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Bilingual House Divided?
Controversial Firing of James Crawford Sparks Unrest

The first half of the month of March has been filled with intrigue and wonder among those following the activities of the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE). On March 6th, on Stephen Krashen's Mailing List, came a message titled: "My Resignation from the NABE Board." Krashen, along with past NABE president Josefina Tinajero and parent representative Mary Carol Combs, resigned from the NABE executive board in protest over the board's February 25th decision not to renew the contract of James Crawford, who has served for the past two years as executive director of the organization. [Editor's note: Dr. Stephen D. Krashen is a member of the editorial advisory board at ESL MiniConference.]

On March 9th, supporters of Crawford and his three allies initiated a formal petition drive via a Web site, Their petition is titled "NABE Board Should Immediately Reinstate Jim Crawford as Executive Director, Seven Remaining Members to Resign."

According to a write up in the July, 2004, issue of NABE News, announcing his appointment as executive director, he is "a former journalist [who] served as Washington editor of Education Week and, as an independent writer since 1987, has specialized in language and education policy." He is author of Educating English Learners: Language Diversity in the Classroom (2004, Bilingual Education Services, Inc.).

In that same issue of NABE News, there was an indepth interview with James Crawford, written by Alicia Sosa, of NABE. Here are some quotes from Crawford:

One of the big problems is that the public has never heard a clear rationale for bilingual education, including the many Americans who are sympathetic to civil rights and the needs of immigrant children.

Part of the problem is the successful propaganda efforts of the English-only movement, which largely set the terms of debate over the past few years. It's given an organized voice to certain Americans who resent the new diversity in this country and have no interest whatsoever in the needs of ELLs.

Of particular interest to me is developing alliances to champion a more authentic approach to accountability....Yes, let's hold schools accountable--using as wide a range of assessments as possible to improve instruction--but let's also hold policymakers accountable for providing these kids an opportunity to learn.

There are three broad goals that I plan to pursue: 1) to build NABE as an organization; 2) to expand NABE's advocacy for English language learners; and 3) to intensify NABE's efforts in public affairs to provide a better political climate for bilingual education.

I intend to revive one of NABE's traditional strengths--strong advocacy for the educational needs of language-minority students.

Here are a few of the 550+ individuals who have signed the electronic petition at, and their reasons and testimonials on behalf of James Crawford:

Sonia Nieto: I'm baffled by the action of the NABE board. Jim has been a visible and vigorous supporter of bilingual education and of NABE for decades.

Mary Lou McCloskey (Past President, TESOL): James Crawford's fine talents in communicating and advocay have been a great benefit to NABE and bilingual education -- one that should continue.

Christian Faltis: Jim Crawford is a tireless supporter of bilingual education and language policy. I support Jim Crawford completely, and recommend that he be reinstated as NABE executive director.

Alina M. Newman: Losing Jim Crawford as Executive Director is like losing your soul. He has been one of our best spokespersons, a wonderful scholar and one of my academic pillars.

Xinpei Qu: The explanation of Jim's termination should be made public. The membership has the right to know. If not, reinstate his position.

Alejandro C. Vergara: We need union and and a transparent board and process, we have gotten none. El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido. If Jim committed an unforgivable mistake we deserve to know, if not, reinstate him!

Iris G. Haapanen: Reinstate J. Crawford; he brings sunshine and hope.

Jeff Bale: Education for social justice starts with professional education organizations that behave in democratic, transparent ways. Re-instate Jim Crawford now!

Kate Menken: Please reinstate Jim Crawford - we need his strong voice in DC as NCLB goes up for reauthorization and bilingual ed is further attacked in this period of language restriction.

Dolores E. Godinez: Es vergonzoso anteponer cosas tribiales y personales cuando las circunstancias por las que atraviesa la educación bilingüe dictan lo contrario. Hágamoslo por los niños.

Lily Wong Fillmore: Jim Crawford is too valuable to lose!!! Please reinstate him.

Alberto M. Ochoa: The expertise and skills of Jim Crawford are vital to the struggle to fight for the rights of ethnolinguistic students and the right to multilingualism in our schools.

Kristin Grayson (Former KATESOL/BE Vice President): These actions are sending the wrong message to the public! We need to strengthen bilingual education and not work against it.

Elsa Auerbach: Jim Crawford is a person of unquestionable integrity and powerful leadership. Reinstate him for the sake of the children.

Cathy Gutierrez-Gomez: My NABE membership renewal depends on the board's response to this petition.

Richard Ruiz: Jim needs to be reinstated immediately if NABE is to survive as an organization. The next few days are crucial.

Katherine Langan: Actions taken in secret are usually suspect. Jim Crawford should be given full information and a chance for rebuttal before summary actions are taken.

The remaining seven NABE board members are: Pedro J. Ruiz (President), Zaida A. Cintron (Vice President), Mary Jew (Treasurer), Heriberto Galarza (Secretary-East Region), Thomas Brown (Member at Large), Willard S. Gilbert (Member at Large), Elena Izquierdo (Central Region Representative).

On March 10th, these seven board members posted a response to the petition drive, on the NABE site ( Here are several excerpts from that statement:

The Board is legally constrained not to discuss confidential personnel decisions, including the decision not to renew Jim Crawford’s contract as executive director. This is frustrating, because some opponents of the Board’s recent actions including the anonymous sponsors of the online petition now being circulated and e-mails have mischaracterized what we have done and why we did it, while the Board cannot respond in detail.

The vote of the Executive Board majority reflected our considered views on how NABE can most successfully carry out its core mission of supporting BILINGUAL education through representation of the interests of students, parents, and bilingual education professionals. NABE as an organization must move in a different management direction at this time to augment services to our affiliates, publishers, and allied organizations, and to create a positive atmosphere at our (that is, your) NABE office. Our decision was made on the basis of our educational and advocacy goals as bilingual professionals, and our dedication to what we believe to be the best interests of NABE’s future as an organization.

We are faithfully serving NABE by continuing and/or renewing collaborative efforts that will benefit NABE’s goals and objectives according to our recent strategic plan, which is being finalized. This would include, but is not limited to, the Department of Education, Congress and other non-profit and for-profit associations with parallel goals and objectives.

The Executive Board is absolutely committed to moving NABE forward in the interest of all of its members, as well as the diverse constituencies that it serves. It is our desire to be as transparent as possible, within legal limitations, with the membership and provide updates on the organization’s progress. The Executive Board will keep NABE’s members and friends aware of developments regarding these matters and our direction as an organization.

The executive board has its work cut out for it. They must move forward with central office activities, publications, elections, and preparations for the upcoming 2007 NABE Convention in San Jose, California. The ousted executive director and his supporters have mounted a very effective information campaign so far, and their strongest argument appears to be that the process leading to the board's decision was not open and transparent enough.

In a letter posted at the petition Web site, Josué M. González, a past NABE president and leading scholar in the field of educational leadership and policy, stated that the board's action may have been illegal.

It appears that the decision to not continue Jim Crawford's services as Executive Director was made in secret by the board members who opposed his re-appointment. Such actions, under the laws that govern 501c3 organizations are generally illegal. A non-continuance should be dealt with in a plenary board meeting, in which the agenda item has been publicized, and opportunities to lay out pro and con statements should be given.

If these simple rules of civic life are not followed and the decision is made in a rump session by those members who are out to get the director, the action should be publicly reversed and the board members in question should resign effective immediately since they no longer have the support of the membership.

On the other hand, another former NABE board member, Elsy Fierro, posted the following statement:

I support our elected NABE board members to make sound decisions. Therefore I support their decision to not renew Jim Crawford’s contract. I sat on the board for 3 years and found the political in fighting (dictated by a select few) distasteful and unwarranted. Please allow the current NABE board members to do the job they were elected for…advocating for our ELL students.

And an anonymous individual posted this comment in support of the board's position:

I am extremely concerned that folks are leaping to conclusions based on unfounded speculation. The NABE board made a courageous decision based on an evaluation of Jim Crawford's performance as an Executive Director. Some of the affiliates will attest to the damage Jim caused by undermining their efforts to rally the grassroots around strong models of bilingual education. What many may not realize is that 1) Crawford consistently -- and in many cases underhandedly opposed any efforts to empower the local bases of NABE; and 2) he has consistently opposed the stronger forms of bilingual ed such as two-way and one-way developmental B.E. and attacked individuals who promoted it.

The board had a responsibility to protect the best interests of the NABE membership. I agree with Pauline that it is our responsibility to hold elected board members accountable for their decisions -- but also to find out the facts before leaping to judgment.

If this growing rift in such an organization whose voice is so crucial to the national dialogue on education reform turns out to have been the result of philosophical differences regarding one model of bilingual education over another, then those at the table who spoke instead of listening have done great harm to causes shared by all involved. If, as some postings at the petition site suggested, there was "a deal struck" between certain board members and officials from the U.S. Department of Education, to take the teeth out of resistance to No Child Left Behind, that allegation needs to be investigated.

If there were questions about the appropriate role of an executive director in an organization like NABE, with 20,000 members nationwide, then perhaps these questions ought to be further explored. In the history of TESOL, which goes back 50 years, there have been two executive directors. The first one was James Alatis. Charles S. Amorosino, Jr., was appointed executive director in 1998, seven months after Alatis retired.

Yet the real "face" of the TESOL organization is the new president each year, who brings compelling themes, interests, and concerns to promote on behalf of the members who elected him or her. In organizations on the scale of NABE and TESOL, the major challenge is maintaining the right balance of stability and openness to new ideas. It takes consistent outreach from the central office and the executive board to know what is needed at regional, local, grassroots levels of the organization.

If "detente" can be established between the current remnant of the NABE board and the "insurgency" of important lifelong NABE supporters who are communicating their concerns to the board today, then it is possible that the controversial firing of James Crawford could end up being the best thing that ever happened to NABE--precisely because it has sparked such an intensity of interest and exchange of ideas. Reading the materials that are posted at the petition site, one is struck by the fervent dedication of all involved.

The board will have to send the lawyers out of the room for a few hours, let down their hair, and reflect on the events of the past several weeks. The biggest question is how to turn this around, so that it is no longer a turf fight or "battle of the bilingual titans."

If James Crawford is brought back, it will be important to make peace. That is going to be very difficult because human beings and human feelings of pride are involved.

A more likely scenario is that the next round of elections and the San Jose meeting will become a referendum on whether or not to bring James Crawford back as executive director. But for this to work, the remaining board members would have to submit their resignations, effective upon the election of a totally new executive board. They could run as candidates in that election, but their primary responsibility between now and San Jose would be to organize a completely open and fair election process for NABE members.

Only a few more than 800 members voted in the 2004 NABE elections, and that was four times the regular turnout. If you look at NABE boards from half a dozen years back, you see some of the same names that are there today. A healthy organization needs regular turnover in those key leadership positions.

The remaining seven board members are going to have to make some accommodation, to keep NABE from fragmenting. It is a good thing that their friends and colleagues are speaking out to them now, encouraging them to meditate on what has happened and where they are headed. That is what friends do best.

Article by Robb Scott

2006 ESL MiniConference Online