[AAACE-NLA] Reforming the AELS
yohogclc at earthlink.net
Wed May 28 14:09:55 EDT 2008
I could quibble with Tom Sticht that there are actually more than 2
entities calling for change in the AELS, but his juxtaposition of two
points of view, from the top down or the bottom up, rings true. My own
perspective is much more in line with VALUE than with NCSDAE. Sadly, Tom's
observations underscore the overriding continuing weakness of our field:
we can't agree among ourselves how to best meet the needs of those we
serve, and therefore can't come together in a unified way to advocate. One
of the major reasons for this is that the underlying legislation, the WIA,
leaves far too much to the states. How can the AELS becomes a responsive
system if states are free to resist innovation and reform if they want to?
Asking for money to do more of the same thing, or just struggling to keep
the money we've had in the past to do more of the same, doesn't make sense
to me. If the AELS were a business, there is no way that VALUE's
indictment of the "system" would be ignored. Our customers are telling us
we are not giving them what they want! We all know that there are programs
that already represent a "21st Century Model", but the field is not ready
to embrace the truth that there are many programs that are nothing more
than traditional education delivered the traditional way, the same way that
has already failed millions of adults. Supposedly the WIA/NRS system would
identify those programs, but there is no doubt this hasn't happened. Yet
adult learners find out very quickly whether or not their needs are met,
and vote with their feet. No wonder we are reaching only a tiny percent.
When the test-and- report movement hit adult education years ago, I joined
others who said at the time, and I repeat it now, that the only valid
criteria for judging the effectiveness of any adult program are the
accomplishments of learner-defined goals.
Several entities are gearing up for the battle to re-authorize the WIA
(Title II). But I think it needs to be thrown out altogether, with
Congress holding hearings to chart a new course. VALUE is ready, I think,
to testify. Perhaps VALUE could even identify those programs that are
indeed 21st Century models, and hold them up as examples. For eight years,
the idea of "scientific evidence of best practices" has been held up as the
model. Is there any doubt this has failed?
Division Director, TURNING PAGES/VOAC
(formerly the Greater Columbia Literacy Council)
Secretary, SC Association for Adult Literacy Education
803-765-2555 fax 803-779-1657
PO Box 1447, Columbia, SC 29202
yohogclc at earthlink.net
"True progress preserves order amid change and preserves change amid
order." (John Morgan, You Can't Manage Alone)
> [Original Message]
> From: <tsticht at znet.com>
> To: <aaace-nla at lists.literacytent.org>
> Date: 5/27/2008 11:50:04 PM
> Subject: [AAACE-NLA] Reforming the AELS
> May 27, 2008
> Reforming The Adult Education and Literacy System (AELS)
> of the United States: Top-Down and Bottom-Up Perspectives
> Tom Sticht
> International Consultant in Adult Education
> Presently there are two groups advocating for change to the Adult
> 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
> 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.
> 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
> 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
> 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
> system that uses outdated methods. That's what we mean by a failed
> 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
> in the current system. VALUE acknowledges that they are working very hard
> and doing the best they can within the policy constraints placed upon
> However, they need more resources, a better system model, and training to
> use 21st Century instructional approaches in order to serve more than 3%
> 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
> many times more adult learners than does the current system. VALUE
> 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
> 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
> The current adult basic education system uses the computer mostly as a
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> efforts to make incremental improvements with better funding, or should
> present AELS be essentially discarded and replaced with a new, 21st
> 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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