Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bringing Adult Ed to the NPE Conference Table

The Network for Public Education is an organization started by Diane Ravitch to promote grassroots action for better public education.

Adult Education is part of public education. 

It is the precious fourth leg that stabilizes all the other branches.  But it is often overlooked - the first one cut and the last one repaired - even though it brings stability to the system as a whole.

Hit the "read more" link to learn about the NPE Conference and why
Adult Ed needs a seat at the conference table.

It is also the canary in the coal mine.  When Adult Ed is in trouble, everyone needs to pay attention, because sooner or later, trouble is coming to everyone else, too.

(Some folks may not know what "canary in the coal mine" means.  In the old days, miners would bring a little caged canary down with them into the mines.  If there wasn't enough oxygen, the canary would die.  If the canary died, the miners knew they needed to get out, because sooner or later, they would die, too.)

On March 1st and 2nd, NPE is having its first conference.

I am going.

Why?  Because Adult Ed does not exist in isolation.  It is, indeed, one leg of a chair that supports our future.  It is one canary, one miner down in the mine of education, digging for the gold of knowledge and wisdom.

To some degree, however small, we hold some responsibility for the collapse we're now digging out of.  It is important to know what that responsibility is because power and responsibility are flip sides of the same coin.  So whatever responsibility we had, we need to identify it, use it  - and expand it - for good.

Prior to the cuts and closures that came on in 2009, most us in Adult Education, whether we were teachers, students, or community members who depended on it, took it for granted.  I don't include admin in that category.  I hope and assume they had some sense of the bigger picture.  But most of us did not and we didn't look ahead at what might be coming down the pike, and think about what we needed to do to avoid future troubles. 

I don't hold us responsible for the crash of Wall Street, corporate greed, or other matters... although, there, too, one can look at how we were living as both communities and individuals and ask ourselves if maybe some of that wasn't predictable, based on the choices we made every day, at the voting booth, and with our dollars. 

In any case, the crap happened.

And as a result, Adult Education, especially in K12 Adult Schools, was devastated in California. 

The good news:  In response to the crap, we rallied, unified, gained and sharpened skills, and saved Adult Education.  In particular, we saved K12 Adult Schools - which are mostly how Adult Ed is delivered in California.

Now we take on the next task:  Rebuilding Adult Ed - in the best way possible.

Part of doing things in the best way possible, is understanding that nothing exists in a vacuum. 

Adult Ed is part of a larger system of public education, both in California and nationally.  It is affected by trends in education, including privatization, increased testing, "accountability," and a focus on college and career readiness. 

Adult Ed has long been tied to shifts in immigration in the United States, not only in terms of the numbers of immigrants but in terms of how immigrants are perceived (welcomed, hated, identified, denied, celebrated, necessary), and immigration policy. 

We can take this even further out, as the US Department of Education is doing, and look at what is happening in terms of Adult Education around the world.  This is why the US Dept of Ed is focusing on the PIAAC Study and looking at where the US stands in terms of Adult Learning - and what to do about lags in that standing.

To rebuild Adult Education in California in the best way possible, we need to understand all that - and more.

This is why I'm going to the NPE Conference.

My goal is to carry the message that "Adult Education matters" to the conference.  If folks don't know about Adult Ed - its value, the cuts it has suffered in California and elsewhere, and the impact of those cuts on our future as a people, I hope to inform them.

I also hope to connect with any other Adult Education folks who may be at the conference.  This is a national conference so there will be folks from all over in terms of both geography and program.  Will some of them be Adult Ed folks?  I don't know.

I also hope to learn from the workshops, connect with and learn from other people, and carry back what I've learned to this blog, my school - San Mateo Adult School, and the larger Adult Ed community in California.

What information about Adult Ed do you think is most important for others to know about?

If I was going to make a list of just three to ten things to make sure people understand - what should be on that list? 

Please share your ideas in a comment here or an email sent to cyn dot eagleton and then "at" and then gmail dot com.

I have seen that by working together, we can accomplish so much.  I can and want to go to this conference to carry the message that Adult Ed matters and to bring back information that can help us restore and rebuild Adult Ed in California in the best way possible. 

My willingness to go is my piece of the puzzle.  To do the best job possible, I need your piece.

What information, ideas, and facts should I take with me to the conference?  Please let me know.

1 comment:

  1. Cynthia, I read this blog but I have not commented before, and I am not from California. However, I have some advice for you as you prepare for the NPE Conference:

    1) Encourage other adult educators to go to the conference. Meet virtually or in person beforehand, or as early as possible at the conference to plan how to introduce the importance of adult education to K-12 colleagues.

    2) Go armed with PIACC data ( As you know, PIACC is the recent international assessment of adult competencies, with data on three domains: adult literacy, adult numeracy, and problem solving in a digital environment. As you also know, the U.S. did very poorly on all three assessment domains. For others, a quick video introduction will be found at

    3) Make the case that although Early Childhood Education and K-12 education are both very important, they often cannot succeed without educated parents. Research shows that children of parents (especially mothers) who have higher levels of education do better in school. The parents read to their children, help children with homework, and help them in other ways.

    4) The U.S. workforce is not as competitive now that we have a world economy. We need to have a better-educated workforce, better prepared for post-secondary education. However, if we rely only on K-12 education to address Americans’ basic skills, – even if skills do improve – economists estimate that this will take 50 years before the current workforce turns over, and workers are fully prepared. We cannot wait even ten years. We need to address adult learners’ basic skills (including English language for immigrants) now!

    5) There are adult education models that have evidence of working, for example the iBest program in Washington State and elsewhere, and two studies that show that incarcerated adults who participate in adult education programs have low recidivism rates, among other evidence. Unlike much of higher education, where the U.S. makes a significantly greater investment, adult education has for many years had the National Reporting System that measures adult learner progress in every state. (Yes it could be improved, but in many states there is no data like this in higher education, or these data have only been collected recently.)

    6) Ask your colleagues at the NPE conference if they personally know an adult who cannot read. Most will say they don’t. Then point out that most Americans DO know adults who don’t read at all or who don’t read well, that they just don’t know it because adults with poor reading skills are adept at hiding this. They order hamburgers or chicken in restaurants because they know that restaurants will have this, even though they may not be able to read the menu; they often carry a newspaper even though they cannot read most of it; they say they left their glasses at home when confronted with a task that requires reading; they often have someone at home who reads things for them, Often their friends, family members, and community members do not know they cannot read well.

    Perhaps others have some ideas to add, and I hope these will help. Good luck!

    David J. Rosen