Comment Now on the California State Strategic Plan for Adult Education; Public Comment Period Ends December 16

California State Strategic Plan for Adult Education: A Summary with Some Concerns

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

An updated draft of a report entitled “Linking Adults to Opportunity, A Blueprint for the Transformation of the California Department of Adult Education Program” is available at:

http://www.otan.us/strategicplanning.

There is a kind of public comment period on the plan from now until December 16, 2011, though the Adult Education Office states “Although we are beyond the point of incorporating significant revisions, we are interested in hearing any comments or concerns”. However, this is the only opportunity the general public will have to comment on the plan.  A previous comment period in October of 2010 was open only to those working in the adult education field.  Comments will be accepted at:

Adult Education Office
1430 N Street, Room 4503
Sacramento, CA 95814
916-322-2175
Fax: 916-327-7089

An analysis of the revised plans with some concerns follows:

General Concerns

  • Transparency:  Adult education students and teachers      had no chance to have input into this plan until the October 2010 comment      period, when the plan was already fully formed.  Members of communities served by adult      education have had no chance to give input until now, when the Adult      Education Office declares that it will no longer consider significant      revisions.  Additionally, comments by      adult education administrators from the October 2010 comment period      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 further      calls into question the fairness and transparency of the process.
  • Valuable programs eliminated by exclusion from the      plan: The plan acknowledges the success of adult education Older Adult,      Parent Education and Family Literacy programs, but makes no provision for      them. The plan narrows the mission of adult education in ways that could      leave vulnerable populations without vital services and ultimately cost      the State of California money.
  • ACET Centers described in contradictory terms,      sometimes as linking adult schools, sometimes as replacing them.  The plan for the ACET Centers is      ambitious, and sounds expensive.  If      California has money to fund these ACET Centers, why can’t the state      provide funding for existing adult schools so they can provide the      services the ACET Centers would supposedly provide?

 

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. The excluded programs are:

Parent Education and Family Literacy: 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 mentions these programs and acknowledges their important, but there is no provision for them in the details of the plan.

(Some) Adults with Disabilities?: Whereas the original report barely mentioned Adults with Disabilities, the updated report does occasionally mention services for this group.  However, the references are always in the context of transitioning to work.  Adult education also serves adults who are too profoundly disabled to work.  No provision is made in the plan for these students.

Older AdultsIronically, 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, while neglecting to state that adult education itself is a highly effective, low cost service to retirees. This report came out before the current state budget which includes even more cuts to programs for seniors. The loss of adult education programs for older adults 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. The plan also talks about identifying “regions” for collaborative service delivery.  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.

In some ways, the ACET Centers sound great, with advising services, individual action plans for each student, and referrals to support services. But the reason adult schools don’t provide these things already is lack of funds.  If the state has funds for these services, why don’t adult schools already have counselors and funds to pay teachers to create and manage individual action plans for their students? We don’t need an entirely new structure with a fancy name. We need money.

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.  The Strategic Plan does now mention the danger of “creaming” and states that funding that rewards performance will have to be managed carefully to assure that adult schools don’t push out hard to serve students.

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