Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why Adult Education Applies to Our Youth Population

Since the Snowstorm that wasn’t closed down District government last week, the Committee on Education’s latest round of performance oversight hearings has been re-scheduled for this Friday, March 15th. DCAYA will be delivering testimony on the performance of the Bullying Prevention Task Force (which our Executive Director Maggie Riden served on), as well as the process for changing DC’s graduation requirements that is currently being undertaken by the State Board of Education (SBOE). Our testimony will also recognize the numerous successes our State education agency, the Office of the State Superintendent for Education, has had in the past year, as well as offer up some guidance as to how operations at OSSE might be further improved.

We bring this up on the blog because we only have three minutes to speak on Friday morning and there is a big chunk of our testimony that focuses on our support for adult education programming, a little known, but very important function of OSSE. At this juncture, one might be wondering why the DC Alliance of YOUTH Advocates is talking about adult education programs. It’s not that we don’t have enough going on in the youth advocacy front- trust us. However, like most things in the youth realm, these two issues should never be considered in isolation.

But why you ask? For starters, we know that a big predictor of student success is a parent’s level of literacy, so we support adult and family education efforts that help to end the intergenerational cycle of poverty. We also want ALL DC residents to have opportunities to lead healthy, productive lives which in today’s economy requires high levels of literacy, numeracy, English proficiency and at the very least a high-school credential such as a diploma or GED. Finally and here is the profoundly self-interested part, the District’s system of “adult education” actually serves a pretty significant portion of (dun dun dunnnnn) YOUTH!

How is this possible? Well, mainly because federal funding streams and program models (which set the tone for many programs) are currently lagging well behind neuroscience research that proves human brains are not fully developed until about age 25. Researchers and front-line workers in the youth field have long considered youth to extend up to this age, however it takes time for things like science to filter into a collective mindset and sometimes even longer to make it into legislation.

That being said, the adult education funds that OSSE oversees are one of the primary funding sources for programs that offer individuals a second chance for success, so it is not especially surprising they serve a large number of youth. OSSE oversees both federal and local funds that support individuals over age 16 in everything from basic literacy and numeracy education (ABE), to English language services (ESOL), to GED preparation and testing services. Needless to say the programs this funding supports serve a pretty wide swath of individuals. In fact, over the last three years, ‘adult learners’ aged 19-24 were the second highest population (twenty two percent of all participants) served by funds granted out through the OSSE Office of Adult and Family Education. An additional six percent of the total, or 201 adult learners served were between the ages of 16 and 18 . While 25-44 year olds were still served in the highest numbers, we cannot dismiss almost 1000 young people being served every year by the “adult” system.

The District also helps to fund a handful of charter schools and the DCPS STAY programs that technically serve “adults”, but really target the youth and young adult population. These include: YouthBuild PCS, The Next Step PCS, the LAYC Career Academy and the Maya Angelou Young Adult Learning Center. Other charter schools like Booker T. Washington and Carlos Rosario also serve young people ages 18-24 in addition to older adults.

Given all these schools/programs it seems pretty obvious that “adult education” plays a large role in providing supplementary education services to young people here in the District, but what is less obvious is that these programs operate with far less District funding than the traditional K-12 system. If schools serve “adult” populations (remember that is anything over age 18) they receive about $3,700 less per student than a traditional high school would. This is an incredibly large burden on programs that operate on a full-time schedule and seek to offer an alternative to the high school experience. Many of the same barriers that prevent young people from graduating high school and earning a diploma still exist when they go back to obtain an alternative credential and students cannot overcome these barriers with far fewer resources.

We testified at the DCPS oversight hearing a few weeks back that DCPS should allocate more resources to the goal of re-engaging individuals who have dropped out and while this is certainly true, we also need to dedicate more resources to the second-chance system of adult education. Friday’s hearing will likely focus on topics like data collection, teacher evaluation and test scores and while these are important we should also remember adult education is a piece of educational reform as well.

This blog post was written by DCAYA Policy Analyst Anne Abbott. You can follow her on twitter at @annieabbott.

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For more information on DCAYA’s work around disconnected youth and educational re-engagement please visit our website

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