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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Adult Basic Education: Update on Programs, Priorities, and Competitive RFP Process

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
March 9, 2012


At the special meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on March 19, 2012, the Department's Office of Adult and Community Learning Services (ACLS) will provide an overview of the Adult Basic Education (ABE) system, the current open and competitive grant process, and the strategies being implemented to ensure that all adult learners are college and career ready.

The Office of Adult and Community Learning Services, led by Anne Serino, oversees the ABE system in Massachusetts. Using a combination of state ($27.7M) and federal ($10.2M) funds, ACLS administers a variety of grant programs that provide adults with the educational foundation needed to access a career pathway to family-sustaining employment, support their children's education, and participate fully in community life.

The funding primarily supports basic literacy through college and career readiness and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instructional services through Community Adult Learning Centers located in 87 cities and towns. Through a diverse provider network that includes school districts, community colleges, libraries, and community based organizations, approximately 20,000 adults are served each year. The demand for services far exceeds the supply. Over 16,000 adult learners are on waitlists for services.

In addition to services in community settings, instruction is offered in 15 correctional facilities and at a variety of workplaces through collaborations with businesses and labor unions. In order to provide access to adult learners who are unable to attend classes, instruction is provided by regional networks of volunteers. Additionally, distance learning is a growing option for adult learners.

The ABE system's programs support learners' individual educational goals and are aligned with our mission to strengthen the Commonwealth's public education system so that every student is prepared to succeed in postsecondary education, compete in the global economy, and understand the rights and responsibilities of American citizens, and in so doing, to close all proficiency gaps.

While the ABE system itself cannot directly improve the academic performance of school age children, ABE plays an indirect role in improving children's performance by providing education services to parents enrolled in ABE programs - over 36% of the ABE population. Increasing the literacy rates among these parents is a tangible way to reduce family poverty and, by extension, the proficiency gap.

The ABE system's programs support adult learners with employment related goals and are aligned with the Commonwealth's goal of closing the skills gap. In order to close the skill gap and address the mismatch between the skills of the unemployed and underemployed and the needs of employers for qualified employees, the Commonwealth must boost the literacy and quantitative reasoning levels of the state's population including those adults enrolled in ABE programs. The ABE system prepares students to gain not only academic skills but also higher level cognitive skills including problem-solving and critical thinking. We collaborate with workforce development and community college partners to build a cohesive set of services that support career pathways for adult learners.

For many years, the end goal for adult learners was a GED, the nationally recognized high school equivalency credential. We now know that a GED, in and of itself, is not enough to move out of poverty and into a job with family sustaining wages. Armed with this information, the ABE system is transforming into a system whose learners must leave prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education and further training. Policies geared to supporting college and career readiness include: increased instructional intensity, education and career advising, and the use of curriculum contextualized to college and career readiness and specific career pathways.

These policies are incorporated into Requests for Proposals that the Department recently released for six grant programs: Community Adult Learning Centers, Adult Career Pathways, Adult Basic Education Transition to Community College, Distance Learning Hub Programs, Primary Instruction by Volunteer Programs, and ABE in Correctional Facilities.

The competition for these funds is conducted only once every five years. The funds are allocated to the 16 workforce development regions in the Commonwealth based on the need for services and the history of services in each region. Applicants compete within the workforce regions in which they propose to provide services. In each region, teams of four readers will review, rank and recommend grant awards. We have received 180 proposals. The recommendations are due to me by early May.

Community Adult Learning Centers and Adult Career Pathways are the two largest programs, accounting for approximately $30M in funding. The need for ABE services and past performance of the providers play a significant role in the competition. ACLS collects data on multiple indicators of success including: attendance, average attended hours, pre and post test rates, learning gains, and the achievement of goals (e.g., get a job, get a better job, earn a high school credential, become a citizen, participate as partner in my children's education). This information is collected through the System for Managing Results through Technology (SMARTT) system, one of the nation's most sophisticated ABE data collection systems. Up to 35 out of 100 points will be assigned to grant applicants based on past performance and up to 15 points will be assigned based on need.

We look forward to discussing the ABE programs and priorities, as well as the competitive grant process, with the Board on March 19. Representatives from the Board's Adult Basic Education Advisory Council have been invited to join us for the special meeting.

Last Updated: March 13, 2012
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