In the 21st Century,
No Adults Should Be Left Behind
January 14, 2005
International Consultant in Adult Education
On January 12, 2005
the White House posted a speech by President Bush in which
he discussed his plans to take the No Child Left Behind initiative
to the high school level (www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/01/20050112-5.html).
discussing the need for testing at the high school level, the
President framed his comments in terms of workforce development
in high schools will make sure that our children are employable
for the jobs of the 21st century."
In his speech the President also said,
of a hundred 9th graders in our public schools, only 68 will
complete high school on time. Now, we live in a competitive
world. And a 68 percent graduation rate for 9th graders is not good enough to
be able to compete in this competitive world."
Barton (2000) reports
that some 85 percent of adults 25 to 29 years old in 1995 had completed high
school (p. 36). So somehow between the 9th grade and age 25-29
high school completion increases from 68 to 85 percent. To a large extent this
reflects the fact that many high school dropouts go to adult basic education
(ABE) programs and study to earn a high school diploma or GED equivalency certificate.
If the testing procedures that the President is recommending drives more students
to dropout, as some have suggested has happened when high school achievement
tests have been introduced in the past, then the ABE system will have to pick
up the education of these young adults a few years later.
In program year 2001-2002
the ABE system funded by the U. S. government as part of the
Workforce Investment Act of 1998 enrolled 2,787,416 learners,
of which 38 percent were in ABE, 20 percent in Adult Secondary Education,
and 42 percent
in English Language learning. That same year, in this education system, 181,642
adult students received a high school diploma or GED.
The President called for "a
$1.5 billion initiative to help every high school student graduate with the
skills necessary to succeed." But if they don't,
and if tens of thousands have to enroll in the ABE/ASE/EL system later on,
enter a marginalized education system that is funded at the federal level
at less than two-fifths ($575 million) of what the President has proposed
his high school initiative. This is less than $210 per adult student. Even
the states add to the federal money, spending on ABE/ASE/EL programs comes
to less than $850 per enrollee. This is less than one-sixth of what the K-12
spends on children's education per year.
As the President moves forward with
his promotion of NCLB at the high school level, it is of great
importance that he also moves to upgrade the present
adult education and literacy system (AELS) that is serving millions of out-of-school
youth, young adults, and older adults who need to improve their life chances,
and those of their children, through education. It makes little sense to
leave no children behind as they reach adolescence and then decide they can
behind just because they fail to learn well and complete high school and
grow into adulthood.
As our world grows increasingly complex, it is bad education
policy to decide that simply because children grow up and become
adults without having achieved
high levels of basic skills and extensive knowledge, it is OK to cast them
into a marginalized remedial education system and focus on saving the next,
upcoming generation. It is bad policy because it not only reduces the overall
productivity of our nation's adult force, it promotes failure in the upcoming
generation because undereducated parents are poorly prepared to provide for
and transmit language and literacy skills to their children at home and hence
their success in the K-12 system, including their likelihood of graduating
from high school.
Now that the President has decided to leave no child behind
from birth in Early Head Start, Head Start, Elementary and
High School, it is time for him to
attend to the education needs of children when they grow up to be adults.
In our Nation's educational system of the 21st century, no adults should
be left behind.
Barton, P. (2000, January). What jobs require: Literacy, education,
and training, 1940-2006. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing
Sticht, T. G. (1998, September). Beyond 2000: Future
directions for adult education. Washington, DC: U. S. Department
of Education, Office of Vocational and
Adult Education, Division of Adult Learning and Literacy.
(www.nald.ca under full