Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona at the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) 52nd Annual International Bilingual and Bicultural Education Conference

Thank you for that kind introduction, Evelyn. 

And thanks to you, Nilda, and the leadership team here at NABE for all the incredible work you do to lift up our bilingual educators. 

¡Mi nombre es Miguel Cardona y soy TÚ Secretario de Educación!

What an honor it is to be here as a bilingual Secretary of Education . . . speaking to thousands of multilingual and bilingual educators.  I came to this conference last year – and I’ve been looking forward to this all year.  I feel like I’m coming home.

Today, I want to start with the story of an English learner. 

It’s the story of a girl from Puerto Rico who came to New York with her mother when she was only five years old, much like many of us or our parents.

She didn’t speak English when she arrived.  But when she started kindergarten, she found herself alone in a room full of kids who didn’t speak Spanish.  Later, she would recall: “I used to stare at that blackboard, hoping the words would finally make sense to me.”

“Suddenly, I was different,” she remembers, “I had never been different.”

You might recognize the name of that student.  It’s Rita Moreno.

Now, when you think of her, I bet these aren’t the first things that come up. 

Instead, you’ll think of her star performance as Anita in West Side Story.  Or you think of her as one of the few people to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony – an EGOT.  Or you might think of her as one of the first Latinas to become an American icon.

So how appalling is it that, for much of her life, she was made to feel that different was bad?  That the things that made her unique were deficits – not superpowers? Rita turned her bilingualism and biculturalism into Superpowers.  Y le damos gracias por eso.

Today, too many students in America face similar challenges of having their native language and culture looked down upon.  In too many places in this country, monolingualism and homogeneity are seen as the ideal. 

How many Rita Morenos are in our classrooms hoping to be seen?

Why have we normalized that we are primarily a monolingual country – even though our nation has only become more multicultural, more interdependent with the rest of the world? 

Why is it that in 2023, in many school systems in our country, we treat our English learners as students with deficits – rather than assets in a globally competitive world?

It makes no sense!  It defies what other multilingual countries already understand.  It defies our historical reality as a nation born of immigrants.

So today, reconozcamos que:  bilingualism and biculturalism is a superpower—and we at the Department of Education will work to help our students become multilingual.

Let’s put to bed, once and for all, the notion that multilingualism is just a bonus – or worse, a deficit. 

Let’s build a new era of multilingualism in America – an era where our young people can lead thriving lives and careers with their knowledge of languages from Mandarin to French, Spanish to Japanese.

And let’s foster a new multilingual generation of Americans – strengthened in their identities, supported in their education, prepared to lead in our country and around the world. 

To all of our students in America: ¡ Ya es tiempo de aprender otro idioma!

(Ya es tiempo! Y para que lo se quejen, que se quejen con gusto!)
(Perhaps ad lib on Andres Jimenez’  DESPIERTA BORICUA)

Today, as Secretary of Education, I want to lay out the actions we’re taking – and will be taking — to boost multilingual education in our country. 

Our agenda for action starts with funding and supporting the programs that are proven to work in multilingual education.

When I got my master’s degree in Bilingual/Bicultural education, the research was very clear. 

We learned about Jim Cummins’ work with BICS and CALP, we heard about Steve Krashen’s theory on second language acquisition, we learned about Collier and Thomas’s research on which programs are more effective. 

Yet, over the years, in many parts of our country, programs are designed with little or no influence with what our research says.

It’s like, put the brown kids over there, provide an understaffed program, y después empieza con el Ay bendito!
Ya es tiempo de cambiar con ese rebulu y echarle ganas!

It’s time for us to focus on what works in second language learning.  We will be sharing guidance and funding programs that work! 

Let’s create more successful two-way dual language immersion programs across the country – like the incredible program we see here in Portland Public Schools for Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish, Russian, and Vietnamese. 

The research makes clear: the academic effects of these programs is strong, both for English learners and for native English speakers.  A recent study here in Portland shows that students enrolled in a dual language program scored 7 months ahead in reading in grade 5 and 9 months ahead in reading in grade 8.  Why aren’t we doing this everywhere?  Last time I checked, even before the pandemic, not all kids were reading at grade level.    Let’s practice what works in multilingual teaching and learning!  

And I can tell you: we’ve been pushing hard for the resources to make that happen. 

We just secured $890 million in yearly funding under Title III that can help states support their English learners through their Language Instructional Educational Programs.  That’s an increase of $93 million since the beginning of the Biden-Harris Administration.   

And we’ll be pushing for more funding soon – so stay tuned.

We will also help states with the support and technical assistance they need to translate that funding into reality.  It should not be a mystery in any part of the country what it takes to make a program go from bad to good, or from good to great.

This is why I’m announcing today that I have proposed to reorganize the Title III program from the Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education back into the Office of English Language Acquisition.

I know this will strengthen the administration, capacity, and technical assistance of the Title III formula which you and all of our students deserve.  We need to push harder to ensure Federal dollars are being used for programs that work.  Not only must we support good programming, we need to hold states accountable for bad programming. 

Another strategy we will focus on at the US Department of Education includes making sure we have a lot more high-quality bilingual and multilingual educators – educators like you.

That starts with quality training, recruiting and retaining educators – including young people of color.  I don’t have to tell you that we are at the doorstep of a teacher shortage crisis in our country.  This is even more palpable in hard to fill areas like Bilingual education. 

That’s why, last month, we announced our first-ever grants – totaling over $18 million — under the Augustus Hawkins program to increase high-quality teacher preparation programs for teachers of color and multilingual teachers who are uniquely situated to reach our diverse student population.  And every single one of those grantees incorporated a priority to produce more multilingual and bilingual teachers into their plans for these funds. 

I would love to see partnerships with our Hispanic Serving Institutions and our PK-12 districts to have a pipeline of Latino educators getting into the field.  Let’s work together to make it happen.

It’s possible. There is an example right here in Portland.  The Portland Public Schools and Portland State University created a partnership to recruit, develop, and retain bilingual teachers.  Mira que nice!

That work is being supported by the Regional Educational Laboratory program at the Institute of Education Sciences. 

To all the bilingual and English learner teachers in the room—gracias.  I commit to making sure your voice is heard, to ensuring you’re treated like the professionals you are, and I commit to fight for you to make sure that you are making a livable wage-because we know you are not paid enough! On average, teachers make 20% less than people with similar college experience—and they are not being asked to solve every issue in our society. 

Its time to demand respect in the profession!  Respect translates to Agency, Better working conditions, and Competitive Salaries.   Some of the best teachers I have ever worked with are bilingual education and English Learners’ teachers.

You know the best pedagogy, you provided wrap around services before that was even a thing, you create a sense of family and community in your classroom, and you celebrated cultural differences as assets long before that became the goal of Public Education. 

In essence, you are the protectors of our nation’s diversity and multiculturalism.   Un Aplauso para las maestras!

Special shout out to my colleagues and friends from Meriden, Dr. Evelyn Robles, Cat Ragozzino, and Lucrecia Magee.  Glad you made it in the snow last night.    

Finally, our agenda for action includes finding ways to lift up our bilingual students – and the credentials they earn. 

Many states, like Oregon, issue Seals of Biliteracy.  That should be as big a deal as getting an honors cord at graduation.  Me gustaría ver que todas las escuelas den el Seal de Biliteracy. 
I want employers to seek it….
I want colleges to admit because of it….
Let me tell you, when I hire, bilingualism matters more than how many AP courses a student took.  It should be as prestigious!

When we value our native languages and cultures, especially at this time when some politicians are trying to remove culture from our libraries, we strengthen America. 

And when I talk about native languages and cultures, that must include the native Tribal languages that were once undermined by shameful policies of systematic assimilation in this country. 

It’s time to celebrate and revitalize these languages – and recognize the ability to speak them as superpowers.

At the Department of Education, I have asked my team to find ways to increase the recognition of the Seal of Biliteracy and other acknowledgments to demonstrate that multilingualism is the goal for our students. 

Before I conclude, I’d like to bring us back to where we started: the story of Rita Moreno.

Before West Side Story, before her struggles as the only Spanish speaker in her classroom, Rita was a little girl from Puerto Rico, sailing into New York with her mother. 

When the Statue of Liberty came into view, five-year-old Rita saw the object Lady Liberty was holding up to the sky – and promptly mistook it for an ice cream cone.

Her mother said “No – that’s the torch that she holds so that everybody in the world can see where this wonderful country is, where people can be what they want to be.”

At the end of the day, that’s what we’re really talking about when we talk about multilingual education.  We’re talking about realizing the full promise of America.

It’s the promise of America as a place where everyone has a shot at achieving their dreams.

It’s the promise of America to deliver a brighter future for those whose differences were once treated as deficits – to celebrate those differences as superpowers—where the son of Puerto Ricans who were treated as second class citizens in all English classrooms, can now give guidance to the President of the United States on how to promote multilingualism.

And it’s the promise of America to lead the world — by embracing the beautiful diversity of our many languages and cultures as only we can.

If we get multilingual education right, we deliver on that national promise for a whole new generation of Americans.

Looking at this crowd of amazing bilingual and multilingual educators right now – I’ve never been more confident we can pull it off.

Si se Puede!

We CAN Raise the Bar for multilingual education in America.

So let’s get to work.  Pa’lante!  Thank you.

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