For the past 50 years, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes provided through state adult education systems have been the primary means of meeting English acquisition for immigrants and refugees, and, to a limited extent, their integration needs. Yet these systems meet only a fraction of the total need for all adult education services—less than 4 percent nationally. They also face serious constraints when it comes to supporting long-term immigrant integration.
The federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which governs both workforce and adult education programs, measures program performance primarily based on participants’ employment outcomes and postsecondary completion. By placing little value on other essential integration topics—such as knowledge of U.S. civics, understanding of how local systems work, and digital literacy—these measures make it difficult for programs to cover the full range of skills and knowledge immigrants need in their roles as parents, workers, and citizens.
With these limitations in mind, this policy brief proposes a new instructional model to complement the existing adult education system: English Plus Integration. This approach maintains a central focus on English acquisition while also building the critical skills and systems knowledge important for long-term integration success. By supporting digital literacy and familiarity with self-guided learning tools, such a model would make the most of participants’ time in the program and support their continued learning after their exit.
This brief also tackles the crucial questions of how states could begin to fund and scale up this type of integration-focused programming. Rethinking how state funding is allocated to adult education and fostering partnerships between state and local adult education providers, employers, private funders, libraries, community organizations, and other stakeholders are promising first steps toward allowing states the flexibility they need to more equitably meet the integration needs of their immigrant and refugee learners.