Adult ESOL Programs as Agents of Immigrant Integration

Immigration defines the past, present, and future of the United States. Immigrants’ contributions to U.S. society and their integration underlie the nation’s progress to date and its ability to thrive in the future.* Immigrants and their children will account for 85% of the net growth in the U.S. workforce over the next 20 years; by 2030, nearly one in five U.S. workers will be immigrants.**,*** Ensuring that immigrants can capitalize on their current education and experience and access additional education and training is key to communities’ prosperity. As well, immigrants’ civic integration strengthens the social and political fabric of communities.

Adult English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs have an important role to play in advancing this integration of immigrants inside and outside of the classroom. As one of the first places newcomers turn to for support in navigating their new environments, ESOL programs are uniquely positioned to facilitate activities that can help immigrants build the skills that will enable them to function effectively in the economic and civic life of their communities.

Immigrant integration is a dynamic, two-way process in which immigrants and the receiving society work together to build secure, vibrant, and cohesive communities.**** Therefore, ESOL programs that embrace an immigrant integration mission face the challenge of developing activities that go beyond classroom-based language instruction – they involve bringing the community into the classroom and the classroom into the community.

Networks for Integrating New Americans

Networks for Integrating New Americans is a new, national initiative that seeks to position adult education programs as key contributors to local, multi-sector networks formed to advance immigrant integration. It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) and led by World Education and its partners: the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), IMPRINT, and Welcoming America. The initiative aims to strengthen adult education programs’ ability to 1) improve immigrants’ access to effective and innovative English language programs; 2) support immigrants on the path to citizenship; and 3) support immigrants’ career development through training and education. The project seeks to break down silos and address gaps in existing services for immigrants while tapping into the potential of adult ESOL programs to be more active agents of immigrant integration.

Five networks of organizations will be selected by February 2014 through a national, open, and competitive application process. They will receive technical assistance from World Education, its partners, and other experts to strengthen local networks’ operations and ability to better facilitate immigrants’ linguistic, economic, and civic integration.

Network for Integrating New Americans Theoretical Framework
The initiative’s implementation is guided by a Theoretical Framework that is based on theory and research about immigrant integration and related promising practices. The project intentionally uses organizational networks as the primary vehicle for promoting immigrant integration because, when the organizations in the immigrant and receiving communities are collaborating and aligned, they are able to mobilize both communities to address common needs, share their unique strengths, and find a constructive path through times of transition.

The Networks for Integrating New Americans project facilitates the integration of services that support three pillars of integrations: linguistic, economic, and civic. Such services have historically been compartmentalized by service type, populations served, or program goals. As community networks work together to assess the strengths and gaps in their combined services, however, they will be able to build more fluid connections among those services (referrals, joint projects, etc.), address missing pieces, and create new collaborative efforts. With such coordination, the networks can have a greater collective impact than each of its member organizations does separately.

Linguistic Integration. It is clear that the ability to communicate in English is critical for immigrants to be able to attain better jobs, advance in their careers, participate more fully in civic life, and become more integral members of the larger community.*****-******* Linguistic integration is a gradual process in which ESOL providers play a central role that can be strengthened in multiple ways. Examples of linguistic integration topics that the initiative will focus on include: ESOL literacy; Multi-level classes; Use of technology to accelerate learning; College and career readiness; Learner persistence; and Parental engagement and family learning.

Economic Integration. Finding a job that pays a living wage is the top priority for most working-age immigrants. Economic integration occurs when immigrants have the resources to excel and obtain economic self-sufficiency and employers are able to attract and retain the best talent, and when both employers and immigrant workers understand their rights. This vision of economic integration is not a reality for many immigrants given that immigrants are disproportionately concentrated in low-wage jobs that do not pay family-sustaining wages. It is one that the initiative seeks to address by strengthening the selected networks’ ability to facilitate immigrants’ job and college readiness as well as financial literacy.

In the short-term, immigrants need job readiness skills and job placement assistance.******** To move ahead beyond the first job they are able to land in the U.S., most immigrants need further education and training and an understanding about the local labor market and how to pursue the most viable career pathway. Immigrant and non-immigrant adults with a postsecondary credential are more likely to succeed in the U.S. labor market than are those without one, be it a certificate or a degree.

Civic Integration. Civic participation is a fundamental value in U.S. democracy. Civic integration occurs when all community members have a sense of belonging in the community and ownership in the nation’s future, and are secure in and exercise their rights.

Citizenship is a classic benchmark of integration in any society. In the U.S., with citizenship comes the right to vote and access to public benefits as well as the ability to sponsor family members for immigration. Even if they have not yet attained citizenship, immigrants should be encouraged and prepared to participate in civic life, such as joining local task forces to address community issues and helping to organize neighborhood activities. Such participation increases interactions with other immigrant and receiving community members and signals immigrants’ commitment to their community and new country. It develops leadership skills and social and professional ties that can expand immigrants’ access to resources and job opportunities.*********

Adult education programs need to claim their place as instrumental to immigrant integration. They are in a strong position to weave language instruction with economic and civic integration activities. Stay tuned for the soon-to-be-released call for applications by existing networks/coalitions/initiatives to participate in Networks for Integrating New Americans.

Ed. Note: Read the Theoretical Framework document that details numerous examples of existing initiatives, research, and promising practices related to immigrants’ linguistic, economic, and civic integration.

*For the sake of brevity, the term ‘immigrants’ refers to immigrants and refugees.
**B. Lindsay Lowell, Julia Gelatt, and Jeanne Batalova, “Immigrants and Labor Force Trends: The Future, Past and Present,” Migration Policy Institute: Insight 17 (2006).
***Dowell Myers, Stephen Levy, and John Pitkin, “The Contributions of Immigrants and Their Children to the American Workforce and Jobs of the Future,” (Center for American Progress, 2013)
****National Partnership for New Americans, “National Partnership for New Americans,”
*****Andy Nash, “Civic Participation and Community Action Sourcebook,” (World Education, 2003),
******Harry C. Boyte, Commonwealth: A Return to Citizen Politics, 1st ed. (New York: Free Press, 1989).
*******Sidney Verba, Kay Lehman Schlozman and Henry Brady, Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995).
********Maureen Conway, Amy Blair, and Matt Helmer, “Courses to Employment. Partnering to Create Pathways to Education and Careers,” (The Aspen Institute Workforce Strategies Initiative, 2012).
*********Putnam, “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century.”

Published by

Silja Kallenbach

Silja Kallenbach

Silja is the Vice President of World Education, Inc. where she oversees the operations of WEI’s U.S. Division. Silja has 34 years of experience in adult education as administrator, professional development provider, program developer, researcher, and teacher. Silja is the recipient of the 2014 national award for Promoting Literacy Nationally and Internationally, issued by the Commission on Adult Basic Education.