Archive for June, 2013

Is the Adult Education and Literacy System in the U.S. prepared to Unlock the Door to Economic Opportunity?

June 2, 2013

What would happen if by January 2015 or 2016 the new, higher-bar adult secondary education tests (the GED®, TASC™ and HiSET™ high school equivalency exams that will be available in January, 2014) show that very few test-takers can pass at the College and Career-ready level that each of these assessment makers plans to include? What if the Adult Education and Literacy System in the United States is found inadequate to prepare adults for college level studies, and in some cases, for training and work?

Wait, some may say, we don’t know that yet. Maybe we are resilient and resourceful enough to make the adaptations to prepare students for tests that have these new standards. Maybe teachers will rise to the challenge and learn the math – and how to teach it – that these new CCR standards require. Maybe teachers will be able to help their students learn how, on a timed test, to quickly read text and write or type a persuasive argument about it. Maybe adult education programs will figure out how to provide 40 WPM minimum keyboarding skills for students who want or need to take the test on a computer. Maybe they will figure out, given the same number of hours per week of instruction, how to include social studies and science background content that the tests will require. Maybe they will, somehow.

But what if they can’t? What if the system and its programs and schools don’t have this capacity? What if adult education programs don’t have qualified math, science and social studies teachers and don’t have the resources to hire them? What if adult secondary education (ASE) teachers, rarely full-time, often with other, competing part-time or full-time jobs, don’t have unpaid time to take the training to get up to speed to teach the needed math, science or social studies? What if programs don’t currently offer a typing/keyboarding class or, if they do, if they don’t have enough computers so every ASE student could use them to practice keyboarding to meet a 40 WPM standard?

What if programs did have new resources – more money – to make these changes, would their students be able to make more hours per week available to learn the new content, to learn critical thinking, reading, and writing skills — in English – to successfully prepare for the harder exam in the same amount of time, roughly a few months to one year?

I am concerned that programs, and possibly learners cannot do this, at least not with only minor changes. To meet the new standards, major reform of adult basic education is needed, reform that results in:

  • More hours of instruction per week, and by qualified instructors;
  • More technology for almost every adult education program, hardware and software that at least matches the level available to local public schools. That means more desktop and laptop computers in classrooms as well as labs, a multimedia projector and/or whiteboard in every classroom, possibly loaner laptops or electronic tablets for students, and training for teachers in how to use the technology well.
  •  ASE students understanding that the HSE door now will have two locks, one called High School Equivalency and a new one called College and Career Readiness (CCR), and that for most people the door only opens to education and economic opportunity, i.e. increases in lifetime earnings, when the CCR lock is opened.
  • Most students understanding that quick-fix high school equivalency preparation ends in December, 2013, and that most students who take a 2014 HSE exam will need more than a few weeks or months to prepare to pass the new higher standards, if that is their goal. They may need more hours of class per week, perhaps as many as 10-15 hours, and/or more independent instruction and practice using a computer and the Internet – at home, a library, school, or work.
  • Students who need it, doing a typing/keyboarding course to get their skills to at least 40 WPM.

Many of these changes require more than small adjustments, and most require significant new resources.  The test-makers have rightly aligned what they plan to test to what the Common Core State Standards think high school graduates – and college and career ready students – need to know.  ASE programs want their students to be prepared for these test changes. Now it is time for state legislatures and Congress to learn what the changes imply, how the adult education and literacy system nationally and in states needs to be improved to address these new standards, and what that will cost.