California Strategic Plan for Adult Education, A Summary with Some Concerns

 “The report of my death was an exaggeration…” — Mark Twain

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” – U.S. proverb

 A draft of a report entitled “Linking Adults to Opportunity, A Blueprint for the Transformation of the California Department of Adult Education Program”, with comments from adult educators, is posted at at  www.otan.us/strategicplanning/pdf/AE-SP-092810_draft.pdfThe report is now being revised in response to the comments, and will be available for comment by the general public at a later time.  

General Concerns

 

  • Some people misconstrue this report as a plan to dismantle adult education in California, though there is nothing on the face of the plan that indicates this.
  • Adult education students, teachers, and members of communities served by adult education had no input into this plan.
  • Comments on the report by administrators indicate that, at some point during the plan’s development, they attended workshops and saw presentations  that were not accessible to other stakeholders in adult education and are not reflected in the report. This calls into question the fairness and transparency of the process. 
  • The ACET Centers are not described in any detail and sound like another layer of bureaucracy.
  •   The report appears to eliminate, by omission, programs that deliver services that are shown by the report itself to be of great value to the state.

 Summary

 Return on Investment in Adult Education:   The plan makes a strong case for the benefits adult education produces for the state, particularly the “ripple effects” such as improved civic participation, better individual, family and community health, and improvements to children’s education for children of adults who participate in adult education programs.  Concerns: The plan goes on to adopt a much narrower mission for adult education.

Mission of Adult Education is to prepare adult students for college and/or career and for civic responsibility:  Concerns:  Adult educators have always considered transitioning students to work or higher education to be an important part of their mission. But the plan, by narrowing the mission to only this, effectively writes out of existence programs that have valuable ripple effects as defined by the “Return on Investment” section of the report.  Research has established that Parent Education and Family Literacy classes for adults are highly beneficial for children and families, but they don’t directly result in the adult student getting a job or going on to higher education. The report never mentions Adults with Disabilities departments, which offer both programs for students who are too profoundly disabled to work, and sheltered workplace programs that transition disabled adults who can work with proper support into paid employment.   Ironically, the report makes much of the need for an educated workforce to replace the retiring baby boom generation, in part because services for the retired baby boomers will be costly, but neglects to state that adult education itself is a highly effective, low cost service to retirees.  Some adult schools, such as Berkeley Adult and Oakland Adult, have already scrapped their Older Adult and Adults with Disabilities programs, perhaps taking their cue from this report even before it was finalized.  This report came out before the current state budget which includes even more cuts to programs for seniors and the disabled was proposed.  The loss of adult education programs for these groups would be particularly devastating now.

Academic and Career Education Transition (ACET) Centers will deliver adult education programs and services that promote economic development.  Concerns:   The ACET centers, held up  as key to the plan, are described in vague and conflicting terms. Will they replace existing adult schools or connect them in a network? Will students need to travel miles to access them, or will they exist only in cyberspace? How will they be funded?  The vagueness surrounding the ACET centers may be deliberate, as the idea may be for adult schools to compete for grant money by proposing pilot projects. Alameda County is apparently already putting together an idea for a pilot project.  And, although the report doesn’t say this, California Department of Education (CDE) personnel have indicated that there may be a limited number of ACET centers and competition for ACET center status my be fierce, though no rationale is given for  severely limiting something that will supposedly be so key and beneficial in an undefined way.   Ever the stepchild of both Alameda and Central Contra Costa County, West County could be hurt if the grant process favors projects that coordinate over wide areas.  Collaboration is an excellent thing in adult education, but it needs to be local.  Adult education in West County needs to collaborate with Contra Costa College and local social service agencies, not with agencies in Pittsburgh. 

Adult Education integrated into statewide data systems which will communicate with each other. Concerns: Immigrants rights groups need to be aware of this aspect of the plan. Adult schools, unlike community colleges do not require a student to produce a social security number in order to enroll.  If adult education is now to focus on transitioning students to jobs or higher education, both of which require social security numbers, will students be asked to give a social security number in order to enroll in adult education classes so they can be tracked?  This would shut large numbers of immigrants out of educational opportunities, including the opportunity  to learn English.  What kind of information will be in these data systems, and who will have access to it?

Collaborative Leadership:   Changes at the state level are proposed, including creation of a statewide coordination council and establishment of policies to facilitate collaboration between adult schools and community colleges. Concerns: Agencies proposed for representation on the coordinating council are heavily skewed to business (California Workforce Investment Board, California Chamber of Commerce, etc.)  Social service agencies and organizations that represent immigrants and refugees, seniors and the disabled might consider asking for a place at the table.

Funding will align funds to needs, taking into account the high cost of some programs such as Career Technical Education, and using a “performance based accountability system.”  Concerns:  The report does not say where the funds will come from, at this time when funds for education are so scarce. The proposal to align funds with need could be very good for West County, since the need here is great.  The “performance based accountability system” needs to be watched, as it might lead to “creaming”, the practice of only serving those students who are most easily served.  The performance based distribution of federal Workforce Investment Act  funds in  California, where  adult schools receive money  based on student performance on  standardized tests, has already lead to some “creaming” practices, such as moving older ESL students, who supposedly learn more slowly, into Older Adult programs, where students are not tested.  This practice, never adopted in West County, was eventually disallowed, but it shows what can happen.

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2 Responses

  1. Apropos of the Twain quote, LLL and AWD have NOT yet been scrapped in Berkeley. Cut back severely, yes, but healthy and strong despite this – we’ve fought back strong and will continue to do so.

  2. Thanks for the report on Berkeley Adult. Glad to hear you have been able to maintain these programs. Keep fighting!

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