Dear Mayor de Blasio,

How about a progressive public education future for New York City adults too?

We applaud the open letter to our new mayor in the Jan. 2 issue of the Amsterdam News from the Independent Commission on Public Education. We would like to add an often overlooked component of this issue: public adult education in New York City.

The New York City Department of Education’s Office of Adult and Continuing Education (OACE), District 79, has increasingly been under attack from within. OACE offers adult courses and training that are too numerous to list, but include high school equivalency, English as a second language, professional-level computer certifications in a number of areas, air conditioning and refrigeration, certified nurse assistant, licensed practical nurse (LPN), child care certification, culinary arts, solar electrical, computer repair, network cabling, boiler maintenance, web design and distance learning programs. Funded by federal and state tax dollars, this decades-long program that has served close to 40,000 adults annually in every borough of New York is slowly being destroyed by a number of elements:

  • An invasion of DOE administration and personnel in the last two years who have absolutely no experience with adult education and who have demonstrated complete disregard for decades-long best practices and time-honored wisdom in the teaching of inner-city adults. For some inexplicable reason, District 79 leadership brought in a middle school superintendent in September 2013 who has devastated the morale of educators and support staff who have decades upon decades of experience in adult education.
  • The continuous shrinkage of courses and services that have provided second and third opportunities for adults of every diverse background seeking to improve their lives, as well as the lives of their children by being better-educated and skilled parents.
  • The grievously bad decision to colocate a charter school (beginning with ninth-graders) in an adult school that has historically been a beacon of hope and resource for New York City, located in West Harlem. The Mid-Manhattan Adult Learning Center (MMALC) has served 3,000 adult learners in Harlem since the manpower acts of the 1960s and is one of only three adult schools in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn (referred to as Adult Learning Centers by the DOE) dedicated to improving the lives of adults in this city.

The colocation of Democracy Prep charter high school was approved by the DOE in a sham hearing in May 2013. The DOE cynically skirted its own process of a Panel for Education Policy community hearing by playing legal semantics with the term “school.” As of September 2013, this adult school has ninth-graders occupying the top floor, closing bathrooms and mixing populations that should never be mixed.

Additionally, the next three years will see the charter high school expand continually until it will have displaced just about all the available space for adult learners to attend any classes in this school building whatsoever. The handwriting is on the wall for MMALC—an adult institution for over 50 years will be out of business in a few short years. The DOE should immediately find a more appropriate space for this charter school, which has significant public and private resources. Democracy Prep should vacate this adult school and find more suitable space for developing adolescents. This should begin now and be completed before the beginning of the next school year (September 2014).

New York City should consider allocating dedicated funds for public adult education so that this vital program is not dependent upon state education funding administration. Currently, federal tax dollars are funneled through the New York State Education Department, whose requirements for the funding are not always aligned with the demographics and needs of inner-city adult learners trying to make progress in their lives and the lives of their families.

We are heartened by the shifting conversation regarding public education and hope to join a new era of equality and social justice for the adults and parents seeking an improved existence in this great city.


New York City Department of Education Adult Educators