Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Stuck in the System? Lack of Progress in Adult Basic Education

Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Stuck in the System? Lack of Progress in Adult Basic Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of the study was to better understand reasons why some welfare recipients in adult basic education (ABE) programs do not appear to advance their skill levels and to identify strategies to help them make progress. A questionnaire was returned by 117 ABE teachers in welfare programs, who rated the frequency of occurrence of various reasons for their students' lack of progress. These reasons are complex and often related to life circumstances. Teachers described strategies they find effective to engage non-advancing students in learning and increase progress. Implications for practice and professional development are included.

Introduction

Programs in ABE face unprecedented demands for assuring that the majority of adults who enroll make measurable progress. These demands are particularly evident in programs that provide education as part of a welfare reform initiative because time limitations increase the pressure on individuals and programs for demonstrating measurable progress toward academic goals. Despite the external pressure, not all who enroll make progress (Ziegler, Ebert, & Henry, 2002). Explanations for this lack of progress remain unclear. In order to provide effective programs, more needs to be known about non-advancing participants who remain largely invisible in a complex system of supports and services. The purpose of the study was to better understand the reasons why some welfare recipients in basic education programs do not appear to advance their skill levels and to identify strategies to help them progress.

Literature Review

Research that examines lack of progress views it from two key perspectives, academic and socio-political. These perspectives show that reasons for lack of progress are complex and multidimensional.

Reasons for Non-Advancement: Academic Perspective

Research has linked lack of achievement or progress to cognitive abilities and learning abilities (Poissant, 1994; Venezky, Sabatini, Brooks, & Carino, 1996). Venezky et al. (1996), based on experiences shared among adult literacy instructors and researchers, found that slow-progressing students had "either a history of special education classification or a hint of a learning disability" (p. 13). ABE progress is also tied to entry literacy level. Friedlander and Martinson (1996) found that, among welfare recipients identified as "in need of a basic education," there were small or no educational gains for subgroups with low initial literacy levels. Pritchard and Yee (1989) noted that, from their experience of teaching low-literate adults, the probability of a nonliterate adult attaining functional literacy correlates positively to the literacy level at which the individual entered the program.

Socio-political Perspective

"A socio-economically deprived environment rife with sociological problems ... is almost the invariable feature of the early years of more than 90% of the students in our program" (Pritchard & Yee, 1989, p. 46). According to the National Institute for Literacy (1994), "events such as loss of housing..., family illness, unsafe housing conditions, domestic violence and neighborhood crime... often interfere with efforts to persist in adult literacy programs" (p. 5). Poissant (1994), in the rationale for his study of low-literate readers' knowledge of their cognitive skills, contended that the hardships inherent in poverty made educational achievement more difficult if not impossible. Loprest (2002) enumerated several forms of support that could help, including subsidized child care, health insurance, and help with food and housing expenses, which reduced the percentage of those who returned to welfare. While some welfare reform initiatives make these supports available, their provision is costly. Several studies (Carnevale & Desrochers, 1999; Friedlander & Martinson, 1996) questioned whether the gains some participants make are sufficient to justify the expenditures. …

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