Letter re Berkeley Adult School

The following letter went out to Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Donald Evans and the BUSD Board of Educaion with 21 signatures:

January 11, 2015


Dr. Donald Evans, Superintendent

Berkeley Unified School District

2020 Bonar St., Suite 322

Berkeley, CA 94702



Dear Superintendent Evans:

We are writing to express our support for Berkeley Adult School and our concern over plans to convert the present adult school site into an elementary school. We would like to start by thanking Berkeley Unified School District for its commitment to the adult school; it is reassuring to know that the district proposes to maintain adult school programs regardless of what happens to the space. BUSD is also to be commended for supporting its adult school through the recent budget crisis during which many districts closed or severely reduced their adult schools. We hope BUSD’s enlightened understanding of the importance of access to public education for all will continue to inform its actions as it makes difficult decisions about balancing the need for more space for children with the needs of adults.

Berkeley is a city devoted to education, and it is also a city with a proud history of commitment to social justice. A vibrant adult school within the city advances both these priorities. A fully functional adult school is a vital part of a well rounded education system that serves everyone. And while adult schools are open to all, and benefit everyone, they are a particularly important resource for marginalized groups such as immigrants, adults who need to acquire basic literacy skills, students with limited incomes, disabled students and seniors. Adult schools open the doors to education for those who might otherwise find them closed, a mission that is very much in alignment with Berkeley’s priorities.

We understand that the district has a very difficult decision to make. We only hope that the district will keep the following needs of adult school students in mind.

  1. Adult school students frequently have very limited access to transportation. The present Berkeley Adult School site is very good for adult school students because it is close to BART and bus lines. Relocation to a less accessible site would make it more difficult or impossible for some of the current students to attend.
  2. Adult school students have pressing work and family responsibilities and need classes that accommodate their schedules. Because adult school students are workers and parents, they need a program that allows them to fit in education where they can. Adult school students include students who work night shifts and parents, particularly women, who can attend school while their children are in school during the day, but have family responsibilities in the evening. An evening-only program would exclude at least half of the students who currently attend the adult school, and more than half of the students who are attending the adult school to acquire basic literacy and job skills in the Career Technical Education (CTE) , English as a Second Language (ESL) , Adult Basic Education (ABE and Adult Secondary Education (ASE) programs.
  3. Co-location of programs is beneficial for adult school students. Adult students can often benefit from more than one adult school program and need to be able to access multiple programs either concurrently or sequentially. For example, English as a Second Language students often go on to complete adult school High School Diploma, GED and/or job training programs at the adult school. High School Diploma students may attend an adult school job training class after earning their degrees. Students are more likely to learn about and use other adult school programs if programs are all located at the same site.

Adult schools often consist of one or more centralized sites with multiple satellite sites, but adult schools that lack a central site are rare, if they exist at all. If the adult school is broken up and distributed at various sites around the city, the programs will be isolated, and it will be harder for students to maximize their potential by moving from one program to the other.

A central adult school site also promotes a more collegial environment for both faculty and staff, and affords opportunities for productive communication not only within a given program, but between programs. When teachers have a chance to meet and talk at a common worksite, both formally and informally, they tend to share ideas and problem solve, which in the end benefits students. In an adult school with its programs broken up and scattered around the city, valuable information sharing between teachers and staff would be much reduced or even nonexistent.

  1. A decentralized adult school could lose some of its federal funding because standardized testing will become more difficult. Adult schools have become more dependent on federal Workforce Investment Act funding as their districts have cut their budgets. Workforce Investment Act funding is pay-for -performance funding based on students demonstrating progress on CASAS standardized tests. Adult schools are required to test every student in the English as a Second Language, Adult Basic Education and Adult Secondary Education programs. It is much easier to fulfill this requirement when there is one point of entry, and students can be sent to a testing center for placement and follow-up testing. The more decentralized an adult school is, the more difficult the testing process becomes. Test materials must be shuttled back and forth, and testing often must occur during class time, which cuts into instructional hours. CASAS testing is beneficial for adult students; it helps make sure they are accurately placed, and helps them track their progress. And when students demonstrate progress, it can result in significant funds for the adult school. But standardized testing becomes more unwieldy when adult schools are more decentralized.
  2. Drastic changes to Berkeley Adult School could disrupt the AB86 Regional Consortium planning process for the area. Adult schools and community colleges are deep into the Regional Consortium planning process, which must be completed in March. The Regional Consortia were tasked with identifying gaps in educational services for adults in their area and making plans to address them. Due to the near-elimination of Oakland’s adult school program, Berkeley Adult School is the largest adult school in its consortium. Therefore, its services are undoubtedly a key component of the consortium plan. Complete decentralization of Berkeley Adult, or elimination of its daytime program, will result in more gaps which the consortium must then scramble to address at the 11th hour.
  3. Adult schools need stability in the face of recent developments. BUSD’s decision about its adult school does not take place in a vacuum. For the past seven years, adult schools have been battered by the destabilization of their funding and resulting severe budget cuts. The adult schools that have managed to survive this catastrophe, and their students, are sorely in need of stability. The constant readjustment and belt-tightening has been exhausting for students, teachers and administrators alike, and all are at the breaking point.

True, Berkeley has absorbed some of the refugees from Oakland’s blighted adult school system. So have the adult schools in other neighboring communities, like San Leandro and even Richmond. If Berkeley severely reduces its adult school program by eliminating day classes, or makes some programs too inaccessible through decentralization, those Oakland students who found refuge at Berkeley, plus students who are Berkeley residents, will have to look to neighboring communities for services or do without. And Berkeley’s students will have to look for services in communities with fewer resources than Berkeley, like Richmond. Some of the signatories to this letter are adult school teachers in communities near Berkeley, and we promise to receive Berkeley’s students with open arms if necessary. But many of our adult schools are already at capacity due to cuts to their own budgets. Decisions about Berkeley’ Adult School don’t only impact Berkeley. The wrong decision will be yet another blow to the entire adult school system in the East Bay, which is already struggling.

  1. Adult schools contribute to the success of the K-12 system. Recently, discussions about adult school funding have been framed as a conflict between the educational needs of adults and the needs of children. We believe this is a short-sighted way of looking at the issue. Adult schools are a resource for families, and they support the success of schools for children. Since the education level of the mother is the most important factor in a child’s school success, adult schools can greatly improve the chances of some children to do well in school. Adult school is an important resource for those families that face greater challenges, such as lack of education, lack of English language skills, and low household income. A thriving adult school contributes to the success of those children who are more likely to struggle in school, such as the 22% of children in the Berkeley school system who are designated English learners and the 45% of children whose family income is low enough to qualify them for a free or reduced price lunch.

Adults who learn English or complete their high school degree in adult school set an excellent example regarding the value of education for their children. They also acquire skills that will allow them to both help their children with school work and become more skillful advocates for their children within the school system. Adults who learn job skills in adult school can bring more income into the family, thus providing their children with a more stable and secure home environment. Adults who take parent education classes learn communication skills that can help them become more effective parents. Older adults who take adult education classes become better grandparents, are strong role models for belief in the value of education, and are more positively involved in their grandchildren’s upbringing. Some, whether grandparents or not, get the support they need to become school volunteers. There are so many ways in which an adult school supports the rest of the K-12 system.

  1. Community colleges and adult schools together currently serve only a fraction of the adults who need basic literacy services.

A report prepared for the California Department of Education by WestEd in 2009 entitled “Adult Education in California: Strategic Planning Process Needs Assessment” found that in 2009 about 5.3 million adult Californians lacked a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) certificate. Of those 5.3 million adults, about half, over 2.5 million, had educational attainments at below the 9th grade level.

 A 2012 report by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, “Restructuring California’s Adult Education System”, noted that in the same year, 2009, adult schools and community colleges together served about 1.5 million students. The population of the state has grown significantly since 2009, so the number of adults needing literacy services has almost certainly grown proportionally. California’s adult schools need to grow, not shrink, if California’s adults are to receive the educational services they need.

We respectfully hope that you will keep these points in mind as you make your decision about the future of Berkeley Adult School.



One Response

  1. Thanks for this excellent, excellent letter to Berkeley Unified School District leadership regarding the Berkeley Adult School facility. The adult education cause is so thoughtfully and carefully articulated here. This letter effectively expresses how detrimental it would be to move/ decentralize adult programming from BAS. Thank you.

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