Testimony submitted to the New York City Council Education Committee
On behalf of UFT members and our union president, Michael Mulgrew, we appreciate the opportunity to submit testimony on this critical issue.
We are proud to represent the staff of District 79, a group of programs and schools that serves young people and families facing enormous challenges. In addition to the staff who support the district’s adult education students, the focus of our testimony, our D79 educators across the city also work with students in multiple programs tailored to serve their unique needs, including:
- The LYFE program, for young people who are new parents.
- The Restart program, for students in drug rehabilitation and temporary or involuntary settings.
- The East River Academy, for incarcerated students at Rikers Island.
- Passages Academy, for students 17 years old and younger detained in secure and nonsecure facilities.
- The Judith S. Kaye Transfer School, which serves students ages 16–21 who are preparing for high school, a high-school equivalency, or a trade certification.
- The School of Cooperative Technical Education, a career and technical education program.
- Pathways to Graduation, one of the city’s main GED programs.
- Young Adult Borough Centers, programs to help students make up credits.
- Alternate Learning Centers (ALC), which serve middle school and high school students who have been suspended.
These programs ensure our educational system offers all our city’s families the opportunity to complete their education in the New York City public school system.
Of particular note for today’s hearing are the District 79 programs that serve adult learners in the city. These programs, which are funded through a mix of city and state dollars, currently provide more than 900 tuition-free classes for eligible students 21 and older who have not earned a U.S. high school diploma or the equivalent. Our members in these programs conduct morning, afternoon and evening classes, Monday through Saturday, at more than 175 sites in all five boroughs.
We have several recommendations for increasing the reach of this important program. First, we must increase our focus on recruitment, with partnerships with other agencies and organizations, for the adult education program. In recent years, advertising for the program has been via print ads in locations such as taxicabs, which do not reach many potential participants: they don’t frequent those locations or they struggle with reading.
We suggest a return to in-person recruitment in venues such as family shelters, public housing, construction sites, and housing for newly arrived migrants, along with collaboration with agencies and community organizations that serve potential adult education students. Partners can include social-service and immigrant-service organizations, unemployment agencies, construction unions, the NAACP, and religious communities, all of which could serve as effective bridges between our adult education programs and New Yorkers who could benefit from them. To improve both recruitment and the classes themselves, we also recommend hiring more bilingual educators and staff to connect outreach programs with a broader range of potential participants.
Second, we recommend increasing the number of adult education classes in public school buildings during afternoon hours, especially during times when parents could attend these classes while their children are finishing their school day or participating in after-school programs. Most adult education classes in school buildings are now scheduled either from 9 a.m. to noon or from 5:40 to 8 p.m., neither of which is ideal for parents of young children. We particularly recommend a return to more early afternoon classes (12:30 – 3 p.m.), so students enrolled in adult education can finish in time for evening work shifts or pick up from child care.
Third, we recommend the DOE create a joint advisory committee on adult education to discuss other improvements to this program. The committee should include stakeholders such as the NAACP, religious organizations, and community-based organizations who work with adult education students, as well as the unions that represent the staff of these programs. The committee must ensure the leadership of adult education is structured in a way that meets the needs of both students and staff. Discussions that bring together these voices with decision-makers at the DOE could greatly improve the relevance and effectiveness of the adult education opportunities provided in District 79.
Finally, we invite members of the City Council to join our District 79 team as we visit the programs and sites that make up this division. It is important that our elected leaders see realistic day-to-day conditions for students, such as those at East River Academy and Passages Academy, who are part of the justice system. We would welcome the opportunity to coordinate these visits and look forward to working with you to ensure that the students, families, and staff in District 79 receive the resources and support they need to succeed and thrive.