July 11, 2013
for Adult English-Learners Faltering, Report Asserts
Lesli A. Maxwell
prevailing system for educating adult English-language learners
is falling woefully short in helping students reach proficiency
in the language, a new report asserts.
just around 40 percent of adults who are enrolled in English-as-a-Second-Language
(ESL) courses demonstrating improvement in their proficiency
each year, the federal and state-funded adult ESL programs need
a major overhaul, argues the Lexington Institute, a conservative
public policy think tank based in Arlington, Va.
report-written by Sean Kennedy and John Walters-cites U.S. Census
data that 23 million adults in the United States lack "adequate"
English proficiency. More than 2 million of those are American-born.
That, they argue, is already, and will continue to be, a "severe
hindrance for both the economic mobility and assimilation of
these immigrants and some native-born Americans, who are trapped
in generational linguistic isolation."
though many adult English-learners are highly motivated to learn
the language, Kennedy and Walters argue that the system of education
available to them is rife with "high dropout rates, low
proficiency gains, and barriers to participation and rapid language
The main reason for those disappointing outcomes, the report
says, is that many adult ESL programs-the majority of them run
by government agencies-are not at all designed to meet the needs
of the learners themselves.
2009 report on the state of adult ESL by the U.S. Government
Accountability Office found that the federal health, education
and labor departments needed to do a better job of sharing information
and working together in providing English classes for adults.
their report, the Lexington Institute authors urge government
agencies to study, and adopt, the practices in use by nonprofit
groups, including charter schools, to provide adult ESL courses.
One of the most obvious changes needed, they say, is flexible
course scheduling. Too many adult ESL programs occur in daytime
work hours, when many students are working.
A shortage of data to measure the effectiveness of adult ESL
is another major problem that must be addressed, they argue.
cite a program in Los Angeles as a model for flexibility-the
PUENTE Learning Center. That program uses blended learning to
individualize instruction and closely track students' progress
toward proficiency. In 2005, the PUENTE program saw 85 percent
of its students make progress in proficiency, the report says.
A District of Columbia charter school-Carlos Rosario International
Public Charter School-is also achieving good results with its
adult ESL learners, they say.