Dr. Joanne Urrutia

U.S. Department of Education*

Dr. Joanne H. Urrutia previously served as the Deputy Director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of English Language Acquisition. In this interview with Colorín Colorado, Dr. Urrutia discusses her schooling in Puerto Rico, OELA's National Conversations initiative, the implementation of college- and career-ready standards for ELLs, and some of the accomplishments she is proudest of from her 35 years as an educator in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

A transcript of the interview and her biography are available below.  This interview is also available on Colorín Colorado's YouTube channel.


Secretary Arne Duncan named Joanne H. Urrutia deputy director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) on Feb. 7, 2011. In her post, she provided support and advice to Assistant Deputy Secretary Rosalinda Barrera on all matters related to the education of nation's English Learners (ELs), currently estimated to be about 10 percent of K-12 students nationwide. She spearheaded the Special Initiatives Division within OELA, which interacts and collaborates with other offices within the Department to support not only special programs for ELs and foreign language instruction but also to ensure that ED's new educational initiatives address the needs of ELs and promote high-quality instruction for them.

A veteran K-12 educator, Urrutia brings 35 years' experience from the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, where, for the last nine years of her tenure, she was the administrative director for the Division of Bilingual Education and World Languages and where she was responsible for all EL, dual-language and foreign language instruction districtwide. She also was instrumental in the expansion of the International Studies program, which offers programs in collaboration with France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where her father was a chemist and her mother a manager in a local clothing factory, Urrutia attended Catholic schools before enrolling at the University of Puerto Rico, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1972 with a degree in mathematics.

The recipient of numerous awards, Urrutia, in 2010, was named the Cheryl Benz outstanding educator of the year by the Bilingual Association of Florida and the Miami-Dade TESOL Council. Urrutia has conducted studies in the field of bilingual education and was the co-author of the 2005 study "An Examination of the Validity of English-Language Achievement Tests Scores in an English Language Learner Population," in the Bilingual Research Journal, and she has assisted not only school districts around the nation in the implementation of language programs but also the states of Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and Puerto Rico, and the countries of Costa Rica and Honduras. An aficionado of the arts, Urrutia and her husband, Rafael, a retired school Miami-Dade district administrator, divide their time between an apartment in Washington, D.C., and their home in Miami.