English-as-a-second-language (ESL) programs run by the Department of Education have overwhelmingly failed to help the estimated 23 million adults in America designated as having Limited English Proficiency (LEP) — including 2.9 million born in the U.S. — a study released by the Lexington Institute finds.
The report faulted the government for both the limited scope of the programs — which only reached 1.24 million, or 5 percent, of LEP adults — and for their lack of effectiveness: Only 40 percent of those enrolled from 2007-2010 made “any progress” through the levels of the program. Combined, the two flaws result in one damning statistic: “Only 1.7 percent of adult English learners managed to improve proficiency under the government-run system.”
The study also found falling enrollment rates in 2009 and 2010 — most notably among Hispanics — possibly due to the economic recession that began in 2008.
“Data shows an 8 percent decline in enrollment in the latest year (2009-2010), at a time of severe economic recession, with a marked decline among Hispanic/Latino enrollees of 15 percent,” the report reads.
Authors Sean Kennedy and John Walters identified the programs’ inflexible designs as the chief cause of their ineffectiveness.
“Largely administered and run by government agencies, adult ESL programs are generally not tailored to the needs of the specific learner and maintain few accountability metrics,” the authors write. Kennedy and Walters argue that the programs wrongly rely on “local community colleges and school district adult education programs, using a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction and course design.”
The report notes that the vast majority — over 20 million — of LEP adults are foreign born, and describes the LEP adult immigrant population as “highly motivated to learn English.” The consequences of Limited English Proficiency that the study outlines help explain why: Without language skills, LEP adults suffer an “average loss of earnings of $3,000 per year” and are less likely to continue whatever education they may have received.
For author and Lexington Institute Fellow Kennedy, the consequences of continued dysfunction are clear: “The adult ESL system across the US fails many more students than it aids,” Kennedy wrote in a press release. “It has got to get better or there will be serious implications for them and for the overall economy.”
The study pointed to more individual-based, privatized programs as the solution, highlighting the successes that adult charter schools and employer-run programs have had. The Lexington Institute, a non-profit, focuses on a range of issues, most notably education and the defense industry.