[AAACE-NLA] Reforming the AELS
tsticht at znet.com
tsticht at znet.com
Tue May 27 17:24:32 EDT 2008
May 27, 2008
Reforming The Adult Education and Literacy System (AELS)
of the United States: Top-Down and Bottom-Up Perspectives
International Consultant in Adult Education
Presently there are two groups advocating for change to the Adult Education
and Literacy System (AELS) of the United States. One is the National
Council of State Directors of Adult Education (NCSDAE) consisting of the
state leadership of programs jointly funded in part by Title 2 The Adult
Education and Family Literacy Act of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.
This group represents what I am calling a "top down" point of view on the
AELS and its operation to service our nation's adult education and literacy
The NCSDAE has an American Competitiveness Initiative which notes that the
2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) reports some 93 million
adults with literacy below the minimum thought necessary in our
contemporary world. The NCSDAE Initiative essentially calls for the
continuation of the present AELS but in an expanded version. The NCSDAE
American Competitiveness Initiative report calls for yearly increases in
the federal component of the AELS budget up to $2 billion in 2010-2011 and
an increase from the present 2.6 or so million enrollments to some 4
million enrollments. This would result in about $500 federal dollars per
enrollment. Even with state funding added, the report projects about $972
per enrollee as a national average, though actual amounts would vary from
state to state.
The second group advocating for change of the AELS is a non-governmental
organization called VALUE: Voice of Adult Learners United to Educatie. This
is an organization governed by adult learners with the mission of
representing the educational interests of adult learners at a national
level. The VALUE organization considers that the present AELS does not
well serve the needs of adult learners and it is calling for developing an
alternative model for adult basic education to replace the present AELS.
This initiative based on VALUE's understanding of the needs of adult
learners is what I am calling a "bottom up" point of view on adult literacy
education in the United States.
In what VALUE is calling its Social Change Initiative, a call for "drastic
reform" of the present AELS is made. The web site for VALUE USA includes a
number of question and answers about the reason for the Social Change
Initiative. Two of these Q & A address the following:
1. Question: "Why do you say the adult literacy system has failed to meet
the needs of most consumers?"
Answer: "90 million adults in our nation have low literacy skills. The
current adult basic education system is serving fewer than 3 million of
them. That means, 87 million aren't being served at all. The vast majority
of them don't want to seek help from a system that looks like the schools
that failed them in the past - a system that by its design continues to
reinforce the stigma of adult low-literacy. Many who do seek help drop out
because they can't achieve their own real goals in a timely manner within a
system that uses outdated methods. That's what we mean by a failed system. A
modernized, expanded, consumer-driven system will do much to solve these
problems. It is not just about more money and better outreach though; the
entire system must change.
It is not our intent to indict or condemn the local programs and instructors
in the current system. VALUE acknowledges that they are working very hard
and doing the best they can within the policy constraints placed upon them.
However, they need more resources, a better system model, and training to
use 21st Century instructional approaches in order to serve more than 3% of
the 90 million adults in this country with low literacy skills and truly
help them achieve their personal goals in a timely manner. "
2. Question: "What "drastic reform" do you feel is needed?"
Answer: "First, the adult basic education system must be expanded to serve
many times more adult learners than does the current system. VALUE believes
that we can no longer justify a system that annually serves only 3% of the
90 million adults with low literacy skills.
Second, the current system treats learners not as adults with time-sensitive
real-life goals, with job and family responsibilities, with knowledge and
experience acquired over a lifetime, and with the burden of shame and
stigma associated with low literacy, but it subjects them to a child-like
K-12 system when their needs and strengths as students are not the same as
those of children in the K-12 system. So few seek help and many that do
drop out because this approach is completely inappropriate given the
complexities of adult lives in the 21st Century.
Third, the system must take advantage of tremendous advances in technology.
The current adult basic education system uses the computer mostly as a tool
for drill and practice and largely ignores its potential to speed up the
process of meeting learner goals. Technology that reads, writes, and
translates exists today for the blind, the deaf, diplomats and
international business people. With widespread access to knowledge through
technology, adult learners can more rapidly gain the skills and knowledge
needed to be productive members of the global workforce.
Lastly, learner goal achievement must be the primary measure of success for
a redesigned adult basic education system. The current system uses
standardized test scores as a primary measure of success and consequently,
the program focus is on successful test-taking rather than goal attainment.
Adult learners want to focus on their own goals, not on artificial goals
generated for local programs by the system."
Here, then, are two different views of the AELS. A "top down" view calls for
incremental changes in the AELS to improve it by serving more adults with
the major change being an increase in the funding for the AELS. A "bottom
up" view calls for "drastic reform" of the system for adult education and
literacy with a better alignment of the adult education system with the
exigencies of adult life circumstances and needs.
Here is a question: Is it better to stay with the present AELS and continue
efforts to make incremental improvements with better funding, or should the
present AELS be essentially discarded and replaced with a new, 21st century
system for the education of adults?
Thomas G. Sticht
International Consultant in Adult Education
2062 Valley View Blvd.
El Cajon, CA 92019-2059
Tel/fax: (619) 444-9133
Email: tsticht at aznet.net
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