Testimony regarding a local law to amend New York City’s administrative code to require the mayor's office of operations to report on adult literacy programs

Testimony of UFT Vice President for Career and Technical High Schools Sterling Roberson before the New York City Council Committee on Education

Good morning, Chairman Dromm and members of the Education Committee. My name is Sterling Roberson and I am the vice president for career and technical education for the United Federation of Teachers. On behalf of our union’s more than 200,000 members, I thank you for this opportunity to testify for the city’s adult literacy programs. We are also pleased to weigh in on your bill, Int. No. 1195, requiring the mayor’s office of operations to report on adult literacy programs offered by the city or before a contract is signed with the city.

First, we would like to acknowledge the New York City Council as a leading voice advocating for access and equity in our public schools.Withrespect to the unique class of students we’re discussing today —many of whom head families with children who attend the city’s public schools —your oversight is of particular importance. Motivated to achieve academically to gain the credentials to help them succeed in life, the 41,000 adult students taking courses through the Office of Adult and Continuing Education deserve all the support we can provide.

We support the mandated reporting proposed in Int. No. 1195 on the city’s adult education programs. We applaud Council members Carlos Menchaca, Julissa Ferraras-Copeland and the other members of the Education Committee who have taken the lead in seeking the admissions information, intake criteria and other pertinent data on these important programs. Further, we appreciate your focus on adult students identified as speakers of other languages as well as those adults seeking basic education classes, general education classes and classes created to improve adult literacy skills.

Why adult education matters

Adult students, who lack high school or general education diplomas and who, in many cases, are learning English, are classified as high-needs students. According to the Office of Adult and Continuing Education’s online brochure, 60 percent of its adult students read at or below grade 6 and more than 50 percent of English-as-a-second-language students are rated as “beginning literacy.” Moreover, more than 80 percent of its students are African-American or Black, and Hispanic or Latino; the vast majority was born outside the United States. To give you a fuller picture, more than 80 percent of the students are low-income; 25 percent are unemployed; the average age is 39 and two-thirds are women.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed the strong relationship between educational attainment, earnings and employment in its 2016 Career Outlook profile. The median weekly pay for a worker with below a high school degree was $493, with a high school diploma, $678 and with an associate’s degree, $798. The UFT and the members of this committee fully understand the difficulty of living near or below the poverty level while raising families in our high cost-of-living city. Earning more money depends upon having more education and getting more training. OACE offers career and technical education leading to industry and state certification. But without the requisite literacy skills to garner at minimum a general education diploma, these adults face steep obstacles to realizing long-term earning potential.

The UFT believes that all students deserve great schools. Our advocacy is not limited to youngsters and teens matriculating in pre-school through grade 12. The union’s Adult Education Chapter represents almost 200 full-time and 400 part-time educators dedicated to teaching adults enrolled in OACE classes across the city. Teaching adults is not the same as teaching children. Our members, professional and certified adult educators, have a long history serving adult learners. They are experts on this population who seek basic skills and the economic stability that comes with literacy and credentials.

Listening is key

During the past three years, we’ve had some real differences of opinion with the DOE with respect to OACE’s policy and program changes. In particular, our members questioned changes in a policy regarding low-achieving students and English-as-a-second-language students deemed non-literate who are now being counseled out of OACE courses into programs run by other adult education providers.

Our union’s advocacy for our students to have access to quality education programs and services delivered by certified professionals skilled to meet their unique challenges is well known. Members of the Adult Education Chapter embody the guiding mission of OACE to educate all adults over 21 years of age, who live in New York City and register for the courses. For our members, teaching is more than a career – it’s a calling. They equate their students learning conditions with their working conditions. Ultimately, shifting the characteristics of the student population, altering admissions criteria or transitioning OACE students to other programs where educators may not have equivalent certification is a matter for consultation.

Collaboration: A step in the right direction

We collectively bargained a new contract in 2014 with the city for a greater educator voice, in consultation with the Department of Education as well as in schools, regarding many aspects of our practice.

Throughout the past year and during the summer, the UFT intervened with the DOE on behalf of the Adult Education Chapter and the students they serve. These negotiations are complex, and we are pleased that the Department of Education is working with us. This collaborative approach to problem-solving simply makes sense. We all know that when we work together, looking for real solutions, our students benefit.

To that end, the UFT and the DOE have agreed to expand the Adult Education Chapter consultation committee to ensure our members’ voices and expertise are heard and that issues are brought to the forefront and quickly resolved. The committee will now include officers from central UFT as well as officials from central DOE. The first committee meeting of the year will be scheduled soon. Plus, we anticipate resolving a number of personnel issues in the near future as well.

While all matters have not been resolved, we are moving in the right direction. We’ve won some important grievances and we believe that the Adult Education Chapter’s concerns are being heard.

In closing, I just want to say that I know you are as committed as the UFT is to helping your communities become stronger, to help individuals live more fulfilling lives. Better schools provide a better future for adults and their children. Thank you for your time today.

Testimony of Adult Education Chapter Special Representative Patricia Crispino before the New York City Council Committee on Education

Good day, Chairman Dromm and members of the Education Committee. My name is Patricia Crispino and I am a special representative for the Adult Education Chapter of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). I want to thank you for this opportunity to offer supplemental testimony to what you’ve just heard from UFT Vice President Sterling Roberson on the city’s adult literacy programs.

The Department of Education’s Office of Adult and Continuing Education runs more than 900 tuition-free classes in adult basic education, high school equivalency preparation, English for speakers of other languages, and career and technical education for adults age 21 and above.

The Department of Education’s funding stream for its adult education programs is largely dependent upon money from the state’s Employment Preparation Education Program, commonly called EPE. Through EPE, the state provides funds to public school districts so they can provide adults with education opportunities leading to a high school diploma or a high school equivalency diploma.

The EPE aid formula is based on the valuation of property in a school district, meaning New York City has a much lower reimbursement rate than other localities and a cap on funding that limits services to a high-needs population. This cap negatively affects the ability of the city to serve the adults who need to earn a High School Equivalency Diploma or acquire English language skills to become contributing members of the community as taxpayers and consumers.

We urge the City Council to use its influence with the State Education Department to press for greater equity in EPE funding for the city’s adult education programs.

Recently, at a UFT Executive Board meeting, one of our Adult Education Chapter members spoke passionately about providing services to adults in our community: “They need our help; they need someone who is able to help them get from point A to point B.”  Is there any more important mission in education than helping someone advance toward their goals regardless of their age?

We know we’re all on the same page when it comes to helping our communities. With more equitable funding from the state, we can make dreams come true for our neighbors. Thank you.

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