ProLiteracy is highlighting “Examining the Role of Federal Adult Education Funding in Adult Literacy Education,” by Judy Mortrude, World Education, Inc. This article is part of the current issue of Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy, ProLiteracy’s research journal. The peer-reviewed journal informs practitioners, researchers, policy makers, and funders about best practices in adult literacy, numeracy, and English language education.
An excerpt of “Examining the Role of Federal Adult Education Funding in Adult Literacy Education,” is highlighted below.
First, Steve Reder is right. No one in the field of adult education is going to argue against Steve’s conception of skill needs across the length and breadth of adult life. And certainly no one is going to argue against the need for more resources over and above the perpetually starved federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) system to fund Steve’s conceptual framework.
Beyond agreeing, I do think it is helpful to examine the role of federal adult education funding inside the lifelong and life-wide educational framework as both a way to value federally funded adult education programs and services AND a way to imagine the other funds, programs, and services needed to provide for skills needs across the length and breadth of life.
Lifelong learning in its platonic ideal would be a high-quality, fully accessible continuum of early childhood education, elementary and secondary school, postsecondary undergraduate and graduate schools and continued upskilling opportunities as digital displacement changes jobs and the pace of change in the digital economy leaves the knowledge economy behind. Unfortunately, quality universal early education is far from a reality in the United States, and the recent Programme for International Student Assessment again demonstrates that our elementary and secondary education systems need strategic investment and redesign to serve students better. College for all is a common rallying cry, but who gets what in the world of postsecondary education is largely still determined by income and race.
Adult basic education’s role, from the beginning, has been about serving people with foundational skill needs. Except for highly skilled immigrants (now welcomed into WIOA as a target population via the Integrated English Literacy & Civics Education program), adult education participants are generally those failed by their public education system, whether here in the United States, in a home country, or in displacement.
Adult education as part of a broader safety net of social services catches some few (by no means all) people who have fallen off that lifelong learning path at some point. Some states limit adult education programs to serving only those without a high school diploma or equivalent, but very clearly foundational skill need is not defined by the secondary credential. The federal eligibility criterium is simply a demonstrated educational need.