participant was required to take early action. For example, participants had to set up their own individual meetings with their congressional representatives and were encouraged to learn more about their members of Congress. Additionally, participants were sent talking points and background information on ESEA reauthorization so that they could begin to familiarize themselves with the issues in advance. To help make their congressional meetings more effective, participants were also encouraged to find examples from their own programs to illustrate the talking points.

TESOL Advocacy Day commenced with a welcome from TESOL Past President Brock Brady and a welcome from TESOL Executive Director Rosa Aronson. The event was led by John Segota, Director of Advocacy, Standards, and Professional Relations, and Ellen Fern of Washington Partners, LLC, TESOL’s legislative consultants. The first day featured a briefing from congressional staff to present the “view from the Capitol Hill” on ESEA reauthorization and the key issues under debate, as well as a similar briefing with representatives from the National Education Association, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. In addition, Dr. Rosalinda Barrera, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education, provided an update from OELA and discussed the Obama Administration’s proposal for reauthorizing ESEA. These briefings provided background information and a greater context for the individual meetings with members of Congress that were to take place later the next day.

Because of the new expanded format for Advocacy Day, a series of activities were held in the afternoon to review aspects of the legislative process as well as how to prepare for meetings with members of Congress. One of the new activities for this year gave participants the opportunity to role play as members of Congress in a mock hearing to discuss a piece of legislation, as well to have a mock debate on the floor of Congress to try and pass legislation. Participants had a lot of fun pretending to be members of Congress, whether they were asking questions of witnesses during a hearing or making speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives. The day concluded with additional time to plan and with information for participants to prepare for their meetings.

“The briefings and activities on the first day of Advocacy Day were invaluable,” said Debbie Sternecky of Illinois. “It was very helpful to hear directly from insiders in Washington what to expect, and what was going on with ESEA. I was really impressed with the amount of knowledge they had, as well how much they shared.”

Click HERE for videos from TESOL Advocacy Day 2011.

On June 7, participants went to Capitol Hill for their meetings. For the many first-timers at Advocacy Day, it was an enlightening experience. “Although I had often written to my senators and representatives about English learner needs, I felt rather nervous about speaking face-to-face,” explained Judy O’Loughlin from California. “But once I started to talk to each of these Congressional and Senate aides about my own personal experiences and those of colleagues throughout the country, I spoke from my heart and they listened! It was really amazing!”

To conclude the day, a group dinner was held with all the participants to discuss their experiences and share what they had learned. Each of the participants was also given information to follow up not only with the congressional staff they met with, but also with each of their affiliates to report what they had learned by their experience. Based on the evaluations and feedback, it was unanimous: TESOL Advocacy Day was a positive experience for all the participants, not least because of the impact they made on Capitol Hill.

Julia Muffei from Texas summarized her experience: “TESOL Advocacy Day was so well organized— it truly was a wonderful experience. I dare to call it life changing! I feel so empowered now to advocate for my students and for the field!”

Since TESOL Advocacy Day 2011, U.S. Education Secretary has made several public statements calling for ESEA reauthorization. In addition, TESOL has acted on behalf of its members in adult education by submitting comments on draft legislation that would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act. If you are interested in learning more about these developments, your congressional representatives, or and the other legislative issues TESOL is tracking, go the TESOL U.S. Advocacy Action Center at capwiz.com/tesol