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Increased demand for adult English ed puts pressure on city and libraries

Last month, we reported that the Department of Education’s adult ed office recently urged principals to refer low-level students to free classes at the New York Public Library. Today, the New York Times writes that the city’s libraries don’t have the resources to serve the growing number of adults seeking English skills to apply for jobs, adjust to a new culture, or navigate daily life.

An education department spokesman told Chalkbeat that its adult education office has long referred students to library courses for two reasons: because its own classes are full, or because low-level students might be better served by the library’s smaller class sizes.

But adult ed teachers felt the decision to turn students away from department classes was unprecedented. They believed the reason behind the referrals was unrelated to capacity, but rather to boost student test scores in order to obtain funding (since low-level students often take the most time to show gains on assessments).

Regardless, a million city residents speak little or no English, according to the Times story, and only a fraction of this population receives free educational services.

English classes at the city’s three library systems can accommodate approximately 8,900 adults, and this past school year, the Office of Adult and Continuing Education served about 29,000 students (not all of whom were taking classes focused on English language or literacy).

This fall, the city’s adult education office will add 20 English as a second language classes.

And according to Luke Swarthout, the New York Public Library’s director of adult education services, the library has tripled its seats for English learners in the last two years. The Brooklyn and Queens libraries have increased their course offerings as well.

“The number of slots, even with what the DOE is doing, is just a small piece of the overall need for literacy and language instruction in New York City,” Swarthout told Chalkbeat in July. “We’re expanding and investing to try to meet that need.”