LAO Adult Education Analysis 2018-2019

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) recently issued an Adult Education Analysis as part of the 2018-2019 budget process. A link to the report is here: http://www.lao.ca.gov/Publications/Detail/3752

The report recommends eight changes to the adult education system in California. Some of the recommendations are intriguing, others problematic. Just for fun, I’m going to rate them on the following scale:

YES    YES,BUT   PROCEED WITH CAUTION NEED MORE INFORMATION   NO

Here are the recommendations and their Save Your Adult School ratings:

  1. The adoption of a student ID number that could be used to identify students in both the adult school and community college systems  PROCEED WITH CAUTION
  2. A uniform funding rate for community colleges and adult schools NEED MORE INFORMATION
  3. The elimination of course fees or adoption of a single “nominal” charge ELIMINATION YES,BUT “NOMINAL” CHARGE NO!
  4. A requirement that entities other than adult schools and community colleges that provide adult education (such as libraries) participate in the regional consortia NEED MORE INFORMATION
  5. A portion of state funding for adult education to be based on performance NO
  6. Align assessment and placement policies for community colleges and adult schools YES
  7. No longer require adult school instructors to get a teaching credential, so that any holder of a bachelor’s degree will be qualified to teach adult school NO
  8. Restrict credit instruction at community colleges to college-level coursework YES

Before we look at the individual recommendations and their possible consequences, let us take a look at the pedigree of the LAO report itself. There are two things to keep in mind.

  1. This report is part of the state budget process. For years, adult education policy has been made in the context of budgeting, so the policies are essentially fiscal policy rather than education policy. These recommendations are not being made by educators or informed by the thinking of educators.
  2. The report is one of a long line of reports about adult education that exclude input from adult school teachers and students.The current LAO report is a descended from a 2009 study called Adult Education Strategic Planning Process Needs Assessment, produced for the California Department of Education by WestEd. WestEd somehow managed to evaluate the needs of California’s adult students without talking to them or their teachers.From this “needs assessment” came a “strategic plan” entitled “Linking Adults to Opportunity, A Blueprint for the Transformation of the California Department of Adult Education Program”. Adult school students and teachers were aggressively excluded from any input on this document also. There was a “comment period” after the fully formed plan was released in October of 2010. I put “comment period” in quotes because the Adult Education Office announced, in its notice that the comment period was beginning, “Although we are beyond the point of incorporating significant revisions, we are interested in hearing any comments or concerns”. In other words, “Please do send us your concerns which we plan to do absolutely nothing about, because we have to have, you know, a comment period. It’s required or something.” Comments on the document made it abundantly clear that adult education administrators saw presentations and attended workshops on the plan while it was being formed. But students and teachers had no idea what was about to hit them until the comment period that wasn’t was launched in October of 2010.

Since then, a series of drastic changes to California’s adult education system has rolled over teachers and students like the wheels of a juggernaut, always with no real opportunity for them to have input or explain how the process is affecting them. The LAO’s recent analysis is the next set of wheels. That doesn’t mean all the recommendations in the analysis are bad, but it does mean that, good or bad, students and teachers won’t be consulted about them. And whatever we think about the current recommendations, it’s important to remember that they flow from an untransparent and uninclusive process. The most recent LAO analysis seeks to complete, or at least further, the work that was begun in the 2009 “needs assessment”, where you will find many of the ideas in the LAO analysis mentioned.

With that in mind, let us proceed to the recommendations

A common ID number for community colleges and adult schools

PROCEED WITH CAUTION: This would probably be helpful, as long as the number adopted is not the Social Security Number. Using the SSN would shut undocumented immigrants out. Given the heated nature of the debate around immigration now, any system that identifies immigrants as undocumented, such as a combination of Social Security numbers for those who have them or some other number (like an ITIN) for those who don’t, should be avoided. These numbers are eventually supposed to go into a statewide database. California has had anti-immigrant governors before (hello, Pete Wilson), and may have them again. We can’t trust that this will always be a sanctuary state. The safest option would be a common student ID # for both adult schools and community colleges that is separate from any other identifying number.

This is actually a very old recommendation; adopting this number was one of the original mandates for the consortia. Possibly it hasn’t happened yet because the task is bigger and more complicated than policy makers realized, and the consortia are having a hard time figuring out how to do it

 Uniform funding for community colleges and adult schools

NEED MORE INFORMATION: This is an intriguing recommendation, but it isn’t clear how it would work. The LAO notes that community colleges receive funding for their noncredit programs equivalent to $5,310 per full-time student equivalent (FTE) for most noncredit classes (it sounds like this is for the more “academic” classes, like basic math and English, ESL, and Career Tech Ed). For some noncredit courses, like parenting and citizenship, they get $3,300 per FTE.For adult schools, the state has no per-student funding rate.

The LAO’s recommendation is strongly worded:

We think the most important first step in any restructuring of adult education funding rules is to set a uniform rate per full-time equivalent student. That is, we recommend the state provide the same base per-student funding rate for adult schools and community colleges.

This sounds like it could be a good thing. $5,310 per full-time student looks like a princely sum to adult schools, which almost certainly spend much less per pupil. But there are a lot of variables. Is the LAO’s intent to raise per-pupil spending for adult schools to the level of what community colleges now receive? Or is it to lower what the community colleges get and give that amount to adult schools as well? And if adult schools are to receive $5,310 FTE per student, or even some lower amount, will their total funding be raised accordingly so they can continue to serve the same number of students they now serve? Or will they have to shed students so they can spend the higher per-student amount on each student without exceeding the $375 million or so that is currently budgeted for them?

What the LAO report doesn’t say is that adult schools did, at one time, receive per-pupil funding. Before the financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent abolition of categorical funding for adult schools, adult schools received ADA (funding based on attendance) just like K-12 schools and community colleges. ADA for adult schools was abolished in 2008. If the state is to reinstate per-pupil funding for adult schools, it is hard to see how that could be done without restoring ADA, which would be a very good thing.

The LAO gives a rather strange reason for being concerned about the lack of per-pupil spending for adult schools. Their concern is that, without a per-pupil rate, “adult schools determine for themselves how much to spend per student”. This might mean that “some adult schools may be offering much richer programs to a much smaller group of students.”

Oh horrors! Richer programs! How dare they!

This weird reasoning seems to come from the LAO’s bias towards constantly putting adult schools in the wrong. There probably is significant variation in what adult schools throughout the state spend per pupil, but the difference isn’t due to the lack of a state mandated per-pupil amount. It’s due to the fact that some adult schools have much more money than others. This was true in the best of times, and even when adult schools did receive per-pupil funding, but it was greatly exacerbated by the fiscal crisis of 2008 and the state’s consequent decision to abolish categorical funding for adult schools. The fate of adult schools then tended to depend on how well their K-12 district was doing. Some districts took all the adult school money and abolished their adult schools. Others kept their adult schools open, but just barely. Oakland is a good example of this; a system which had served 25,000 adults annually was reduced to 11 classes. But some adult schools, usually ones in better funded districts, survived nearly unscathed.

Once the financial crisis was over, the state did nothing to rectify this situation, but instead locked it in. Through the Adult Education Block Grant, adult schools receive the same amount of money they received in 2013, which was the year the state put an end to the freefall that began in 2008, when the state began to allow school districts to take as much money from their adult schools as they wanted. Nothing was done to restore adult schools that had been ravaged, like Oakland. Adult schools that had been cut to the bone had to start functioning in the new AEBG consortium system alongside adult schools that had maintained most of their funding and community colleges that were having their funding increased. The LAO keeps saying that some consortia are functioning better than others, but they never look at what individual adult schools within the consortia are up against, which might explain a lot of the discrepancy they so love to bemoan.

The fear that a few adult schools might be offering rich programs to a pampered few students (unlikely) isn’t a very good reason to suggest that their per pupil funding be put on equal footing with that of the community college non-credit programs. A much better reason is that adult schools are being asked to participate in the consortia with community colleges as equals, but their funding is wildly unequal. If the state would adopt a per-pupil spending rate for adult schools that is equal to what community college non-credit programs receive now, and fund adult schools so that, at the new per-pupil rate, they could continue serving the same number of students they serve now, that would be wonderful, and a very significant step towards repairing the damage that began in 2008. But it would probably entail putting much more money into the adult education budget than is currently proposed.

Elimination of course fees or adoption of a uniform “nominal” fee

Elimination YES, BUT; “nominal” fee NO:

Elimination of fees refers only to Career Technical Education (CTE) classes, because all other state funded adult school programs (Adult Basic Education, High School Diploma, GED. Adults with Disabilities, English as a Second Language, and some Parent Education) are currently mandated to be offered free. There is state funding for CTE, and the fact that adult schools can still charge for it is an anomaly. However, CTE classes are more expensive to run, and adult schools might not be able to offer them at all if they couldn’t charge for them. The LAO notes that if adult school per pupil funding is put on an equal footing with that of community college non-credit programs, then most adult schools could probably operate their CTE programs without charging fees. In which case, full speed ahead; let’s get rid of the fees.

But the LAO also puts forward another possibility, that both community colleges and adult schools start charging a “nominal” fee for all courses, including the ones that are now offered free. This is a truly bad idea, in so many ways.

Last year, Governor Brown signed a law that could make the first year of community college free to students regardless of financial need. https://edsource.org/2017/free-first-year-of-community-college-amid-flurry-of-education-related-bills-signed-by-governor/588795

The City of San Francisco is providing funding so that a college education at City College of San Francisco can be completely free. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/08/san-francisco-to-be-the-first-us-city-to-offer-free-college.html

Why, at this time when we as a state are starting not only to recognize the value of free education, but finding ways to make it happen, are we even considering soaking people who need to acquire basic literacy skills? Look again at the kinds of classes that are being offered free: Adult Basic Education, the equivalent of an elementary school education for adults, High School Diploma and GED, for adults who don’t have a high school education, ESL for immigrants who haven’t mastered English, Adults with Disabilities, for adults who may have limited employment options or even need help with skills for everyday living due to a disability. These are classes for people who may not read well (at least in English, for ESL students), or may not be able to read at all. They usually cannot write much (at least in English). They may lack basic math skills. They often work, but often in jobs that don’t make them much money because their lack of literacy limits their access to higher paying jobs. Why do we want to start charging them for the classes they need to get ahead and be able to better support their families?

The LAO offers a reason that is as insulting to these hard-working and sometimes struggling students as it is ill-informed:

Requiring all students to pay a small fee could foster positive behavioral changes – such as making students more deliberate in their selection of courses and more purposeful about holding campuses accountable for high-quality services. That is, rather than being a barrier, the fee would be intended to ensure students are serious about their studies and campuses are serious about offering quality programs aligned with student interests.

What evidence does the LAO have that students aren’t serious about their studies now, or that schools aren’t serious about offering quality programs? They don’t give any. It is just assumed that students aren’t taking their studies seriously because the classes are free.

Why would the LAO make such an assumption about our students with no evidence? Unfortunately, they may be unconsciously tapping into an unexamined and harmful assumption our culture makes about poor people: that they are lazy and make bad decisions, and that’s why they are poor. Why charging them a few bucks would cure all these supposed faults is not clear, but it seems to be the preferred remedy.

The truth is that if our students were lazy, they wouldn’t even be in school. Unlike children, they aren’t being forced to come. The idea that they might be choosing the wrong courses is just bizarre. If you look again at the programs that are free, there is little possibility that students are going to make a mistake about which one to enter. An immigrant who needs to learn English isn’t going to sign up for an Adults with Disabilities class by mistake. And if there are situations where students are choosing the wrong class, it’s probably because the school doesn’t have adequate counselling services, not because the students aren’t paying for the classes.

Which brings us to the idea that students will hold their schools more accountable for quality programs if they are paying. This is just weird. If a school’s programs aren’t all they should be, lack of funding is more likely to be the problem than lack of student complaint. And if the funding isn’t there, the students can complain until the cows come home without the school being able to do much about the problems. I would like to assure the LAO that, although our students are certainly grateful for the free classes we offer, their gratitude doesn’t keep them from complaining or making suggestions when appropriate. Charging them money isn’t likely to significantly change their behavior in this regard.

The LAO has imagined a problem that isn’t there, and then proposed to solve it with “nominal” fees. If the fees are truly “nominal”, they won’t contribute much to the budgets of adult schools or community colleges; they won’t for example, allow adult schools to keep running CTE classes without substantially more state funding. And, according to the LAO, the purpose of the fees isn’t to contribute to school funding anyway; the fees are there to discourage “bad” student behavior that doesn’t even exist.

And the fact is that the fees will be a barrier for some. However “nominal” the fee, there will be students who are unable to pay. Families with limited resources tend to do triage as to which family members get an education when they have to pay; this can mean that they decide to educate men instead of women because men still make more than women. And students who have to frequently stop out of school because of family or work responsibilities may give up if they have to spend $25 or $35 a term to sign up for classes they may not be able to attend.

What relatively small fees can do is discourage the students who are harder to serve. This makes the job of the school easier, because they are now serving the students with more resources and lives that are less disrupted. But is the purpose of education policy to make the job of the school easier, or is it to educate all students, even the ones with the most challenges?

The fact is that, rather than encouraging “good” behavior in students, fees can encourage bad behavior in institutions. Schools can rely on fees to push out the harder to serve students, rather than finding solutions that will help those students stay in school. Another problem with “nominal” fees is that they don’t stay nominal. Once the fees are there, raising them can become the preferred solution to every need or even desire for funding. One need only to look at the rising tuition and obscenely climbing pay for administrators at U.C. Berkeley to see where this can lead, or at our country’s staggering problem with student debt.

Free adult education in California began in the mid-nineteenth century. Somehow the state was able to see the value of free education that served primarily low income people and immigrants even in an era that wasn’t very sympathetic to immigrants and the poor. Adult education in California remained free even during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Our state currently enjoys a booming economy and a healthy surplus, and hopefully has a more enlightened attitude about immigration and poverty than it had in the 1800s. Why would we start charging for adult education classes now? Instead, we need to commit to the concept of public education as a public good. If we can recognize this by beginning to provide the first year of community college free, certainly we can do it by keeping state funded adult education classes free.

Entities other than adult schools and community colleges to participate in the consortia

NEED MORE INFORMATION: This would seem like a “yes”, but how would these entities be affected? It seems like we should hear from them. When the consortia were getting up and running, other state and federally funded providers of adult education, like library literacy programs, were encouraged, but not required, to participate, and some certainly did. In some consortia they may not have felt entirely welcome, because the designated recipients of the AEBG funding, community colleges and adult schools, may have feared that they wanted a nibble at the AEBG money. This may explain why, in some cases at least, they may not be participating any more. Now the LAO is recommending that they be required to participate in order to receive their state funding, but not that they get any additional funding. It seems that if their participation in the consortia will impose any additional costs on them, they should get some additional funding through the consortia or some other source

A portion of funding based on performance

NO: The state keeps piling more and more data and reporting requirements onto the consortia, with the result that too much funding is going to data and reporting and not enough to direct services for students. We have seen huge increases in resources going to data and reporting in the form of positions for consortium managers and accountants, additional meetings for administrators and teachers, and staff tied up in running data and writing reports. There has been very little in the way of new services for students or new classes. Students at the lower levels are being particularly shortchanged, as the workforce focus of the AEBG puts pressure on the consortia to show transitions to higher education and the workforce. Adding a performance based component to funding would only exacerbate these unfortunate trends.

It is also unfair to implement performance based funding when inequalities between adult schools created by categorical flexibility have not been addressed. The playing field is nowhere near level, and those schools and consortia that are already in a better financial position will be better equipped to deal with a performance based funding component. The state needs to help struggling adult schools and consortia by providing equitable funding, instead of punishing struggling schools by tying funding to “performance”, which is often another way of saying that a school already has the resources it needs to do well

.Performance based funding and punishing schools for not meeting benchmarks are part of the failed No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top federal policies. Haven’t we learned yet that this only locks in or even worsens inequalities instead of correcting them?

In case the LAO and state legislators are unaware of this, most adult schools already spend an enormous amount of time and energy pursuing performance-based federal WIOA funding tied to data collection and scores on CASAS reading tests. The pursuit of improved CASAS reading scores distorts adult school programs because skills that are important to students but not measured by the standardized test, like speaking, pronunciation, grammar and writing (for ESL students) are sometimes squeezed out by the need to show progress on the reading test. We have enough performance-based already, thank you.

Alignment of assessment and placement policies among community colleges and adult schools

YES: The LAO report notes that “segments” are working on these alignments and recommends that the issue be revisited in 2019-2020, when the work should be complete. Although being called a “segment” makes me feel like I’m somehow part of a worm, the work of aligning assessments and placement is important and this recommendation by the LAO makes sense.

Abolishing the adult school teaching credential

NO: This one has adult school teachers really worried. After a decade of dismissive treatment by the state, we have to wonder what they are trying to pull now. Is the goal to de-professionalize adult school teaching and then further degrade the treatment of the adult school teachers on the grounds that they aren’t really teachers and don’t have skills? Already adult school teachers are almost all enforced part-time, hourly employees without health benefits or paid vacations. Every holiday and school break is a mini-layoff for an adult school teacher. Adult school teachers are mostly freeway flyers going from a part-time job in one district to a part-time job in another district (sometimes 3 or 4 part-time jobs). What more can the state do to us?

Adult school teachers already are the worst-paid teachers in the state. They make far less than community college teachers and K-12 teachers. But if the state takes away the adult school credential and allows anyone with a BA to teach adult school, I suppose they could argue that adult school teacher pay could be even less.

The LAO recommends the abolition of the adult school credential on the grounds that this would align the requirements for adult school and community college teachers. The report states that “By aligning the qualifications for instructors, instructors could readily teach adult education classes in both community colleges and adult schools.” But the situation is more complex than the LAO lets on, or perhaps realizes

.First of all, only the qualifications for adult school and non-credit community college teachers would be aligned. Instructors of for-credit community college classes, which constitute the vast majority of community college classes, have to hold a master’s degree. So the abolition of the adult school credential would not open up any additional jobs to adult school teachers. If the adult school credential is terminated, the beneficiaries will be community college teachers (assuming they want lower-paid adult school jobs) and, really, anybody with a BA degree

.It is true that, by statute, the minimum qualification for teaching a non-credit community college class is a BA. And it is also true that non-credit community college teachers with only a BA degree make more than adult school teachers who have to get a credential. This is admittedly, something of an anomaly. But in practice, many community college unions have won a requirement that both non-credit and for-credit community college teachers have MA degrees and receive equal pay. So in reality, many community college non-credit teachers have to have MA degrees. Add to this that many community colleges don’t have non-credit programs, or have very small ones, and you aren’t really talking about aligning requirements for that many teachers. In community college districts that do allow non-credit teachers to teach with only a BA, adult school teachers can already teach non-credit community college classes, because all adult school teachers are required to have BA degrees. I repeat: advantages of abolishing the adult school credential would all go the way of community college teachers; nothing would be opened up for adult school teachers.

The LAO also remarks that abolishing the adult school credential would make it easier to hire adult school teachers. This must be tempting for administrators at a time when there is a shortage of teachers of all kinds, especially adult school teachers. But that is why this is exactly the wrong time to open the flood gates to anyone with a bachelor’s degree. If adult schools suddenly hire a large number of untrained teachers, the quality of instruction is bound to decline accordingly. If you abolished medical school, it would be easier to hire doctors, but would they be able to take good care of their patients?The adult school credential did not create the shortage of adult school teachers. The loss of adult school teachers due to school closures and layoffs that resulted from the fiscal crisis of 2008 played a part, as did the afore-mentioned part-time status, lack of benefits and low pay. These are the conditions that need to be addressed.

The LAO suggests professional development as a remedy “if the state has concerns about the quality of adult education instructors” (as one would hope it would). But professional development is a supplement to good professional preparation, not a substitute for it. Would the LAO make this type of recommendation for K-12 teachers?

It is true that the present credentialing system does create some anomalous situations. Even people with master’s degrees in a related subject cannot teach adult school without acquiring the adult school credential, which really doesn’t make sense. But there are many ways to amend this without abolishing the adult school credential. There are quite a few ways teachers can qualify to teach adults; for example, most teachers with a K-12 credential can teach adult ESL as long as they also have a CLAD. They don’t need to get an additional adult school credential. Just add master’s degrees as another way teachers can qualify.

The discussion around credentials in one of the many places where the LAO report suffers by excluding the voices of teachers. Teachers have a lot of good ideas about how the qualifications for educating adults could be streamlined and improved. For example, when I trained to be an adult ESL teacher, I went back to school for a year and a half to get an ESL certificate. That training has been invaluable to me, but it didn’t qualify me to teach adult school. I still had to get the credential. In fact, I didn’t need the certificate at all to get my credential. Some alignment of the certificate with the credential would have streamlined the process and also assured that all adult ESL teachers had similar training. But abolishing the credential would only have assured that I could go into teaching ESL with nothing more than, in my case, the ability to write papers about English literature. That wasn’t adequate training, let me assure you, and I wouldn’t have quickly made up the deficit through professional development.

Restrict credit instruction to college level coursework

YES: This applies to the community colleges only. Aren’t they doing this already? Why not?

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One Response

  1. Thanks for the information in clear and in understandable English. As I read the email, I remembered our history , both good and frustrating, and the updated information and possibilities for our future. I would be willing to discuss this when others want to talk. Paula O

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