On Thursday afternoon, Maria Hernandez Ferrier, director of the U.S. Department of Education Office of English Language Acquisition, was scheduled to speak in Dwight Hall about the No Child Left Behind bill.
But Ferrier was unable to make it to Yale and instead, Timothy D’Emilio, an education research analyst at the Office of English Language Acquisition, spoke to about 20 people in Dwight Hall’s Luther Tucker Library. The lecture was informal — he wore a suit, tie and running shoes, and the crowd gathered in chairs and sofas in a semicircle around him. His audience included Yale undergraduates, Yale faculty members, and members of the New Haven community.
D’Emilio began his lecture by describing how Ferrier and the other people he works with in the Office of English Language Acquisition in Washington, D.C., motivate him with their enthusiasm for their work.
“They really want to help kids,” D’ Emilio said of his coworkers.
The Office of English Language Acquisition, or OELA, carries out part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 by including elements of school reform in programs created to assist English language learners. D’Emilio described how the OELA seeks to play a leadership role in the education of newcomers to the English language, often by checking teachers’ qualifications and the places of instruction.
“We want to make sure they are not being taught in a closet,” D’Emilio said, adding that such a situation had happened before.
D’Emilio also said he thinks English language learners are often excluded from the nation’s report card for schools, an assessment from the National Association of Educational Progress. D’ Emilio said English language learner students sometimes are not counted because schools use tricks such as taking the students on field trips or placing them in detention.
“If you’re tested, you’re counted,” D’Emilio said.
He said that if all students are counted, schools will no longer be able to “hide” the English language learners. He hopes this change would result in a more accurate understanding of the status of education in the United States.
Keeping with the casual atmosphere, D’Emilio asked questions to members of the crowd and also offered to answer their questions. Two people asked how he thought the proposed changes would actually happen, and he said the No Child Left Behind law places responsibility on individual states to implement educational policy changes. D’Emilio said repeatedly that the state is the “pressure point” for change.
“I don’t want you to think that I can promise things for you at a school level,” D’ Emilio said. Instead, he encouraged interested audience members to become involved on a state level and emphasized that No Child Left Behind is not a package, but a starting point.
Some members of the audience were not convinced.
Lydia Bornick, executive director of the New Haven Public Education Fund, said she thought D’Emilio was passionate but she is concerned because of the freedom each state has to implement the policy change.
“The state is allowed to be the facilitator of the funding,” Bornick said. “There’s no mandate.”
However, Mike Dunham ’06 said he found the lecture informative because he was curious about what the federal government was doing in terms of education.
“I was pretty impressed,” Dunham said.