Chancellor Taking an In-Depth Look at Adult Education Programs - Montgomery Alabama news.

Chancellor Taking an In-Depth Look at Adult Education Programs

MONTGOMERY, Ala., June 15, 2007 - Bradley Byrne, the chancellor of Alabama's two-year college system is starting to undertake a review of the system's Adult Education programs and is currently not convinced the system does not need to be more proactive in its effort to reach people in need of help.

"We are going to undertake a pretty thorough top-to-bottom review of Adult Education.  We've got some issues that we're reviewing within the department right now.  We've been trying to get a better understanding of how the money flows and which pots of money can be used."

"I'm not satisfied that we've thought outside the box enough about how to do this in a way where, at the end of the day, we are effectively trying to really get to the solutions  for adult illiteracy in Alabama."

Woody Woodcock, a volunteer with the Central Alabama Literacy Council, says the last complete study on adult illiteracy in Alabama, completed in 1993 and released in 1998, showed Alabama with "25 percent of the population that read at or about the fifth grade level...We were third worst in the country." 

A new national study done in 2003 and just released this year shows "no big change" on a national level.  Woodcock says the new study shows 43 percent of the nation reads at a seventh grade level or below.

Woodcock says the state results from the new study are due out in the fall, but he doesn't anticipate much of a change from the last state study that showed the 25 percent illiteracy rate.

"I don't expect much difference.  No big change,"  says Woodcock.  The man recognized by President Bush for his efforts in teaching adults how to read says "the city and county numbers are about the same."

Woodcock says federal funding for literacy programs have been cut and groups have to constantly search for ways to fund adult literacy programs.

Chancellor Byrne told his board wading through the funding issues related to adult literacy is a maze, and in the end a lot of people have not been getting the help they need.

"You get real lost in this program or this pot of money or that pot of money and at the end of the day you're not getting to where you're supposed to go, which is to help people learn how to read, and write and do mathematics."

"I'm just afraid that we don't know enough in the department, today, to be able to come to you and say we think this program or policy works.  And I'd like to do that and within that, we'll be addressing some sub-issues...It may take a few months."

State Board of Education Vice-President Sandra Ray says she wants the system to think about workforce literacy as well.  "There's an area that I've heard some reference to as workforce literacy or workplace literacy, which is not exactly like K-12 and not exactly like adult literacy but it involves those that are actually employed that are functionally illiterate," Ray told the chancellor.

Byrne agreed with Ray, "It should be a part of this.  It should be a part of adult literacy."  Ray says the system needs to work "with the industries and businesses to be able to provide some of the assistance they would have for their employed workers, but perhaps ones that are underemployed."

Board member Stephanie Bell told fellow board members she has not been hearing good things about the system's Adult Education program, "I receive more complaints than anything about the Adult Education program.  It runs the gamut from programs to other areas."

But the head of Adult Education in the Department of Postsecondary Education, Bob Romine says, "Although we need to do much better, as the chancellor has said,  our Adult Education program as it is functioning is at least as good as that in any other state that we know about.  So, that doesn't mean we can't do better and should,  but it is a good program.  We have one of the most sophisticated systems in use throughout the United States in measuring the effect of local programs and what they do and the impact on students and their success."

Mrs. Ray wanted to know from Romine how old students who needed help with literacy were, "I have listened to the president of one of our major utilities make comments to the fact that with their employees they can only hire one out of four because they didn't reach their levels of skills and stuff.  And I guess my question is, how old are these that take these tests?"

"If they're 22, 23 and below, it's a K-12 issue because that has to do with our high school diplomas and all that.  If it's above that it's an adult education issue. ," says Ray.

"Right now 54 percent of the people that we serve in our Adult Ed program in Alabama are below the age of 24.  So over half our clients are below 24 years of age," says Romine.

Byrne says the system needs to do a better job of reaching out and bringing people in to help them improve their lives.  "...There are a number of people out there who weren't prepared adequately in high school, who've never tried to take advantage of an adult education program."  Byrne says the question is, "To what extent do we need to be reaching out more and pulling those folks in?  As you have more of these plant closures you have people in a position where they're almost forced to do it.  But we may need to look at some more proactive efforts to go out there and find those folks."

The new chancellor has a passion for adult literacy.  He's said to me previously he doesn't know whether or not the state can get that 25 percent number down to zero, but "we can do better, and we will."   He has also stated more than once he plans to bring together people both from inside and outside the two-year system to try and figure out the best way to tackle Alabama's illiteracy rate. 

Reported by:  Helen Hammons

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