Monday Morning Reads

A couple of articles from last week that are worth checking out if you missed them:

Why No Literacy Programs for 30 Million in U.S.?
This Remapping Debate piece by David Noriega reviews the current system of adult basic education in the U.S. and asks various experts (plus me) why there hasn’t been a more aggressive, coordinated investment in adult literacy services from either the federal government or states. Noriega asked members of Congress about federal action to address the issue and the responses aren’t encouraging:

Remapping Debate reached out to 13 members of the House and Senate of both parties, all with high-ranking positions on the relevant committees and subcommittees and many with past action on adult literacy on their records. Besides one who cited a scheduling conflict, only three responded, and of these only one—Rep. John F. Tierney, Democrat of Massachusetts—gave more than an emailed statement.

Tierney, who sponsored the Democratic House bill that would have nearly doubled funding, said the waiting list for adult education programs in his state has remained at close to 20,000 since he came into office in 1997. “The resources clearly are not sufficient,” Tierney said. He added that, while securing those funds is difficult in a House bent on cutting billions in food stamps, this doesn’t mean the money ins’t there. “We understand we have to make some hard decisions on prioritization, but there are plenty of places within our budget—if you include the military as well as the domestic budget—where we can move resources to the places they have to be. And this is a place where it’s obviously appropriate to do that.”

Rep. Phil Roe, Republican of Tennessee and chairman of the Health Education Labor and Pensions subcommittee of the Education and Workforce committee, emailed a statement detailing the intentions of the Republican bill that passed the House. In the statement, Roe characterized the bill as intended to improve adult literacy by cutting down on inefficiencies in the current system rather than by devoting more resources to the problem.

The office of Sen. Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the senate’s Health Education Labor and Pensions committee, emailed a brief statement summarizing the bipartisan bill that passed his committee but did not respond to follow-up questions about whether more funding is needed.

Imagine if that question had been about early childhood education.

‘We Cannot Forget People Who Did Not Graduate From High School’
Fawn Johnson, who, among other things, covers the immigration beat for National Journal, wrote this article for The Atlantic on GED classes at La Guardia Community College in New York. The article extolls the results of La Guardia’s “contextualized” approach, as compared to regular GED prep, while glossing over the important fact that the students in the “contextualized curriculum” classes spend more time in class. Without diminishing the benefits of the instructional approach, it’s not really surprising to see better pass rates from students who are able to spend more time in class, whatever the curriculum.

I mention this because it goes back a point I was trying to make with Daniel for his article, which is that I think too much emphasis is sometimes placed on methods and models when the biggest problem is simply a lack of will to get things done. There are plenty of adults who have succeeded without the benefit of whatever is considered the best program model at any given moment. For many people, access to any instruction of some reasonably decent level of quality, in a supportive environment, with the opportunity to really focus a sufficient amount of time on the task at hand, is probably going to be pretty effective. But to create a system across the country that would provide these things for anyone who needs it—particularly low-income adults—is going to require a substantial investment. Not just an investment in instructional resources and teachers, but in the other kinds of supports (child care, housing, jobs with reasonable wages and more paid time off, etc.) that as a country we don’t seem willing to make right now.