Calif. Dept of Education names new English learners chief

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California’s Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson announced Wednesday he’s appointed a new point person for efforts to improve the education of students whose first language isn’t English.

There are more than a million "English Language Learners" enrolled in California public schools. Next month San Diego State University professor Karen Cadiero-Kaplan will take over the English Learner Support Division at the California Department of Education.

UCLA researcher Patricia Gandara praises the hire. She hopes the department returns this division to the prominence it held before state voters did away with bilingual education 13 years ago.

"Building this office really could make a difference," Gandara says, "because there continues to be chaos. Look, we’ve virtually no progress for these kids, and it isn’t because people don’t want them to do well and it isn’t because there aren’t a lot of good intentions in districts, but districts need a lot more guidance."

According to last year’s state data, just over 10 percent of English learners transitioned to English proficiency — a shamefully low rate, Gandara says.

"In a state where a quarter of students come to school needing to learn English, it's impossible to overstate the importance of being equipped to teach them," Torlakson said in a press release.

Cadiero-Kaplan has focused on bilingual literacy and English language acquisition at San Diego State. She also has experience teaching in elementary and secondary special education, as well as English as a Second Language at the community college level, according to a press release.