A weekend interview with ...
... Linda Evans, University of South Florida assistant professor of foreign language education and ESOL. Evans, past president of Sunshine State Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, quietly led a grassroots effort that prompted Gov. Charlie Crist to veto SB 2512, which would have reduced ESOL training for reading specialists from 300 hours to 60. She spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about why, in a state heavy with speakers of other languages, such a bill would have hurt education.
JS: The bill came out of what?
LE: It came out of Clay County and it came out of the frustration of the reading specialists there, who are required to take course work to gain their reading endorsement and to take course work to gain the ESOL endorsement.
JS: And that was too much for them?
LE: Yeah, I think so. ... One of the things we've run into in the past is the way the districts set things up vary from district to district in terms of the training requirements. My understanding was that with the reading money that came into the state ... that opened opportunities for districts to hire reading coaches. What they did was they of course gave the opportunities to teachers already teaching in the districts. And they recruited from out of state. But they would be teaching out of field until they did the course work for their endorsement.
JS: Does everyone need to have an ESOL endorsement?
LE: If they have English language learners that they're working with. ... The (1990) consent decree required that all teachers involved in language arts instruction for English language learners need to be credentialed. And all teachers to teach English language learners need to have some level of credential. And it was determined by the Department of Ed that the reading specialists fell into that category. ... Because teaching reading in a student's second language is not the same as teaching it in their native language.
JS: They went to a 300-hour requirement. That has been in place for as long as I can recall, because I have heard teachers complain about it for as long as I can recall.
LE: What happened with the reading teachers in this particular issue is that the reading endorsement came on top of whatever else the teachers had to do. So looking for relief ... somebody did a crosswalk of competencies between the reading endorsement and the ESOL endorsement ... and their contention was that there was only one course worth, or about 60 hours, of training that did not overlap. And so based on that the reading specialists should be able to take just one course ... and gain the ESOL endorsement.
JS: So what did this law seek to do?
LE: Exactly that.
JS: This law, you opposed it. Why?
LE: Reading itself is a fundamental pathway to achievement for students. And it is particularly important if you have a student coming into a system where they're not going to have access to a native-language program. So all of their literacy achievement has to occur in a language they're not familiar with. A reading coach is put in a school to enhance a student's ability in reading. So what you need is a coach who understands how to teach students who are coming in with that situation. ...
JS: So who convinced the governor to not approve this bill?
LE: Well, when I first learned of the bill ... when I went to the Sunshine State TESOL conference back in early May. There was a professor at Florida International University, Eric Dwyer, and then there's a retired faculty person who really spearheaded this, Rosa Castro Feinberg. ... Eric was at the conference and he said, 'Have you heard about this bill?' I said I hadn't heard anything about it. It had already gone through the Senate and apparently went through late in the session ... and was a done deal, apparently. Eric said, 'I don't have much hope we can do anything, but we've got to give it a shot.' I said, 'Absolutely.' So we're at the conference, we made people at the conference aware of it. Then things started taking off. ...
It took a lot longer to get to the governor's desk than we had anticipated. We thought he was going to receive it the next week. But as it took week after week after week to get there, it gave us time. ... A bunch of us contacted everybody we knew involved in organizations. There were 25 letters, I believe, from state and national organizations. ... Some of them were the plaintiff organizations in the consent decree litigation. ... There was a phone campaign. .. People sent e-mails. ... And we did a lot of blogging all over the state. ... There were also people who talked to (Crist) when he was out at events.
JS: It's surprising that it took so much for something that most people were probably unaware was happening at all.
LE: Rosie did say we ended up with between 100 and 150 calls. ... We probably over-killed because we just didn't know and we were just very concerned that if this went into effect it would really erode what is available to students in schools in terms of highly qualified teachers.
JS: Have you talked to the bill sponsor at all and encouraged him or her not to do it again?
LE: I have not, and not that I am aware of. Right now we are in the process of thanking everybody. There was some discussion about what do you do now. And we will carry forward with that discussion. The thought is that this will come up again in some fashion.