By Feliza Ortiz-Licon, Ed.D., Senior Director of K–16 Education, NCLR
Some of them are fortunate enough to speak English and a foreign language, but at a minimum they all speak “Educationese,” the term commonly associated with the broad field of education. Between buzz phrases like “cradle through college,” “college and career readiness,” and all the “gaps” (achievement gap, opportunity gap, gender gap) and an assortment of ever-evolving acronyms such as EL (English learner), SpEd (special education), NCLB (No Child Left Behind), and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), the conversations tend to be limited to a narrow pool of educators.
Despite speaking a common language, educators still have a hard time communicating across the K–16 educational pipeline. The experiences and challenges that shape each transitional point along the pipeline have created an incoherent understanding of the needs of students along their educational journey.
While there are current efforts to ameliorate this issue by streamlining instruction, building coalitions between K–12 and higher education, and adopting the national Common Core Standards, a void still exists between school practitioners and policymakers. The National Institute for Latino School Leaders (NILSL) was established by NCLR to bridge this divide and shed light on the unique needs of Latino students and English language learners.
Recently, ten NILSL fellows were selected from four states to serve as spokespeople for NCLR’s policy positions and shape policy recommendations that directly impact the educational experiences and opportunities afforded to Latino students. During the first training session held in Los Angeles last week, the fellows learned about NCLR’s policy positions and how they are selected and crafted. In addition, they received an update on the federal policymaking process as well as tips on how to tell their personal narrative in a very intentional way.
One fellow, Ruby Lee (Executive Director of Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES) in St. Paul, Minnesota) thoughtfully reflected on her training experience by stating, “It’s critical to lift our voices and give a face to the successes and failures the education system has in the development of Latino youth. How do we correct the wrongs? How do we work together to proactively create opportunities for our youth and their parents to be prosperous and successful?”
Active collaboration with policymakers is a cornerstone component of the NILSL fellowship. To ensure communication across educational arenas, fellows will travel to Washington, DC to meet with legislators and discuss a selected policy topic, such as higher education, the Common Core, or reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and offer recommendations tailored to Latino and English learners. These recommendations will be ultimately presented as a policy memo to a panel of national experts in July during the 2014 NCLR Annual Conference in Los Angeles.
To better prepare the newly selected fellows for the road ahead, NILSL alumni were invited to join a panel and share their experiences and previous learnings as participants in the institute. After hearing from the former fellows, Angelica Solis (Executive Director of the Alliance for a Better Community in Los Angeles) commented, “Hearing from last year’s fellows has validated my choice to apply for this fellowship. I’m looking forward to being stretched in my knowledge, skills, and expertise and learning from other practitioners in the field.”
While the fellows have a steep curve ahead to master Educationese as spoken by policymakers, they certainly have several advantages on their side: years of field experience, in-depth knowledge of how policy recommendations impact implementation, and fluency in the language that Latino families and students understand best—care!