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Highlights

Millions of adults in the U.S. report that they speak limited English, and English language ability appears linked to multiple dimensions of adult life, such as civic participation and workforce participation and mobility. GAO examined (1) the trends in the need for and enrollment in federally funded adult English language programs, (2) the nature of federal support for adult English language learning, (3) ways in which states and local public providers have supported English language programs for adults, and (4) federal agencies' plans for research to identify effective approaches to adult English language learning. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed Census and enrollment data and conducted interviews with federal officials within the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Labor and the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL); semistructured telephone interviews with state adult education officials in 12 states; site visits to 4 states; and reviews of relevant laws and literature.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Education 1. To ensure that federal programs, states, and local providers are able to optimize resources and knowledge in providing adult English language instruction, the Secretary of Education should work with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, and other agencies as appropriate to develop a coordinated approach for routinely and systematically sharing information that can assist federal programs, states, and local providers in achieving efficient service provision. Such coordination may include the following activities: (1) developing interagency agreements for sharing information on resources that states and local programs may leverage for adult English language learning, (2) devising a plan for routinely sharing information on available technical assistance, (3) reviewing the extent to which federal guidance assists local providers in leveraging resources, (4) meeting regularly to discuss efforts under way in each agency and to consider potential for joint initiatives, or (5) establishing clear time frames for the accomplishment of joint objectives.
Closed - Implemented
On January 12, 2010, representatives of the Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and the National Institute for Literacy held an interagency working group meeting on English language learning. At this meeting, the agencies agreed to a strategy for routinely and systematically sharing information on the agencies' initiatives and efforts to be disseminated to help improve the effectiveness of state and local service provision. Specifically, the agencies developed a framework document for the agencies to populate on a routine basis; and established a system for routine monthly communication between the agencies on any updates and changes to the framework. The agencies have begun to use this framework and provide monthly updates in order to share information on each agency's activities related to English language learning.
Department of Education 2. To ensure the most efficient use of available research resources and to inform practitioners and other stakeholders in the area of adult English language instruction, the Secretary of Education should work with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, and the National Institute for Literacy to implement a coordinated strategy for planning and conducting research on effective approaches to providing adult English language instruction and disseminating the research results.
Closed - Implemented
Representatives of the Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and the National Institute for Literacy established an interagency working group meeting on English language learning to share any research sponsored or identified by the agencies using a framework document. The agencies committed to update each other on proposed research in order to add to the body of information in the field of English language learning and spur additional research in the field. Since then, the agencies have coordinated research projects through this framework. For example, Education is coordinating with its federal partners on research to identify strategies to better support immigrant integration, including English language learning, such as supports for immigrant professionals.

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