Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz: Elections Have Consequences

In its annual Global Voices event in October, World Education presented its 2018 award to Massachusetts Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz.  She is the first Latina elected to the Massachusetts Senate, serving there since 2009.  World Education recognized her for a being a tireless, long-time champion of education for children and adults.  Social justice is the consistent thread in the legislation that Senator Chang-Díaz advocates for and advances, be it in economic development and equity, immigrant rights, criminal justice reform, or women’s health.

We thank her for always standing with the vulnerable, the people whose needs, talents, and potential are so often overlooked in our society.  We share her excerpted award acceptance speech at the eve of the November 6 elections to urge everyone to heed her words.


Coming from an organization with a deep, long-standing commitment to the causes of education and equity, this award is a real honor for me. As someone coming from within the halls of government, where we are frustratingly slow to do the right thing sometimes: it’s particularly meaningful to receive it from an organization that’s getting in there, getting the real work of change-making done on the ground every day, not waiting for the conditions to be perfect or the economy to up-turn or for there to be perfect consensus or for the work to be easier.

In more than 20 countries around the world, you’re putting a book into parents’ hands, a teacher at the head of a classroom, a child back into the protective environment of the schoolhouse. In states across our beloved country, you’re expanding opportunities for adult education — training teachers and supporting direct-service organizations.

Every session, I work to scale these same kinds of straightforward actions:

  • Working to give young people viable economic options so they don’t pick up guns instead.
  • Agitating to increase funding for Adult Basic Education, to meet the demand of parents and immigrants who desperately want to contribute to our society and to their families.
  • Fighting to close yawning opportunity gaps in our preK-12 education system.

Here we are in the election season. And the cold, hard, and also empowering truth is that elections have consequences. Those policy consequences can be destructive, to be sure. But they also have the potential to be incredibly constructive. It was here in Massachusetts, after all, that the first public school was founded in the U.S. — a move that set us on a long path toward democratizing knowledge and learning… A legacy we’re still working to deliver on today.

Politics and elections also gave us Justice Thurgood Marshall, Title IX, and equal civil rights for transgender Bay Staters. They gave us K-12 school systems that don’t ask for your immigration status when you show up to enroll. In 2011, they gave us state redistricting maps in Massachusetts that doubled the number of “majority minority” state representative districts. And in this past term alone, elections and politics in MA produced watershed criminal justice system reforms, a $15 minimum wage, and the best paid family leave policy in the United States.

As frustrated as we all are with what’s going on in politics right now, government remains a powerful and necessary tool to solve the systemic obstacles faced by students of all ages. And we need to reclaim it.

As World Education’s work has demonstrated, we need to take a holistic approach to our strategy for making change. We need immediate support for vulnerable individuals and communities — right alongside the slower, long-term, but tectonic changes we can create through government.

A good justice-seeker, a good change-maker also seeks to put herself out of business. To create true, long-lasting social justice, we need the tools of government. We need power. We need to remember that politics is not a dirty word. Whether it’s municipal, state, congressional, or national politics in another country where your heart lies, we must match our immediate solutions with long-term policy and power-building. So, don’t you dare give up on politics and elections, no matter how frustrated you may feel. The consequences, and the potential, are too big.

So let’s make a promise to each other here, OK? I won’t give up if you won’t.

Are you going to show the heck up on election day?

Are you going to take a friend, a child, a parent to the polls with you to prevent family separations at national borders, and establish fair and humane policies that recognize immigrants for the assets they are?

Are you going to agitate after Election Day to ensure that every student has the education they need to become the leaders, thinkers, artists, citizens, and public servants our world so desperately needs today!

I won’t give up if you won’t, friends. I’m honored to be on this team with you. Let’s go get ‘em!

Why Everyone Should Care About Adult Education

This week is the Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. In most communities, it is much like every other week of the year when it comes to adult education – away from the limelight, without resources to shine the light on why we would even have a national Adult Education and Family Literacy Week.  After all, why should anyone care about the 36+ million adults in the U.S. whose academic skills are well below high school level or who have limited English proficiency?  We, adult educators, of course, care because we witness the benefits to individuals, families, and communities from newly gained competencies, credentials, and self-confidence.  But why should any of this matter to others?  What should we, adult educators, tell them?

First, to quote President Clinton, it’s “the economy, stupid.”  You can’t get a skilled workforce without more investment when 36 million adults are struggling with basic reading, writing and math, and digital literacy.  In an international assessment of adults’ skills in 23 developed nations, the U.S. did very poorly (OECD, 2013). U.S. adults even trailed their international counterparts in using computer skills to solve basic problems, such as archiving emails into pre-existing folders or looking up a train schedule to a specific destination.

We know first-hand that a lack of skills and confidence can hold people back from pursuing better jobs, promotions, and job training.  At the workplace education program that World Education runs with and for Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center, supervisors are committed to promoting from within, and so they prioritized a goal of getting hotel employees in our classes to participate in the in-house job shadowing program. Our teachers prepared and encouraged students to try it, helping them to build the confidence they needed to embrace this opportunity. The whole class eventually job shadowed in their department of choice, and now several are participating in a year-long mentoring program, some setting their sights on a promotion.

The Seaport program is just one small example of the positive work that adult educators, learners, and our partners are doing nationwide.  Adult education programs are, in fact, ramping up their efforts to better prepare adults for their next steps in education, training, and employment. The federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and state governments that fund them require that.  However, the combined federal and state funding of adult education can accommodate, at best, 3 million of the 36 million adults. That leaves 33 million adults without access to education and credentials, stuck in jobs that don’t pay a living wage, much less decent benefits.

Again, why should anyone else care?  All of us care about public safety, and adult education is known to play a positive role in improving it.  Nearly 40 percent of the incarcerated in the U.S. have low literacy and no high school diploma, which makes it doubly hard to gain a living legally when they are released.  That’s a lot of people for a country that has the highest number of its residents behind bars of any country (one in every 100 people). The good news is that inmates who participate in education programs have an over 40% lower recidivism rate than inmates who do not.  At the average annual cost of $32,000 per federal inmate per year that’s a big savings of taxpayer money.

Education also turns out to have a good return on investment in people’s health.  In the U.S., limited education tends to go hand in hand with poverty and poor health. The odds of reporting poor health are four times greater for low-skilled adults than for those with the highest proficiency in reading, writing, and math. Poor health means missed days at work, chronic diseases, and often costly visits to the emergency room.  Employers have every reason to care about their employees’ health and well-being, especially in this full-employment economy.

One more reason why we should all care about adult education: democracy.  Voter registration and turn-out rates correlate heavily with people’s level of education. The voting rate for adults without a high school diploma is over three times lower than for those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher. With the mid-term elections coming up, we should be concerned about voter turn-out -and the overall state of our democracy.

So during this Adult Education and Family Literacy Week we at World Education want to thank all the unsung heroes, the adult educators who teach and encourage their students to keep moving forward against many odds.  We adult educators also honor the dedication of our learners who juggle coming to class and studying after working long days and caring for their children…all for the dream of a better life for themselves and their families.

Propagating Promising Practices for Literacy and Workforce Development at Libraries

World Education is excited to partner with the Providence Public Library (PPL) as well as the Chicago and Los Angeles Public Libraries on a new project, Propagating Promising Practices for Literacy and Workforce Development at Libraries.  The goal of this project is to increase adults’ skills by capturing, disseminating, and growing innovative education and workforce development practices in public libraries across the U.S.; and positioning public libraries as effective and welcoming community hubs for lifelong learning, digital inclusion, and economic empowerment. This three-year project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under its competitive National Leadership Grants.

The project builds upon and expands three practices already in place at the partner libraries:

Learning Lounges – a popular program at the Providence Public Library that serves as a place for adults to achieve their learning goals in an informal teacher- and technology-assisted environment. Job seekers may visit the Learning Lounge to get help with online job searches and applications, resume and cover letter writing, reading, writing and math skills, English language skills, and basic computer skills.

Mobile Learning – Los Angeles Public Library uses Cell-Ed, a mobile, bilingual English-Spanish learning service that delivers 3-minute lessons to mobile phones.  Courses are available 24/7 and live coaches are available to help guide learners through the registration process and courses.

Learning Circles – an innovative collaboration between the Chicago Public Library and Peer 2 Peer University that holds lightly facilitated study groups in person for learners who want to take online courses together. Learning Circles are peer supported, facilitated by non-content experts, hosted in publicly accessible spaces, designed to be taken with few prerequisites, and free for learners.

The three innovator libraries and six pilot libraries to be selected will implement one or two new approaches from among the three practices. World Education will conduct a developmental evaluation to guide and study how these practices can be implemented and combined in different library settings. We will also co-develop an interactive toolkit so that these innovative practices can be made accessible to libraries nationwide.  A team of project advisors from the Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services; Maine State Library; American Library Association; and Peer2Peer University will provide expertise and help expand the project’s reach and impact.

“PPL is honored to convene such a dedicated and innovative group of partners with the shared goal of providing adults with opportunities to improve their skills.  We are eager to share our successes and learn best practices from others across the country to better serve our communities.  Public libraries are a critical component of the education and workforce development system and we welcome our community’s input and support to inform our efforts,” said PPL’s Education Director Karisa Tashjian.

Insights and Innovations from the 2017 NCTN Conference

The overall theme of NCTN’s 11th annual Effective Transitions in Adult Education Conference was Connect and Engage.  The plenary session in particular was dedicated to that theme. John Sarrouf from Essential Partners shared insights and guided experiential exercises to create an inspiring learning experience.  During the current climate of disconnection, it was meaningful to have the time to sharpen our abilities to better communicate constructively across our differences, as we strive to be more connected, more resilient, and better partners.

Other topics trending at the conference included educational technology tools and STEM strategies, integrated education and training, competency-based education and hiring, credit for prior learning, and more.  The following is a smattering of insights and innovations based on the sessions I attended.

Turns out there’s a right and wrong way to nudge people. Evidence from research in behavioral science supports an approach that sets the “we all do that” norm. This apparently works much better than pointing out the wrong thing, what not to do.  So does getting people to commit to do something publicly, like reenroll in classes or finish the first year of college.  These are some of the many insights Ross O’Hara from Persistence Plus shared in his workshop. Persistence Plus is a texting software that sends customized, automated texts to college students. It’s a fee-based tool whose impact is being studied in a project involving several colleges.  Already they know that college students are more apt to respond to text messages than emails.  The text messages also help shape students’ identity as college students and increase their attachment to their college.

At the EdTech Panel, the four dynamic panelists stressed how technology-enhanced, competency-based education and hiring are beginning to claim more ground allowing adults to get credit and be hired based on what they know how to do rather than on tests or credentials.  Mitch Rosin of Aztec Software asserted that “we need to recognize the skill sets people bring and assess them for credit.”  Jennifer Hetzel-Silver, Director of Tech Hire RI is convincing tech employers to adopt competency-based hiring practices. Karisa Tashjian, Director of Providence Public Library’s education programs shared information about the library’s innovative Rhode Coders Club – open to anyone with support for English Language Learners – and Data Visualization training.

Alison Ascher Webber, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the EdTech Center @ World Education exhorted us to make sure we’re leveraging the power and potential of technology while choosing solutions that match the objectives rather than technology for technology’s sake. Digital literacy is now a critical skill even for many entry-level jobs. Alison shared how janitors at Google need to know how to use online operations to manage work orders, and soon will need to operate and eventually code robotic vacuum cleaners.  They are learning English and new workplace skills on their cell phones. As a national mobile learning expert, Alison pointed to the advantages of mobile learning and mobile coaching.

Another innovative approach focusing on STEM is the new STEM outreach project at LaGuardia Community College in New York City that educates students about viable STEM career options.  STEM careers are projected to grow at faster rates than other careers and they pay substantially more. Web developers, computer support specialists, and environmental engineers are in-demand STEM jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. What’s special about this outreach project is their interactive and engaging way of getting the STEM message across that those of us at the workshop experienced firsthand.  One hands-on activity was a competition for teams to construct the tallest possible free-standing structure using only pipe cleaners.

Speaking of STEM, I’d love to see the Future Maker Lab in an 18-wheeler truck where students can experience technical jobs virtually on the campus of Wichita Area Technical College in Kansas.  A policy panelist, Christopher Stanyer of Goodwill Industries mentioned it in his comments about the Next Step Alliance that includes the college, Goodwill, one-stop career center, employers, and others.

Several presenters at the conference are advancing Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) practices, among them Rhode Island’s new Commissioner of Postsecondary Education, Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier.  Under Dr. Dann-Messier’s leadership, her office is setting up Prior Learning Assessment centers at career centers, colleges, and other locations across the state as part of a system-wide policy reform to increase access and accelerate college completion rates.  She exhorted adult educators to offer their expertise to higher education commissions in their states to influence policies such as CPL.

Keynote speaker Dr. Martha Kanter, Director of the national College Promise campaign spoke passionately about her work in advocating for tuition-free, public two-year college and paid internships. Several states have joined this campaign.  Likewise, financial literacy and savings accounts are important to adults’ ability to persist in college.  Dr. Kanter noted that there is something wrong when we spend more money to incarcerate people than to educate them. How about that – maybe we should advocate for parity in funding for incarceration and education?

I have participated in – and staffed – the NCTN conference since we decided to hold a national conference 11 years ago.  Once again, I came away better informed and energized, and happy to have connected with old and new friends and colleagues from across the country.  See you in Cambridge in November 2018!

 

 

And the Literacy Leadership Award Goes to… Minnesota ABE Teaching and Learning Advancement System (ATLAS) @ Hamline University

Featured accepting the award from Silja Kallenbach are Dr. Patsy Egan, Director of ATLAS and Marisa Squadrito Geisler, ATLAS Operations Manager at the awards event held on October 4, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Photo Credit: Heather Tatton-Harris

When it comes to adult literacy education, professional development is not just a nice thing to offer teachers, it’s essential.  In order to provide high quality instruction in literacy, numeracy, and high school equivalency, and prepare adults for success in college and careers, we must provide in-service training.  Many adult educators do not have a degree in adult education.  And, of course, our understanding of what constitutes high quality practice changes in adult education as it does in other fields.

Professional development (PD) providers are often unsung heroes of adult education, charged with promoting and ensuring program and instructional quality.  That is why it gave me great pleasure, as a Board member of the National Coalition for Literacy, to present one of the four 2017 National Literacy Leadership Awards to the Minnesota ABE Teaching and Learning Advancement System (ATLAS) at Hamline University School of Education.  ATLAS is one of the premier ABE/ESOL PD centers in the U.S.; it is highly practitioner-centered and innovative.  ATLAS is known for providing high quality, evidence-based PD.  For example, their ongoing adult numeracy initiative is a comprehensive, creative, and sustained professional learning effort that has produced national adult numeracy leaders. This is not accidental – they intentionally cultivate teacher leadership.

ATLAS has helped to improve national adult literacy practice.  The Transitions Integration Framework developed by ATLAS has informed our national adult education PD practice at World Education. It defines the academic, career, and employability skills essential for adult learners to successfully transition to postsecondary education, career training, the workplace, and community involvement.  And the Framework is available free of charge as are all the resources developed by ATLAS, right on their website.

We at World Education have collaborated with ATLAS on several projects over the years. For example, we led the evaluation of their math PD initiative.  This year, our New England Literacy Resource Center and the ATLAS Center are piloting a PD exchange designed to bring the special expertise of each center to the other’s constituency of practitioners. This exchange maximizes resources by extending the field’s access to PD opportunities and leaders in the field.

Every state needs a PD center like ATLAS.  We at World Education, along with the National Coalition for Literacy, thank ATLAS for your exemplary work and collaboration over the years. Congratulations for your National Literacy Leadership award on your 10th anniversary!


The annual Literacy Leadership Awards recognize individuals and organizations that have made extraordinary contributions to improving adult literacy in the United States. The other 2017 award recipients were:

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), for her long-standing dedication to our nation’s adult literacy and language programs and her efforts to safeguard education and other critical programs that ensure equal employment opportunity for adults with low literacy levels, most recently as Ranking Member of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Stephen Reder, Professor Emeritus of Applied Linguistics, Portland State University, for his tireless advocacy for adult learners and the field of adult education, and for his extensive research on the impacts of adult literacy skills attainment, culminating in the 10-year Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning that has demonstrated the correlation between participation in adult education and increases in income, educational attainment, and civic participation.

Sharon Darling, Founder and President, the National Center for Families Learning, for her key role in recognizing the critical link between parents’ education and their children’s learning, and for her nearly three decades of leadership in establishing a nationwide network of programs that provide high quality, accessible family-based education and that have helped over one million vulnerable families learn and thrive together.

World Education Statement on Immigration Ban

World Education Logo

On Monday, March 6, 2017, President Trump signed a revised version of his executive order that bans immigrants from six predominantly Muslim nations. At World Education, we believe this ban hurts people and organizations.

Unlike any other country, this is a nation of immigrants. Immigration defines the past, present, and future of the United States. Immigrants’ contributions to U.S. society and their integration underlie the nation’s progress to date and its ability to thrive in the future. Immigrants and their children will account for 85% of the net growth in the U.S. workforce over the next 20 years. Immigrants are vital to our economy. Without them, economic growth in the United States and in dozens of other countries would come to a halt.

World Education is an international organization that works with immigrants and refugees worldwide. Since 1951 we have worked with vulnerable populations, including hundreds of thousands of refugees and immigrants. In the United States, our education programs aim to improve the lives and livelihoods of the 36 million lower-skilled adults in the country, many of whom are immigrants.

Furthermore, the executive order undermines U.S. foreign policy by diminishing the United States’ role in the world—and ultimately the positive view that millions of people in countries around the world have about our country, given the education, health, and other programs that World Education and other global organizations implement around the world.

World Education is resolutely opposed to discrimination of any kind and reaffirms its deep commitment to inclusiveness. We strongly oppose any action that discriminates for any reason, limits access to information, or undermines privacy. This includes the temporary suspension of visas and access to the U.S. based on nationality or religion, as well as the increased scrutiny of people’s communication, including on computers, mobile phones, and social media. We are also concerned for the ability of our 600 staff worldwide to travel to the United States and for their safety.

World Education encourages our partners to welcome, speak out, and show their support for immigrants and refugees.


Read this official statement on worlded.org

Learn about our Networks for Integrating New Americans project

Addressing Growing Economic Inequality at NCTN 2016

nctn_banner2016_mainLet’s continue the conversation about adult education and economic inequality at the National College conference policy panel on November 16 in Providence.

Join us!

Wednesday, November 16
12:30 PM – 1:30 PM
Grand Ballroom

Education and training that lead to living-wage jobs is a broadly endorsed strategy for advancing economic opportunity for low-income people. As part of that overall strategy, educators provide college and career readiness activities; we integrate, align, and accelerate in order to build more efficient career pathways in hopes that they make a difference for adult learners. But will these strategies alone result in economic self-sufficiency, a key goal of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in light of the deep economic divide? The Aspen Institute, among others, argues that we need to re-balance workforce development policy and practice – including adult education – by focusing on how to make current poor-quality jobs better to improve the lives of low-wage workers. This year’s policy panel will tackle these issues head on, challenge our assumptions, and suggest strategies we should consider in order to have deeper and more lasting impact.  

Panelists:

vickie-choitzVickie Choitz is the Associate Director of the Economic Opportunities Program at the Aspen Institute. She provides strategic research and leadership for a number of program initiatives to identify and advance strategies that help low-income Americans gain ground in today’s labor market. Her primary focus is to advance the EOP’s work to improve both the quality of low-wage jobs and career advancement opportunities simultaneously as a key strategy to address deepening economic inequality in America. Ms. Choitz has almost 15 years of experience in national organizations promoting economic security and career advancement opportunities for low-income workers and job seekers. She most recently worked at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), where she was interim director of the Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success (C-PES) and director of the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways. Ms. Choitz also has worked at Jobs for the Future, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), and FutureWorks. She has a Masters of Public Policy degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and baccalaureate degrees in political science and secondary education and a women ‘s studies minor from Kansas State University. 

judy-mortrudeJudy Mortrude is Senior Policy Analyst at Center for Law And Social Policy (CLASP).  Judy has over 30 years of experience developing, delivering, and managing secondary and postsecondary education projects for workforce development, particularly with low literacy and high barrier populations. Judy was the lead administrator for Minnesota’s largest Adult Basic Education (ABE) consortium before moving to the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development in 2009 to staff the Minnesota FastTRAC Adult Career Pathway cross-system initiative. Currently, she facilitates a network of practitioners in the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways at CLASP.  This Alliance of education, workforce development, and human service providers from across the country has developed quality standards for career pathway system partners to use as they develop and evaluate their aligned efforts. As a senior policy analyst for CLASP, Judy focuses on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Perkins Career & Technical Education, and other education/workforce development policy.

 

cynthia-petersCynthia Peters is the Editor of The Change Agent, a social justice magazine for adult learners that teaches basic skills in the context of issues that are relevant to adults. Her expertise includes writing, editing, developing content and lesson plans, and providing professional development (both in person and via webinar) on a wide range of topics. She also teaches ESOL in a workplace-based class at a hotel in downtown Boston. Prior to joining World Education, Cynthia worked with the book publisher, South End Press and as a freelance editor and writer for over 15 years. Cynthia is a long-time community activist, currently focused on housing and youth justice work via City Life/Vida Urbana and The City School, respectively.

Moderator:

silja-kallenbachSilja Kallenbach is Vice President at World Education, Inc., the home of the NCTN, where she oversees World Education’s work in the U.S. Silja also directs the Networks for Integrating New Americans national demonstration project funded by Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Silja has 33 years of experience in adult education as administrator, professional development provider, program developer, researcher, and ESOL teacher.

Adult Education and Economic Inequality

AEFL Week Logo“America’s economy and the structure of the job market have changed significantly over the past couple decades in ways that have hurt working poor families. For low-income workers, real wages have fallen, the social safety net is fraying, and staying afloat financially is harder than ever. Economic inequality is at levels not seen since just before the Great Depression of the early 20th century. The economic situation is not likely to reverse itself on its own.” – Choitz and Conway in The Future of Work for Low-Income Workers and Families Policy Brief (2015), The Working Poor Families Project

The staggering economic inequality in the United States affects adult education and adult learners directly and in multiple ways.  That is why we at World Education commemorate the Adult Education and Family Literacy Week this year by turning our focus on this topic in this blog series.

We need to bust the myth that education and training alone are the solution to increased economic mobility while also understanding that education and training do matter.  They’re just not enough.  The wages of the poorest and middle class workers have not kept up with inflation.  Low-wage workers took home 5% less in 2013 than in 1979, while those with very high wages had a 41% increase in their wages, adjusted for inflation. “The hard truth is that millions of tomorrow’s workers will have no realistic option except to make do the best they can, struggling each day not for mobility but simply stability,” state Conway and Dawson in Raise the Floor and Build Ladders: Workforce Strategies Supporting Mobility and Stability

As a rule, ABE and ESL learners work in low-wage jobs, often with unpredictable schedules, few benefits, and limited job advancement possibilities.  That is often why they have decided to enroll in adult education, to improve their economic security.  They are up against great odds on the road to completing their high school degree, a training program, or college.  For some adult learners, juggling constantly changing work schedules and family responsibilities and finding reliable transportation to get to school is just too much. Others give up because they cannot afford the actual and opportunity cost of college or training.  Erratic work scheduling alone wreaks havoc not only on people’s anticipated income but also on child care arrangements and the ability to attend classes.

Many studies show that adult learners increase their odds of securing a good job with every degree and certificate.  If we, as adult educators, really want to increase students’ chances of getting through adult education and training or college and landing a decent job, there is yet more we need to do in addition to providing high quality education and training programs.  While we provide ever more workforce preparation activities and help people get on a career pathway, we also need to support students to see themselves as agents of their own destiny, as people who can affect their own workplaces and join broader advocacy efforts.

As Conway and Dawson write in their insightful paper, Restore the Promise of Work, a career ladder is not secure unless it rests on a stable ground.   We need to join forces with other advocates and adult learners to push for increased minimum wage, guaranteed sick leave, and other policies that provide a modicum of economic stability.  Minimum wage, for example, is on the ballot in many states and cities this November, as Sandy Goodman writes in an upcoming blog.  As teachers and practitioners in the field, why not create lessons around these ballot questions, so that our students can develop their opinions and take action if they wish?

We could also follow the example of Instituto del Progreso Latino’s Manufacturing Works program in Chicago that rates employers based on worker compensation and working conditions and that places students in jobs accordingly. We can educate ourselves and our students about how to prevent wage theft, which is rampant and affects our students and their families. And we can model agency by advocating for better working conditions within our own field of adult education! (See our blog posting later this week called “Making a Living in Adult Education?”)

The fact is that for every adult who manages to hang on and graduate and land a decent job, there are hundreds who will be stuck in low-wage jobs. More than one half (56%) of all new jobs over the next decade will be low-wage jobs. That’s 8.8 million jobs in retail sales, food preparation and service, child care, landscaping, home health, and security.[i]  These jobs should meet minimum standards for dignified work, i.e., they should pay enough so that workers can provide food and shelter for themselves and their families, receive decent benefits, and not have to worry about being fired due to illness. There is something wrong with our economic policies when 52% of fast food workers must rely on food stamps and other forms of public assistance, most of them working full-time.

Our complementary Change Agent lesson packets offer teaching resources.  One article (in Lesson Packet #9), for example, details how billionaires’ secretaries pay a higher effective tax rate than they do themselves, and how corporations’ share of the federal tax contributions has plummeted over the last decades. And Lesson Packet #10 highlights efforts many of our students are already part of to improve working conditions.

When we educate, train, integrate, and try to accelerate pathways to good jobs, we should keep in mind the macro-economic policies that contribute to inequality, and we should do what we can to change those policies.  What are the ways we in adult education can integrate advocacy into our teaching so that — in concert with students, with others in the field, and with a wide array of advocates – we ensure the strongest possible voices will be raised for equity?

During the coming week, keep an eye out for more blog posts that help explore this question.


[i] Conway, M. & S. Dawson. (2016) Raise the Floor and Build Ladders: Workforce Strategies Supporting Mobility and Stability
https://www.aspeninstitute.org/publications/raise-the-floor-and-build-ladders-workforce-strategies-supporting-mobility-and-stability/

Let’s Celebrate the National Welcoming Week!

toolkit coverThe National Welcoming Week, September 16-25, is a time to celebrate the values that unite us as neighbors, colleagues, and classmates, values like hard work and resiliency. It’s a time to build bridges across differences by sharing our stories. Stories of resilience and overcoming obstacles, for example, can build bonds between immigrant and U.S.-born adults. The journey of Lamchit Phiongphouthai to escape the devastation of war in Laos that destroyed his home, workplace, and school reflects his resilience much like the journey of U.S.-born Davita Carter who survived an abusive relationship and a serious workplace injury. Both found their way to go back to school to make a better life for themselves and their families.

Through increased dialogue we find commonalities and build community. Communities grow stronger when all community members feel valued and have a sense of belonging.  This is as true in any classroom as it is in the community at large.

In celebration of the Welcoming Week, Welcoming America and World Education, Inc. developed a free Instructors’ Toolkit for Building Bridges Across Communities. The toolkit is designed for adult educators who are interested in building more welcoming classrooms and communities by finding commonalities and celebrating values that unite us. The toolkit consists of mid-level, adaptable ESOL and ABE classroom activities that aim to foster dialogue across cultures and build lasting connections, especially among immigrants and US-born residents. It draws on resources developed by Welcoming America and The Change Agent magazine from World Education.

In some parts of the country adult education programs are joining other community groups to organize events and activities for the Welcoming Week. Here’s an article on what Fresno Adult School organized last year.  Adult learning centers across the U.S. welcome refugees and immigrants year-round, and the national Welcoming Week is an opportunity recognize and deepen that role inside and outside of the classroom.