Several months back, many of us who labor to design professional development in Massachusetts were assuming that the new College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (Pimental 2013) were going to hit our adult basic education (ABE) teachers like a tsunami. Whenever we intoned the new terminology–“instructional shifts,” “the new rigor”– we usually did so with a tone of sympathy for the pedagogical up-ending that our teachers were about to experience.
But when the new standards were actually rolled out at workshops or conferences, the teachers in the room mostly just nodded and took notes. Oh, there were a few weak groans, but no cries of alarm, and no hands shooting up to launch rebuttals. Why this relative calm? Only after thinking about this lack of reaction did it hit me: Teachers are relieved to finally have concrete evidence of what their learners need to be prepared for college and successful in the workplace. In fact, what the teachers are hearing about the needs for deep reading, evidence-based writing, and adaptive reasoning in math is not so terribly different from what really good and knowledgeable teachers have been insisting for years is needed in response to the focus on college and career readiness for adult learners.
Think back. How many times have you heard a good teacher say something like the following?
- I wish I could prepare my students for writing more than just a canned five-paragraph essay.
- I need to hold onto my ESOL students longer; even the high SPLs are way short of what they really need for college or good jobs.
- I really don’t like teaching math as if it were just a collection of rote operations and test-taking tricks.
- I want my students to score 500s on their GED tests instead of squeaking by.
Could it be that the CCRS are validating conclusions reached long ago by our best teachers? They know that text-based writing is critically important, no argument there (though they will probably continue to use texts as narrative-writing prompts to get certain students to want to write and believe that they can.) And isn’t the truth that they have known for some time that the GED is a soft target and that bringing students up to the barely-passing level of the five tests, or to a serviceable level of English language skills, are Devil’s pacts we make with time, funding, and students’ short-term goals? The CCRS bring to the fore the full range of knowledge and skills that the best teachers have been insisting for some time are essential—not superfluous, not nice to have, but essential.
Might this be the beginning of a whole new age—The Age of Providing What’s Truly Needed? While pre-CCRS discussions have focused mostly on teacher and program quality, the CCRS opens the spotlight to include support from politicians and policy makers. How shall states and local education agencies and individual programs provide the instructional intensity that everyone, and yes finally everyone, can no longer deny is needed? Will there be a clarion call to do even-more with the ever-same, or will enough political will amass to shepherd every motivated student to the educational level they are capable of attaining? Will adult literacy labor on at the fringes of public education, or will it be integrated as an essential part of an educational continuum that truly covers the lifespan of our citizens?
Celebrations of any kind would be premature at this point, but isn’t it nice to finally have a conversation that seeks to level the playing field for our teachers and our learners?