[AAACE-NLA] Towards Quality in Adult Literacy Education
marie.cora at hotspurpartners.com
Tue Dec 21 10:38:52 EST 2004
Hi Tom and all,
I think that the vast majority of people in ABE are indeed very
concerned about the quality of the work. These discussion lists are one
prime example because people constantly share and ask about practice
that might be working well. Every program I go to wants to do things
better: more effective teaching; providing more appropriate materials
for adults; addressing specific requests by the adults who come to our
programs; trying hard to meet federal mandates while doing more useful
But now I guess you will ask what "better" means.
I got no scientific research for you. But in my programs in RI (during
the 90s), here's what "better" meant:
-When I got there, volunteers left after one semester of work; 9 years
later, volunteers put in an average of 5 semesters.
-when I got there, volunteer training was incredibly minimal, and did
not extend over the life of the program (training was up-front); by the
time I left, volunteers were required to attend up to 8 hours of
training per semester AND were required to attend weekly meetings with
their program coordinator and fellow volunteers.
-when I got there, volunteers only did teaching; when I left, volunteers
were running events for other volunteers and for students; they were
heading up and organizing curriculum committees to develop standard
activities and curriculum at each level; volunteers did learner in-take
and placement; volunteers produced newsletters and learner books; the
volunteers were the ones who planned, developed, and organized the
products and activities that were the celebration of the end of each
-...., classes were geared toward a nebulous median of skill of the
student; we reorganized classes to offer a writing workshop for advanced
speakers with lower literacy skills; we set up literacy classes for the
person who does not read and write in any language (rather than try and
work with them in a room full of readers); we added math activities; we
added project work.
-...., student turn-over was not as high as volunteer turn-over, but it
was still high. Once we made these changes, student attendance was more
stable, and adult students also began to take on leadership activities
or get involved in some of the projects with the volunteers.
-...., community partners were hit or miss: some were committed and
interested, others just wanted to say that they had our service at their
site; by developing the community partner piece in our training, we
effectively weeded out the maybe's, and we were able to show the
community partners what it was like on our end, and we went to the
community partner and learned what it was like to be on their end - all
this having NOTHING to do with the actual teaching - just LEARNING who
we are and what we do, and who they are and what they do was enormous.
Talk about eyes wide open now.
The other thing that I think is interesting: we ended up closing some
program sites for various reasons (all due to ineffective nature of the
program at that site), and thus were able to focus attention and
resources to the program sites remaining, and Less is More was born and
there to stay. Spreading ourselves thin showed its true colors;
focusing ourselves on what remained allowed us to be able to think about
quality instead of scrambling to make ends meet.
OH! There's so much more I can say about the change of that place over
9 years!! You can't even imagine the college student program
coordinators I had the honor of teaching, working, and learning with.
Many of those young men and women are right now in our field, making it
So after all this, I guess that when I got to those programs in RI, I
did indeed have a VISION that I could see very clearly: to take those
programs to a place that didn't look anything like it did when I walked
through the door. And so much of achieving that vision is perfectly
described in Heide's post outlining what she has observed as effective
practice that leads to quality programming.
From: aaace-nla-bounces at lists.literacytent.org
[mailto:aaace-nla-bounces at lists.literacytent.org] On Behalf Of Thomas
Sent: Monday, December 20, 2004 6:28 PM
To: aaace-nla at lists.literacytent.org
Subject: [AAACE-NLA] Towards Quality in Adult Literacy Education
By way of a bit of summary, in my earlier message about "Can We Improve
Quality in Adult Literacy Education if We Don't Know What it Is?", I
(1) In the last 15 years or so the federal government has spent some
million to improve the quality of adult education and literacy programs.
(2) I noted that in 2000 a number of organizations that have received
funding and others on their own met in Washington DC and issued an
Agenda calling for improving the quality of AEL programs.
(3) Despite all this the NCSALL and other organizations had met in
2003 to try to find out what might be meant by "quality" in adult basic
education, and that NCSALL was currently trying to find this out.
(4) . Fran Tracey-Mumford, President of the AAACE, posted a message
saying, "I also want to know "What are the critical elements of a
adult education instructional program." So apparently she didn't know
was meant by "quality" in AEL programs.
(5) I thought it strange that after 15 years and $200 million in funding
to improve the quality of AEL programs only in 2003 were researchers
meeting to try to figure out what might be meant by "quality."
In response to the foregoing,
(6) David Rosen responed that, "I think we do know what program
is, and we have a set of standards and a program improvement model
has been shown to be effective in Business and which, as a process, has
promise for adult education, the Baldridge National Quality Program
standards. " he noted these were being used in TN and KY.
(7) George Demetrion responded to my quality posting with a proposal for
large scale research project about adult learning, though it didn't
address the question of why no one seems to know what is meant by
"quality" today after 10 to 20 years of trying to improve it nor how his
research would improve his own program.
(8) Terry Pruett-Said posted an insightful question, "My question is
exactly makes one group's standards for quality control better than
another group's?" No answer has been forthcoming on this question.
(9) I responded to David's response by showing data from five states for
the only set of national quality standards for indicating improvements
learning of which I am aware, those of the NRS, and I noted that there
not appear to be any particularly noticeable effects of the states
following the Baldridge process that David mentioned in his posting.
(10) David then responded and noted that all states have quality
required by the federal government but they might not be reflected on
NRS standards that I showed for the five states. But this seems somewhat
strange, given that the NRS standards are the only national quality
standards and states have agreed to work with these standards.
(11) Heide Spruck Wrigley weighed in with her favorite list of
of what she thinks makes for ""Good programs" (using the "You know it
when you see it" criterion") which she acknowledged were distilled from
her personal experience, but apparently had not been empirically
demonstrated by her or anyone else to actually improve AEL programs
(12) Marie Cora subscribed to Heide's comments and added that what one
needs is a "visionary" who can improve an adult education and literacy
program somewhere. She did not offer any references to any "visionary"
who has actually demonstrated that she or he had actually improved a
program somewhere in some clearly documented manner.
None of this exchange has addressed the question of why it is that if
million or so has been spent to improve "quality" of AEL programs over
some decade and a half, only last year and this year were NCSALL and
research organizations trying to figure out what is meant by "quality"
AEL programs. Nor has the exchange brought forth any response from
researchers, evaluators, professional developers, program operators, or
any one else with "evidence-based" documents indicating that they have
actually improved the quality of some adult education and literacy
somewhere. This does not mean that there is no such evidence, just that
one has reported it here in these interchanges. So for the time being,
field seems to be "faith-based" rather than "evidence-based" when it
to what it believes program quality is and how to improve it.
So I remain puzzled. Does the field or doesn't it know what it means
it makes references to the "quality" of an AEL program? Has anyone who
received funding for research, professional development, etc. activities
to improve AEL programs documented that they have gone to an AEL
somewhere and made it demonstrably better, i.e., that they have improved
its "quality"? Is the statement by the President and Founder of CAAL
"Most of the problems we began to tackle 10-20 years ago are still with
us." still accurate? Is there still ".not enough of the right
Will this still be the case 10-20 years from now?
But perhaps the field does not actually think that there are any very
serious problems of "quality" in AEL programs. Of course, managers and
instructors have to deal with issues and the day to day problems that
arise, but this does not necessarily mean that there is some need for
overall improvement of their program - though one can always use more
financial and other material resources.
So this raises the question, does anyone work in a program that they
needs improving in some way beyond the actions of day to day on site
problem solving? Is there a need for extensive outside research, of the
right kind, of course, to develop solutions to problems of program
where you work?
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