Mike Klein Online

SREB Analysis: “In Most States Adult Learning Is Not A Priority”

The perfect storm in Georgia education often focuses on funnel clouds we’ve all come to know that include layoffs, furloughs, classroom pupil head counts, performance pay, local control, mandates from state government, standardized test cheating, charter schools and occasionally, conversations about how to blend online learning into traditional classrooms.

In comparison, much less is said about adult learning that almost silently tries to address 1.3 million working age adult Georgians who do not have a high school diploma or GED credential.

Georgians who are not prepared to participate in new economy jobs will suffer, perform near the bottom, incur costs that become a public burden and ultimately, Georgia will decline.

A powerful new report from the Southern Regional Education Board tries to redefine the conversation for 16 southern states with this blunt assessment, “The general lack of progress in most states indicates that adult learning is not a priority.  This needs to change now.”

Georgia is recognized for one program that tries to put more students onto a GED path but the report also makes clear other southern states are willing to invest many more dollars than Georgia invests into adult learning.  Georgia dollars have been reduced 20% since 2008.

The Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board is a 62-year-old non-profit organization that advocates for public education in all 16 southeastern states from Delaware to Texas, including Georgia.  SREB focuses on every level of K-12 through university public education.

Five years ago an SREB analysis challenged members to address “a regional unemployment crisis in which many of the least-educated adults in SREB states were caught in dead-end jobs or not employed at all.”  That study preceded the economic collapse that began in late 2007.

The new analysis “A Smart Move in Tough Times:  How SREB States Can Strengthen Adult Learning and the Workforce” says too few states took action and time was lost.  SREB President David Spence writes, “Now the current economic recession has made matters worse.”

Adult education is NOT courses taken by persons who graduated from high school and who may be interested in further learning.  In this arena, adult education is the model that exists to pull up individuals who never succeeded and dropped out from traditional K-12 schools.

Adult Basic Education develops reading, writing and mathematics skills equivalent to an eighth grade education.  Adult Secondary Education is equivalent to successful high school completion.  English as a Second Language is the third tier.

“A Smart Move in Tough Times” findings include:

** Beginning with kindergarten SREB states spend on average $100,000 per pupil through tenth grade.  That entire investment is lost when students leave education and never return.

** Ten million working-age adults in southern states do not have a high school diploma or GED credential.   One third never completed ninth grade.  Fewer eligible adults living in southern states were enrolled in adult learning in 2008 than three years earlier.

** Five years ago Georgia enrolled 20,600 students who were 25 to 59 years old in Adult Basic.  Ninety percent did not continue into Adult Secondary. “We’re losing people at all points,” said SREB communications director Alan Richard who edited the report.

** Georgia’s pass rate for students taking the GED examination improved from 57% in 2005 to 59% three years later, but twelve SREB states reported higher pass rates than Georgia.  Seven states reported pass rates between 70% and 81%.  Delaware reported 95%.

** During the 2007 fiscal year seven SREB states invested more state dollars into adult learning and eight invested less than Georgia, but there is a significant discrepancy between Georgia and two neighbor states.  Georgia invested $12.6 million in state funds, North Carolina $58.8 million and Florida a remarkable $312 million.  All SREB states receive federal funds.

The financial discrepancy is significant and it has become systemic during the down economy.

Statewide adult learning here is coordinated by the Technical College System of Georgia.  The adult learning student population grows 5% per year but year-to-year funding is down 20% over three years.  Fiscal 2008 funding was $16 million; the new fiscal year starts at $12.8 million.

SREB reported 39,200 Georgians 25-to-59 years old participated in Adult Basic and Secondary or English language courses in 2008.  TCSG reports higher numbers, almost 72,400, because it includes adult learners who are between 16 and 25 years old.

Based on 2000 census data, 1.3 million adult working-age Georgians did not have a high school diploma or GED credential.  TCSG awarded 300,000 GED credentials since the census.  “We’re making a slow dent, not the kind of dent we want, but a slow dent,” said TCGS deputy commissioner Josephine Reed-Taylor.

Richards said SREB is concerned the intense conversation about basic public education priorities means “adult education has gotten lost.  We’re hoping this report gives state leaders pause and reason to reconsider budget and other priorities around adult learning.”

Exactly who should coordinate adult learning is very much an open question.  Georgia and five other SREB states utilize college systems.  Seven use the state department of education.  Two use workforce development agencies.   Last year Maryland moved its program to the state labor department.  Texas contracts with a third-party organization outside government.

SREB cited several examples of states trying to be creative.  Kentucky aims to “Double The Numbers” of bachelor’s degrees and GED credentials awarded annually by the year 2020.  Mississippi conducts three-and-four day academies for new adult learning teachers.

North Carolina holds two-week adult learner institutes. Arkansas, Delaware and West Virginia provide free GED testing.  Georgia and Maryland will consider financial aid requests from adult learners.  Delaware, Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida and Virginia opened adult high schools.

West Virginia created the “Make a Date to Graduate” media campaign.  Mississippi enlisted the Wal-Mart and Dollar General corporations to underwrite GED publicity campaigns.  Some states enlisted utility companies to distribute adult learning information inside monthly bills.

SREB’s conclusion recognizes public money is limited.  It urges states to ensure adult learning efforts are coordinated statewide with specific goals and bold, creative programs.  Doing less than the best would continue the growth of an economic underclass that becomes a public burden instead of a public asset.   That’s just as true in Georgia as in any other southern state.

Mike Klein writes about education and other issues as Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

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August 13, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

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