Managing Programs for Adults Learning English

This resource outlines responsibilities and considerations for administrators of Adult ESL programs.

A. Rodriguez
M. Burt
J. Peyton
M. Ueland
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages
Target Audience

This resource outlines responsibilities and considerations for administrators of Adult ESL programs.  The authors describe standard program components and issues that program managers frequently encounter.  Some of the topics covered in this brief are leadership, learner recruitment, retention, assessment, finances, leadership, advocacy, curriculum, and collaborative administration.  This brief underscores the expansive role that administrators have, in particular they need to understand the administrative aspects and work in conjunction with the student population, teachers, the community, and stakeholders. Resources (with direct links) and exemplary programs are included.
Note: This brief is a companion to Supporting and Supervising Teachers Working with Adults Learning English and Observing and Providing Feedback to Teachers of Adults Learning English. Another complementary resource isUsing Adult ESL Content Standards.

Required Training

None but further in-depth study would enhance the use of this resource.

What the experts say

There is no school for ESL program administrators specifically; they usually just become an administrator and have to “hit the ground running” so to speak. This brief defines the landscape of experience that experienced and new leaders need to promote successful programs. The links to reliable websites and articles are perhaps the strongest part of this brief.  The brief itself covers everything with a few notable exceptions (see below) in an overview that is more informative to the field as a whole and less an in-depth guide to the management of programs.

Useful features:

  • The focus is on specific program components:  second language acquisition; recruitment and intake; assessment, learner retention, and transition; learner support services; curriculum and instruction; staffing; supervision of professional development. Each component is followed with resources and concrete strategies. It answers unasked questions about these components with practical answers and builds awareness of what the job entails.
  • Managing data is not a natural for new administrators but is an increasingly significant demand. The same could be said of the section on administering finances. These are skills administrators need to learn in order to act in that capacity. The use of data is woven throughout the brief and applied to relevant program components such as Learner Recruitment, Intake and Orientation, and Learner Retention and Transition. 
  • A rich list of resources is listed (often with links); selected ones are embedded in each of the sections where they are relevant.
  • An Ideas for Further Research section offers paths for further exploration.

However there are some items that are missing from this brief that practitioners should further consider: 

  • A better discussion of some of the Federal reporting and requirements in terms of assessing progress in programs and the difficulty of setting targets for progress on test scores that increase every year.  This is a real issue for program administrators that depend on the Federal Government for most of their funds.
  • There is no reference made to the multitude of mental health issues refugees from war torn countries bring to programs.
  • The adult education references need to be updated and improved.
  • Include ideas for further research on how ESL administrators grow into their jobs and what strategies they devise to manage their programs.  Some states have groups that meet quarterly to network and brainstorm solutions to mutual issues.

These comments do not take away from the fact that this brief is a valuable resource for anyone in an administrative position as it provides an in-depth look at an important topic but one on which there is little formal information.

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