“Neurodiversity” Activists: Dyslexia Shouldn’t Be Viewed as “a Scourge to Be Eradicated”

Interesting article in the Post yesterday about a growing movement among the autistic community to reframe autism as a difference, not a disability. Not just autism, but other “brain afflictions” as well:

Whitney is part of a growing movement of autistic adults who are finding a sense of community, identity and purpose in a diagnosis that most people greet with dread. These “neurodiversity” activists contend that autism — and other brain afflictions such as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — ought to be treated not as a scourge to be eradicated but rather as a difference to be understood and accepted. (my emphasis)

Which raises this question (in my mind, at least): Should adult education policy be oriented more around “fixing” (for lack of a better word) adults with dyslexia or on improving the quality of life for people living with this condition? Technology is making it increasingly easier to access information without the necessity of reading text (at least in the traditional way), so I think this is an especially relevant question for educational technology proponents to grapple with.

Michael Bloomberg: “Education Isn’t Going to Help Uneducated Adults”

Let’s hope this is not representative of the level of discourse one can expect at the Aspen Institute:

Moderator Jennifer Bradley, director of the Center for Urban Innovation at the Institute, then asked what the U.S. can do to get people out of poverty. Bloomberg responded that conventional wisdom points to education, but education isn’t going to help uneducated adults. Bradley later asked how government can offer basic fairness to the children “who have been failed.” (my emphasis)

Bloomberg claimed that 95 percent of murders fall into a specific category: male, minority and between the ages of 15 and 25. Cities need to get guns out of this group’s hands and keep them alive, he said.

As noted by Paul Campos, here, according to actual crime statistics, the real percentage appears to be 22.8.

Maybe this is an isolated case, but I worry that attitudes and ignorance like this, when espoused by elites, can have a significant adverse impact on efforts to improve adult educational opportunities for minority out-of-school youth and young adults. Curious what others think.

This Shouldn’t Be So Hard to Figure Out

Is it reasonable to still be making up our minds as to whether the new “tougher” GED makes good policy sense? This sentence from a recent Dow Jones Business News article on the dramatic drop in the number of GED test-takers got my attention:

Economists and policy makers are torn over whether a tougher test is good or bad.

You know who is likely not torn about it? The kid who can’t get a minimum wage job because he doesn’t have a diploma, and who can’t put the time in to pass the new, more difficult GED. Pretty sure they are going to go with “bad.” Randy Trask, the president of the GED Testing Service, says in the same article that the GED “was becoming irrelevant” before the changes, but for people without a high school diploma, it was and remains very relevant. I realize a high school diploma is not enough for most of the jobs that pay a decent wage, and that we want to encourage people to get into career pathway programs and integrated training and into college etc., but I’ll never understand why it would ever make sense as a matter of public policy to make high-school equivalency any harder than it needs to be.

“Some test takers may have the simple need to work at Starbucks, they don’t need to analyze a Shakespeare play,” said Larry Condelli of the Workforce and Lifelong Learning program at the not-for-profit American Institutes for Research. “Then again, if you give them a lesser education for a specific purpose, are you really helping them?”

This is not an unreasonable question. But at this point, it might be time to take the debate outside of the usual policy circles and ask actual test-takers and potential test takers what they think. If our adult education system was truly learner-centered, not only in terms of instruction, but policy as well—that is, if we had a system in which adult learners had a major voice in policy discussions and decisions—this would be a much easier question to answer. Lacking that, a survey of the target population might help us figure it out.

At the end of the day, this should not be a hard one to call. If, on balance, the new test ends up being more of a barrier to the people it’s designed to serve than an opportunity, it should and probably will be considered a failure. Arguing for more career pathways or integrated models or whether adult education works at all actually obfuscates what should be a fairly simple question, which is whether the test has or hasn’t created an unfair and unreasonable barrier to adults and out-of-school youth seeking high school equivalency. (It’s useful to remember, by the way, that many people who take the GED—maybe the majority—aren’t enrolled in or have any contact with the adult education system at all.)

Adult-learning instructor Marcia Leister has felt the impact of the new GED test at her technical college in Bellingham, Wash., a state where currently only the GED is offered. Of about 120 students she taught last year, about 10 people took the test, about a quarter of the number in a typical year, and only one person passed it, she said.

“My students are extremely frustrated by the new test,” she said. “They are losing hope.”

I think sometimes policy people (me included, when I’m wearing that hat) forget what it actually looks like on the ground in this business, and end up missing the obvious. We can disagree about a lot of things in adult education policy, but I don’t think any of us want to be in the losing hope business.

Immigration Reality Check

I realize most of the debate over the President’s immigration plan unveiled last week is going to focus on the the issue as to whether the President has the legal authority to unilaterally suspend deportation on the scale that he is proposing. But it’s also important to remember why something needs to be done. We have a huge and growing backlog in immigration cases in this country, and desperately need better guidelines for prosecutors to use in deciding whether to pursue deportation. From an article in the National Law Journal:

There were 421,972 cases pending in the nations 58 immigration courts as of the end of October — an increase of more than 22 percent from around the same time period in 2013, according to data released this week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

… [T]he backlog of cases in immigration courts has been on the rise since the 2006 fiscal year, when there were 168,827 pending cases. In June 2011, John Morton, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the time, issued a memorandum explaining that the agency lacked resources to go after every violation; instead, he said, the government should “prioritize its efforts.”

…Philip Wolgin, a senior policy analyst on the Center for American Progress’ immigration policy team, said the Morton memo didn’t work as planned. The language was “vague,” he said, and didn’t have clear enough directives about when prosecutors should stop pursuing low-priority matters.

“…The biggest problem is when ICE is indiscriminate about who it puts into removal proceedings,” [Peter Asaad, an immigration lawyer and managing director of Immigration Solutions Group in Washington] said. “The whole point here is to make it less indiscriminate.”

This is also important to keep in mind when certain members of Congress talk about using the appropriations process to block the President’s order. Congress doesn’t provide enough funding to deal with the immigration case backlog we already have, so any effort by Congress to block the President by starving the agencies responsible for enforcement is only going to make the problem worse.