Why Adult Education Warrants Attention by the 2016 Presidential Candidates

Andy Rotherham, writing today for The 74’s Democratic National Convention Live Blog, credibly explains the reasons behind the lack of focus on K-12 policy at this week’s Democratic Convention:

As for any focus on education this week? Yawn. The Democrats remain split on the issue along a few dimensions, although reformers certainly don’t have the upper hand. That will change over time though, and the election isn’t really about education in the first place. Presidential ones rarely are, and this one is even less so. To the extent education really matters, the emerging fault line is around workers dislocated by trade or technology. That’s a genuine problem, a boil Donald Trump picks at, and another issue that creates schisms among Democrats. There are more things we could be doing to help those workers now, but the education piece of that issue is a long game. (my emphasis)

I’m not sure if what he means here is that the “education piece” for dislocated workers can only be addressed through long-term solutions, or if he means that there is no short-game political strategy that would work to address their needs. But I would argue neither are true.

As a practical matter, the education and training needs of many of those workers are relatively addressable within a short time frame (granted, not all), at least compared to Pre-K and K-12 education, where the return on investment takes many more years.

I also think that advancing a strategy that addresses the educational needs of these workers in the short term makes political sense too, but it won’t emerge from either campaign unless the candidates can be convinced that a call for substantial new investments in adult education and job training would provide a political advantage in November.

There’s evidence to suggest it might. Yesterday there was an article by Nick Cohn in the Times that highlighted how poorly Hillary Clinton does in polls with white voters without a college degree—particularly white men without a degree. That population represents nearly half of the people who voted in 2012.

Chart: The One Reason the Election Is Close

Source: “The One Demographic That Is Hurting Hillary Clinton,” The New York Times, July 25th, 2016.

Whatever the merits (and of course on this blog we’d argue the merits are strong), a Democratic candidate for President looking to counter Donald Trump’s appeal to these voters might consider introducing a proposal to advance investments in education programs for this population as a potential strategy to win them over. (It’s also worth considering to what extent Congress and the current administration’s effort to address the needs of dislocated and under skilled workers has been perceived by this segment of the electorate to have been effective, but that’s a post for another day.)

The candidates would also need to understand that job training and college access alone won’t cut it—many of those adults without college degrees lack high school degrees as well.

Rotherman, in his post, goes on to write:

[I]n the post-ESSA world, what the federal government can do on K-12 is limited — what it can do absent congressional assent is even more so. That’s why pre-K and college affordability are attractive, and you’ll be hearing a lot about them going forward. They’re real issues affecting Americans, places the next administration could act in real ways, and issues where Secretary Clinton and Senator Kaine are aligned. (my emphasis)

I would argue that adult education and training are also areas where the next administration could act, and act boldly, and unlike pre-K and college affordability—issues that resonate with many of the middle-class liberal and moderate voters already supporting Clinton—adult education and training speak to those voters she is struggling to appeal to. (I acknowledge that addressing college affordability could potentially have positive implications for dislocated and under skilled workers, but to the best of my knowledge, these proposals are not focused on this population, and college affordability alone doesn’t address the range of this population’s needs.)

Former Prisoners Describe How Education Transformed Their Lives

Today’s edition of Politico’s Morning Education features some great personal testimony coming out of yesterday’s Second Chance Pell event hosted by the Vera Institute of Justice and others:

FORMER PRISONERS GET PERSONAL: Three former prisoners described to Education Secretary John B. King Jr. on Tuesday how college programs they participated in while incarcerated transformed their lives – even as post-prison life hasn’t been easy. “Second chances are possible. People really do need them,” said Jason Bell, now a student at Lake Michigan College. Bell entered prison at age 23, with just a fourth-grade level education.

– Bell and Devon Simmons, a former prisoner who recently graduated from CUNY Hostos Community College with honors , described getting a GED in prison but then facing years-long gaps without schooling while jailed – until college opportunities opened for them behind bars. Once out, Simmons said he was able to complete his degree despite getting shot right after his release from prison by someone “seeking prior revenge.” He credits support from the Prison-to-College Pipeline program through John Jay College (part of the City University of New York) with helping him. He’s now taking a screenwriting class at Columbia University. “I’m just taking it one day at a time,” Simmons said. “I’m honored to have a second chance because that doesn’t come to many.”

– Ivelisse “Bibi” Gilestra said participating in education programs in prison gave her a sense of community. Gilestra said she was no longer just a prison number, “I was student such and such.” Even as she’s now a Rutgers University student, she said “nobody leaves prison unaffected.” When she left, she said she was a “nomad” because she couldn’t live in her mother’s public housing unit because of her record. She’s had to take multiple low-paying jobs because she fails employer background checks.

– The three spoke at an event focused on the Education Department’s Second Chance Pell program, hosted by the Vera Institute of Justice and others. King told Morning Education afterward that college access behind bars changes the culture of a prison. “You can shift the culture within the prison as folks realize there are these educational opportunities available,” King said. Roughly 12,000 inmates are expected to participate in the experimental program, which will provide an estimated $30 million in Pell Grants to prisoners. Congressional Republicans have questioned the department’s authority to roll out the program, and whether it’s the best use of taxpayer dollars.

There is a longer piece about this over at Politico Pro, if you are a subscriber.

NCER announces FY 2016 Awards

The Institute for Education Sciences (IES) just announced a new round of grants under the National Center for Education Research grants program. One of them (just one!), led by John Sabatini at the Educational Testing Service (ETS), has an explicit adult literacy focus:

Developing and Validating Web-administered, Reading for Understanding Assessments for Adult Education 

A large percent of U.S. adults struggle to read even basic texts, but there are few valid assessments for this population, making it difficult to measure learning outcomes or improve instruction. The purpose of this project is to develop a digital assessment appropriate for such adults, in particular those reading between the 3rd- to 8th-grade levels. Such an assessment will not only help to determine an adult reader’s strengths and weaknesses but also inform instruction and improve programs and institutional accountability.

The goal is to produce a fully developed and validated, digital assessment for adults reading between the 3rd- to 8th-grade levels.

These other projects may also be of interest:

See: NCER announces FY 2016 Awards

It Lives

Due to popular demand,* regular posting to this site is returning. Still very interested in hearing from anyone interested in becoming a regular contributor or an occasional guest post. In the meantime, I’ll be back posting on a somewhat regular basis.

*employing an extremely generous definition of “demand.”