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Eric18 Mar 5th, 2008 12:41 am

Let's Raise the Roof on Adult ESL classes!
What do English language learners need to succeed at work, in college, and in life? That's a tough question with few easy answers.

How many adult immigrants want to improve their English language skills? How many adult immigrants need to improve their English? Do current adult education programs provide the language skills so students can enter and survive in community college classrooms? How can we improve the quality of English language classes in adult education programs?

Here’s a glimpse into how American education researchers and the federal United States government agencies are looking at these questions. OTAN (Outreach and Technical Assistance Network for adult educators) has opened a new forum on the transition from adult education to community college.

The forum includes an outstanding collection of recent research studies looking at the numerous obstacles, program needs, and best teaching practices to help adult education – including ESL – student enter and succeed in mainstream college classes.

Some of the clear conclusions include:
- ESL students can and sometimes do succeed despite many obstacles.
- A huge gap remains between students needs and current adult education programs
- Only a small percentage of adults who would benefit from English language courses attend free adult education courses in California
- ESL students face exceptional barriers and require additional resources
- adult education needs far more resources to meet its missions
- English classes need to teach broader, deeper language skills
- English teachers need far more support
- Current funding formulas fail to adequate fund English language programs
- adult schools should offer a wider range of courses at far more times
- adult education needs to provide more fulltime teaching positions
- funding shortages limit the ability of educators to meet student needs
- Students need to write and speak better to realize their goals
- English remains the passport to the American dream for immigrants

Funding remains the critical factor, and adult education remains a distant step-child of the public education system.

“California’s Commitment to Adult English Learners: Caught Between Funding and Need”, an excellent study written by Arturo Gonzalez for the Public Policy Institute of California (2007) also details these problems with considerable tact. Focusing on the outdated and inadequate funding structure, the report documents the conflict between large classes – needed for attendance – and quality language instruction.

Further, the report also notes the tension between providing minimum educational services for California immigrants and the fiscal costs of exceeding their allotted caps for enrollment. The report warns that “Without a change in the funding formula, the conflict between funding and mission may result in a long-term decline in the quality of instruction and diminish the pace of immigrant integration.”

That’s very polite language for a tragic bottomline: our current adult ESL programs provide too little help to too few students for too short a time. The standards are too low, and the standardized tests only measure passive skills like listening and reading under the rubric of “life skills.” Far too many adult ESL programs currently fail to meet the student needs to master enough language to enter and succeed community college, earn enough money, or realize their American dreams.

If current funding formulas don’t change, the huge gap between the official ambitions of adult education programs and the actual classroom realities will grow far worse. (Note: California’s governor, facing a huge budget crisis, has already suggested a 10% cut across the board for all state programs, including adult education.)

Immigration, especially illegal immigration, remains a very hot and heated political issue – in California and across the United States. Immigration is – and always has been – a federal responsibility. Likewise, helping immigrants, both documented and undocumented, learn English should also be a federal responsibility. It can also help bring America together and overcome real divisions.

Immigrants want to join the national family and need to learn English. The current naturalization law mandates that immigrants “read, write, and speak English” before becoming citizens. Adult educators help immigrants master the language skills they need – including writing and speaking. We can also do more.

Let’s help adult immigrants take that huge step by expanding and deepening English language classes. English language learners win, English language teachers win, program administrators win, California residents win. In fact the entire nation benefits when everybody shares a common language. Shouldn’t the federal government step in and provide some serious funding for English language classes?

Let’s raise the roof on English language programs – in California and around the United States!

kernow Jan 23rd, 2009 04:50 pm

Re: Let's Raise the Roof on Adult ESL classes!
The situation is exactly the same in the UK. I have given up on government funded courses. The focus appears not to be on the learners but on government targets such as a minumum number of learners or exam passes. Invariably a lot of learners simply want to integrate into society rather than worry about exam pressures. I am just beginning to set up my own business and am encouraging local organizations to pursue ESOL/ESL along a self-funded framework i.e charitable organizations provide the funding.

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