Californians Together

2012 E Pluribus Unum WINNER

Californians Together

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Burke Speaker
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Californians Together is a statewide coalition of parents, teachers, education advocates, school administrators, school board members, and civil-rights groups committed to securing equal access to quality education for all children. Led by a seasoned group of retired and volunteer educators, the nonprofit mobilizes communities and policymakers in California to protect and improve the education of all students, including 1.4 million English language learners (ELLs) in grades K-12 - the nation’s largest concentration of ELLs.

Established in 1998, the organization works to develop and advance smart education policy and advise policymakers on the education needs of schools and students, implementing programs and helping enact legislative change that improves language learning, particularly for students who are not native English speakers. Its work informing broad legislation and policies has affected the framework for ELL instruction statewide and shaped classroom-level practices to better improve the quality of daily instruction ELLs receive.

In 2008, Californians Together developed the Seal of Biliteracy, an award given by a school, school district, or county office of education in recognition of students who attain a high level of proficiency in two or more languages (including English) by high school graduation. In 2012, more than 10,000 graduating high school students earned this first-in-the nation state recognition for biliteracy, demonstrating proficiency in English and at least one of 40 other languages, including American Sign Language. Californians Together is having an impact nationally, with New York recently enacting its own Seal of Biliteracy and other states seeking to follow suit.

FOCUS ON EXCELLENCE: The Power of a Coalition of Diverse Stakeholders to Achieve Policy Change at the State, District, and School Level

Californians Together owes its success largely to its model of bringing to the table virtually all education stakeholders — from school administrators to teachers unions and parents’ groups — leveraging their unique understanding and assessment of the state’s education system. The experienced, respected volunteer and retired teachers and administrators at the organization’s helm have a sophisticated understanding of student needs as well as the established political relationships to navigate the education bureaucracy at the state, district, and school levels.

In highlighting the plight of long-term ELLs through research and policy recommendations, Californians Together has generated significant momentum among educators, policymakers, and community members for instructional improvement. The organization’s work has led to changes to state law, establishing standard definitions to better identify and assist long-term ELLs, and requiring the alignment of curriculum, instruction, and assessments to state standards to help pupils meet federal academic targets.

By rewarding biliteracy with official recognition from the state, Californians Together’s Seal of Biliteracy affirms that language skills are an important asset in our more globalized world and economy. The Seal’s rapid adoption across the state is all the more striking considering that just a decade ago California was the epicenter of the English-only movement and had voted to end bilingual education.

Program Leadership

Shelly Spiegel-Coleman
Executive Director, Californians Together

Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, the Executive Director of Californians Together, leads a coalition of 23 statewide professional, parent, and civil-rights organizations focused on improving schooling for English learners.

Spiegel-Coleman was Senior Project Director for the Multilingual Academic Support Unit for the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) and has worked as an English language development consultant, and coordinator for the Bilingual Teacher Training Program and as the Title VII Developmental Two-Way Immersion Director for LACOE.

She previously served as a member of the English Learner Advisory Committee to the California State Board of Education and has served as a member of the Public School Accountability Act Advisory Committee, English Language Development Standards Project, and the California Curriculum and Supplemental Materials Commission.

Additionally, Spiegel-Coleman was a teacher, principal, and district specialist, receiving her master’s degree in education with an emphasis in bilingual education from Whittier College, with credential from the University of California-Los Angeles and undergraduate work at California State University at Northridge.

She recently served on California State Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s transition team.