Framework for Quality Professional Development for Practitioners Working with Adult English Language Learners

Appendix: Background

A Growing Immigrant Population

During the past 20 years, the immigrant population in the Unites States has been growing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the foreign born represented 7.9% of the total U.S. population in 1990. A decade later they made up 11.1% of the total U.S. population, and as of 2007, they comprised 12.6% (Terrazas & Batalova, 2009). In 2005, immigrants comprised over 15% of the workforce (Migration Policy Institute, 2007a, 2007b). If current trends continue, the U.S. population will increase by 142 million individuals by 2050, and 82% of that increase will be due to immigration (Passel & Cohn, 2008).

These population increases have not been evenly distributed across states. Instead of settling in large, urban centers, as in the past, many immigrants are now settling in states with employment opportunities in construction, industry, and tourism (Singer & Wilson, 2006). As a result, many states are experiencing record increases in immigrant populations (Capps, Fix, & Passel, 2002; McHugh, Gelatt, & Fix, 2007). For example, from 2000 to 2005, 14 states (including Arkansas, Georgia, Utah, and the Carolinas) experienced an increase of 30% or more in foreign-born populations (Jensen, 2006; Kochhar, 2006). This increase is expected to continue.

Learner Progress

In addition to increases in the adult English language learner population, there is also increased emphasis in programs on learner progress through and beyond adult education programs into work opportunities and academic programs of study (e.g., Burt & Mathews-Aydinli, 2007; Chisman & Crandall, 2007; Mathews-Aydinli, 2006). Thus there is a growing need for professional development that helps practitioners prepare adult learners to reach these goals.

A Need for High-Quality Adult Education Programs and Practitioners

According to the Workforce Investment Act (1998), national leadership activities, including professional development, need to be designed and implemented to improve and enhance the quality of adult education and literacy programs. Well-qualified teachers are the most important factor in improving student learning, raising student achievement, and helping students progress through programs (U.S. Department of Education, 2007, which is focused on K–12 teachers. See also Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005; Rowan, Correnti, & Miller, 2005; Sanders & Rivers, 1996; Whitehurst, 2002). While many teachers are prepared to work effectively with adult immigrants, others, especially in states only recently experiencing increased adult English language learner enrollments, may not have extensive background in language teaching or experience with teaching adults learning English (Crandall, 1993, 2000; Crandall, Ingersoll, & Lopez, 2008; Schaetzel, Peyton, & Burt, 2007). In addition to teaching English as a second language, teachers need to help students understand cultural aspects of life in the United States, be prepared for additional responsibilities at work, and make smooth transitions to subsequent education (Haynes, 2005; McHugh, Gelatt, & Fix, 2007). For these reasons, professional development is necessary.

Teachers are not the only practitioners in need of professional development. Administrators who are designing and implementing programs for adult English language learners and volunteers working with this population also need professional development on topics such as second language acquisition, cultural differences, and English language teaching methods. A system for professional development that is responsive to the needs of all types of educational practitioners may enable them to meet the needs of adult English language learners more systematically, helping them to progress through National Reporting System (NRS) levels and transition to work and advanced education opportunities  (Association of Adult Literacy Professional Developers, n.d.; Belzer, Drennon, & Smith, 2001; Brancato, 2003; Fullan, 2007).

The CAELA Network at the Center for Applied Linguistics has published three briefs for program managers. The briefs outline fundamental responsibilities of adult education administrators, describe components of typical programs serving this population, and include resources and tools that can facilitate successful administration of these components. They also provide research-based tools and strategies to use in supporting, supervising, and training teachers. The briefs include  Observing and Providing Feedback to Teachers of Adults Learning English (Marshall & Young, 2009), Supporting and Supervising Teachers Working with Adults Learning English  (Young, 2009), and Managing Programs for Adults Learning English (Rodríguez, Burt, Peyton, & Ueland, 2009).

The majority of adult education practitioners, including those working with English language learners, receive much of their preparation through inservice and on-the-job-training rather than through extensive preservice training (Smith & Gillespie, 2007). However, practitioners often work part time and are not consistently funded to participate in professional development activities (Crandall, Ingersoll, & Lopez, 2008; Schaetzel, Peyton, & Burt, 2007; Smith & Gillespie, 2007). Working to overcome these challenges, adult education programs and state agencies are designing professional development opportunities to increase practitioners’ knowledge and skills. This framework is designed to help guide the process of planning, implementing, and evaluating these opportunities.

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