How Washington state is centering equity and justice in adult education

Adult educators have long looked to Washington State for inspiration. The Washington Integrated Basic Education and Skill Training (I-BEST) remains the Cadillac of Integrated Education & Training (IET) models, replicated in the Accelerated Opportunity initiative and continuing in states across the country.

As of July 1, there is yet another reason to admire Washington’s Basic Education for Adults (BEdA) program as they lead the way to centering racial equity and economic justice through the adoption of a new vision and mission statement. Washington’s leadership should inspire adult educators to embrace our role in the important racial justice work happening across this country.

Eight goals operationalize their mission, including goals to provide equity-focused navigation and support services to help individuals create, follow, and fund an accelerated college and career pathway plan.  Washington’s commitment to concurrent, contextualized foundational skill building within a college pathway includes attention to providing adult learners with the resources needed to be a student, including connecting adults without a high school credential to federal financial aid (e.g. Pell Grants) through use of the Ability to Benefit provision.

Even at the earliest “pre-college” levels, Washington’s adult learners have equitable access to a college’s guided pathway innovations and can define a clear path to educational and economic mobility.

The all too predictable links between race, class, and educational outcome need to be broken.  Adult educators can begin their work by ensuring their own systems provide equitable opportunity to meaningful credentials and to the financial supports that adult learners need in order to succeed.

The National College Transition Network is partnering with federal agency staff to build awareness and uptake of ability to benefit and to support states who are implementing this critical equity policy. If your state or local institutional partnership is interested in learning more, please contact

Adult Education & Family Literacy Week 2019

Celebrate the Innovations!

Federal adult education policy and I are both well into our 50s.  Perhaps that’s why I’m entering 2019 Adult Education & Family Literacy Week in a reflective mood.  Adult education’s history reveals policy spurred by military preparedness, immigrant influxes, economic downturns, and historic inequities.  

Today’s context is no less complex, and the field of adult education is responding with innovation we can celebrate! Here are a few highlights from the past year:


Competitions that award sizable cash prizes to stimulate innovation are popping up across the spectrum of education and training, and now also in adult education.

Adult Literacy XPRIZE

New mobile learning apps  were launched into the adult education atmosphere via the Adult Literacy XPRIZE competition.  Seeking to spur innovation and to reach the millions of adults whom programs are not able to reach with current funding levels, the follow-on Adult Literacy XPRIZE Communities  Competition also helped galvanize the field of adult education as a participant in innovation. Over 40 teams from across the US. signed up for the Communities Competition. One of them is Team WorldEd that developed many resources to support adult educators and learners in using the apps. The five-month Communities Competition ended on August 31 and the winning teams that helped the most adults download the apps on their smart phones will be announced later this fall. 

Minds that Move Us 

Johan Uvin’s Institute for Education Leadership delivered a rapid year of program development culminating in an August 2019 Adult Career Pathway Festival featuring ten teams pitching their solutions to identified community needs.  The teams didn’t define their value in terms of education level gain or even credential attainment, but instead put the focus on adult education as a solution to tangible community problems, e.g.:  Latinx injuries and deaths on construction sites; aging community members in need of home care; historic, systemic trauma impacting individuals and community systems. There is so much to be learned from this way of reframing adult education’s impact.

Pre-Apprenticeship Challenge

The federal Office of Career Technical and Adult Education is hopping on the band wagon and they are about to launch a challenge competition around pre-apprenticeship programming, managed by Luminary Labs.


Federal attention to supporting and developing new policy have led to changes for the adult education field.

Ability to Benefit 

Ability to Benefit could make dual enrollment for adult learners a national strategy. In March 2019, the U.S. Department of Education once again worked to support the use of the Ability to Benefit provision of the Higher Education Act by bringing state leaders into a conversation on the policy’s opportunities and challenges.  Since then, Education staff have been presenting at national conferences and will be hosting a webinar in October.  At least three states have taken up the mantle to produce the first ‘state defined process,’ option available since 1991 but, as of yet, untried.

Perkins V 

The Strengthening Career & Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (aka Perkins V) has state stakeholders in strategic conversations to develop their state plans in compliance with federal planning guidance, due in June 2020.  One of the greatest sources of alignment with adult education comes in the inclusion of the same career pathway definition as found in WIOA and HEA ATB. This should finally allow the conversation to move from either/or to yes/and around programs of study and adult career pathways.


Adult educators are uniting around critical advocacy issues that impact our participants and communities.

Census 2020 

The National Coalition for Literacy is the largest umbrella organization for national and regional organizations concerned with adult education.  Always a united voice for adult education funding, NCL has now raised its voice to support Census 2020.  Members have compiled resources and have been presenting on the critical importance of the census to a community’s resources and representation in Congress; on risks to Census 2020 including its digital first strategy and the polarized nature of our civil discourse going into an election year; and solutions being offered by adult educators and community organizations, like those of California Adult Education practitioners and partners.  World Education’s Change Agent magazine will be coming out with an issue of classroom-ready materials,  and a website, called Stand Up and Be Counted. Consider responding to the Call for Articles, due Nov 1, 2019.

Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF)

CLASP and the National Immigration Law Center developed the Protecting Immigrant Families, Advancing Our Future campaign which has mobilized hundreds of organizations across the country, including adult education allies. PIF helps keep us informed of all the current and potential policies that impact immigrant families in our communities.  It is critically important for adult educators to understand the Public Charge regulation that will take effect October 15th in order to support our learners. 

In 2020, WIOA state plans will be updated.  Adult education leaders should take the opportunity to promote the excellent work done and the excellent work ahead for our communities!

New Federal Guidance on IET Leaves Us Wanting More

Integrated Education and Training (IET) is the core educational program design in adult career pathways–a research-proven strategy.  While IET efforts have been evolving for as long as we have had a federal investment in adult education (e.g., workplace literacy, Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL), contextualized high school equivalency), IET is now well-defined in the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) as

 “…a service approach that provides adult education and literacy activities concurrently and contextually with workforce preparation activities and workforce training for a specific occupation or occupational cluster for the purpose of educational and career advancement.” (34 CFR §463.35).

IET offers participants the opportunity to learn and apply new skills to career and life goals. There are numerous, diverse models for IET delivery that reflect a range of adult education contexts.

What’s new in the updated IET guidance?

Last month, U.S. Department of Education Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education updated IET guidance through an FAQ on Allowable Use of Adult Education and Family Literacy Act Funds for IET programs (OCTAE Program Memo 19-02).

While the memo focuses on funding information, it also clarifies the types of credentials that might exist in the spectrum of IET programs–both the gold standard ‘recognized postsecondary credential’ illustrated in OCTAE Program Memorandum 17-2 and the industry-recognized credentials gained along a pathway.

Program Memo 19-02 also describes how IET programs that include recognized postsecondary credentials will document participant’s successful achievement of that credential in the WIOA exit measure “Credential Attainment.”

What’s missing?

However, the memo misses the opportunity to describe how IET programs which include industry-valued credentials that don’t rise to the level of recognized postsecondary credentials might document their success through WIOA Measurable Skill Gain (MSG).

States report Measurable Skill Gain as 

“The percentage of participants who, during a program year, are in an education or training program that leads to a recognized postsecondary credential or employment and who are achieving documented academic, technical, occupational, or other forms of progress, towards such a credential or employment.”

Federal guidance has confirmed that every WIOA title II participant and/or WIOA title I training participant is in an ‘education or training program that leads to recognized postsecondary credentials or employment.’

So if MSG requires ‘achieving documented academic, technical, occupational, or other forms of progress, towards such a credential or employment,’ industry-recognized credentials could certainly fulfill this requirement with either of these interim progress measures defined in OCTAE Program Memo 17-2:

Satisfactory or better progress report, towards established milestones, such as completion of OJT or completion of one year of an apprenticeship program or similar milestones, from an employer or training provider who is providing training

Successful passage of an exam that is required for a particular occupation or progress in attaining technical or occupational skills as evidenced by trade-related benchmarks such as knowledge-based exams 

States are currently collecting these Measurable Skill Gain types for baseline reporting.

What’s next?

There has been a great deal of federal and state attention to IET funding, curriculum development and lesson planning  But for IET to become ‘business as usual’ in our adult career pathways systems, state WIOA agencies need to issue guidance like these MSG flowcharts from Wisconsin to help local programs understand how to both provide this evidence-based program design and document progress aligned with WIOA performance measures. 

To learn more about IET models, policy, and funding levers, register now for the National College Transition Network (NCTN) conference, November 11-13 and the pre-conference session on Using Integrated Education & Training to Build Quality Career Pathways.