Throwing Down the Gauntlet for Professional Development

Co-authored post by Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary of Education, OCTAE, researcher and teacher; and Gail Spangenberg, President, National Council for Adult Learning

Moving PD Closer to the Top was the theme of an August 25th blog hosted by the National Council for Adult Learning. A group of prominent Adult Education leaders contributed essays to that blog. They were Mary Ann Corley, John Fleischman, Daphne Greenberg, David Rosen, Cristine Smith, Jackie Taylor, Randy Whitfield, and the co-authors of this essay. They gave their perspectives on the high importance of professional development in our field and suggested many excellent priority actions in PD to meet current and future demands for outreach and effective service.

It is time to throw down the gauntlet for PD.  A serious conversation and commitment to Adult Education professional development is long overdue.  We should be talking more extensively and with higher-level commitment about the conditions we need to create for work and learning in our field, for the good of adult learners and our nation.  All the more so as we work together to prepare for a full and robust implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.  NCAL’s blog was a start.  We hope the following discussion will add usefully to that beginning and encourage others to weigh in with their own ideas.


A recent report from The New Teacher Project concludes that school districts spend an average of $18,000 per teacher annually on professional development.  The report summarizes the results of a survey of over 10,000 teachers and 500 school leaders in three large public school systems, as well as the results of interviews and analyses of teacher ratings. This huge investment produced underwhelming outcomes. Only 30% of teachers saw improvements in their practice over a 2-3 year period. The report also notes that no particular approach helped teachers get better, and among teachers who did improve success was not linked to any systemic efforts by the districts.

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From Teacher to Advocate: A Guest Blog Celebrating Adult Education and Family Literacy Week 2015

Photo of Heather Ritchie

Guest Blogger Heather Ritchie, MAACCE President and Professional Development Specialist, Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School

I am a teacher. I am a trainer. I am an educator. I am an administrator. These are the words I use to describe myself when someone asks what I do for a living. Then there is “I am an advocate for adult education.” This is a phrase I never used to use but find myself utilizing more often these days. It is the most powerful of the phrases and I wish all of my colleagues would add it to their titles too.

As many people have done, I did not plan a career in adult education, I evolved into it. I worked in communications and nonprofits. I loved travel and celebrated the unique nature of different cultures locally and abroad. Reading has always been one of my pleasurable pastimes; it is a gateway to information and ideas I never knew existed. Then, I learned about opportunities in my local area to teach adults. (As you’ve probably noticed, my impetus was all about me up until this point.) Then, I started teaching and year by year, my focus has been less about me and more about the students.

The students – amazing individuals who balance family with work at multiple jobs, some of whom have come from other countries and left so much behind, who have dreams of brighter futures for their children and sometimes themselves. The students changed the way I thought about our work. Instead of looking only inside the classroom to see what I could do to best support them, I began looking outside to the broader community and realized how much was hidden from the broader public – our neighbors, our politicians, and businesses.

Whenever advocacy is mentioned and volunteers are called for, the truth is, people usually turn the other way or look at their phones. Why is this? Probably, because it is an unknown experience or it is misunderstood. Most people are afraid this means talking with politicians or public speaking. Advocacy can be those things, but it is so much more! It is getting the message out to anyone and everyone, so that adult students, who are also our neighbors, can have more access to quality opportunities for education.

When I call myself an advocate these days, here is what I think of and hope that you will too:

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Creating a Clear Path to Better Jobs for Low-Skilled Workers Stuck in Front-line Positions

America is creating millions of jobs. But, too many of these jobs go unfilled – five million to be exact. At the same time, there are roughly 8.7 million Americans looking for work and 24 million front-line workers who could fill these jobs, if they had the skills or were given the opportunity.

As the economy continues to improve, more and more employers struggle to find skilled workers with the requisite skills to fill in-demand jobs. At the same time, between twenty and thirty million workers in low-wage jobs – many of whom could be trained to fill more skilled roles – lack a clear path to a better job and career. According to the OECD, these workers are about half as likely as their high-skilled colleagues to participate in any job-relevant education or training over the course of the year. These workers need expanded opportunities and lowered barriers to gain both basic and technical skills.

In his State of the Union address last Tuesday, the President called on employers across the country to adopt or expand additional measures to help front-line workers gain the training and credentials to advance into better paying jobs – including paying for college education, offering on-the-job training for career progression, and increasing access to technology-enabled learning tools. The day after, the President’s first stop and appearance was at Boise State University in Idaho where he launched an “Upskill America” initiative:

Today, we’re partnering with business across the country to “Upskill America” — to help workers of all ages earn a shot at better, higher-paying jobs, even if they don’t have a higher education.  We want to recruit more companies to help provide apprenticeships and other pathways so that people can upgrade their skills.  We’re all going to have to do that in this new economy.  But it’s hard to do it on your own, especially if you’re already working and supporting a family. 

Many employers have already developed promising approaches to training and credentialing for upskilling front-line workers as part of successful talent strategies. And, we know that many others see the opportunity to benefit their workforce and bottom lines through investments in the skills of their front-line workers. This challenge creates a great opportunity for business, industry, labor, and government to team up and find and support a solution together.

The Administration is working with employers to identify and spread best practices for education, training and credentialing of front-line workers to help with their job progression. Examples of these practices are employers paying for their front-line workers’ college education, identifying clear internal pathways, providing career counseling and coaching, offering on-the-job training that leads to career progression, and providing access to online and technology-enabled education tools so workers can develop their basic and technical skills.

In the coming months, businesses of all sizes will be convened, as well as foundations, education and training non-profits and other partners who are committing to make new investments, to collectively set new goals and change policies that will enable low-skilled front-line workers to progress into better-paying jobs and help employers meet their current and projected unmet demand for skilled labor.

This effort to improve the skills of front-line workers builds on the actions Vice President Biden presented to President Obama on July 22, 2014 as part of his report Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity. In his 2014 State of the Union address, the President had tasked Vice President Biden with leading a review of federal employment and training programs, with the aim of making them more job-driven. Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity highlights successful job-driven training strategies, details executive actions that are being taken by the federal government, and new commitments by employers, non-profits, unions and innovators to help spread what’s working. As indicated in the release of the Ready to Work report, if you’re ready to work, you should be able to find a job that fits your skills, or get trained with the skills you need for a better job.

In November 2014, U.S. Secretary of Labor Perez launched The Skills Working Group, an interagency effort to maintain focus and attention around interagency, collaborative efforts of the Job-Driven Training Initiative, as well as emerging opportunities around cross-agency skills coordination. Thirteen federal agencies, the White House National Economic Council, and the Office of Management and Budget make up The Skills Working Group including the departments of Labor, Education, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Energy, Defense, Justice, Interior, and the Social Security Administration. The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education has been an active contributor to this work and leads the career pathways and upskilling work streams.

I find it inspiring to see businesses and labor-management initiatives expand access to training and provide supports for Americans to access pathways into the middle class. CVS Health, for example, is expanding access to job-advancement training for their employees by launching two new regional learning centers that will serve thousands of additional employees in the next two years. This builds on the six regional learning centers CVS Health currently operates in partnership with community colleges and other community service organizations, to help support thousands of workers as they build customer service- and healthcare-related job skills for career progression. The Upstate NY 1199 SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund started C.N.A. training in the Syracuse (Central NY) area three years ago for incumbent SEIU members to allow lower level workers (dietary and housekeeping) to move up the career ladder.  Since this initiative was not always able to fill this program with incumbent workers, they started drawing on people from the community.  Community participants are funded through grants.

It is also exciting to see how many opportunities the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) provides for businesses – in partnership with adult education and youth and adult training providers or otherwise – to ensure that our nation’s workforce is ready to work and remains highly skilled and competitive. Whether it is through the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act – Title II of WIOA – or through any of the other core programs, WIOA can play a critical role in achieving the goals of UpSkill America. Here are just a few ways that WIOA can do this:

  • Employer partnerships with education providers are eligible entities under Title II. This creates opportunities for employers and providers to team up and offer foundation skill development opportunities for low-skilled workers looking to get ahead. Learn more at a new, interactive site designed to support employer-adult education partnerships.
  • Employers can take advantage of increased access to work-based training. WIOA provides the ability for local workforce investment areas to help employers train their workers.
  • WIOA also increases reimbursement available for on-the-job training from 30 percent to 75 percent.
  • Businesses, under WIOA, can collaborate with American Job Centers, community colleges, and adult education providers to develop integrated education and training programs—including Registered Apprenticeships—at the workplace to help employees gain basic and technical skills and advance to the next level of work. Further, this collaboration can support regional sector strategies and the development of career pathways that support job seekers and help meet the needs of employers.
  • WIOA places a great emphasis on serving out-of-school youth. The new law requires local communities to spend at least 75 percent of available youth funding, or approximately $500 million, on this population. This provision goes into effect July 1, 2015. By partnering with the public sector to provide apprenticeships, internships, summer jobs, and other on-the-job training experiences, businesses can help the nation maximize opportunities for disconnected youth and young adults and build a skilled workforce.

The UpSkill America initiative, the implementation of WIOA, the modernization and expansion of apprenticeships, and the implementation of the executive actions in the Ready to Work report are all contributing to the momentum that is building in our country to make sure that all Americans have the skills that employers need and that will allow them to get ahead.


Johan E. Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

After Finals, Foster Youth Students Face a Much More Difficult Test

As winter break unwinds and college students are at home for the holidays, many homeless and foster care students find themselves scrambling for somewhere to live until classes resume in January. College campuses traditionally close down for winter break. For these vulnerable students their college campus is their home, their community and a primary source of security. While their peers are headed home to see family and catch up with old friends, many of these young people are faced with bleak prospects for the holiday season.

These vulnerable youth face the same struggles as other young people trying to maintain good grades, navigating social peer groups, and planning their futures, but they face the additional burdens associated with little to no adult guidance or support. Fortunately, higher education professionals across our nation have begun to tackle the unique issues faced by homeless and foster care students. They are developing comprehensive strategies to address the most persistent barriers these students face; not just during the holiday season, but all year long.

“Higher education can be the silver bullet to achieving long-term health, housing, and economic security. And for young people who have already overcome so much adversity just to earn a seat in a college classroom, they should have every opportunity—inside and outside of the classroom—to succeed” says Jasmine Hayes, Policy Director for the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Ensuring these youth have a safe, stable place to call home in-between semesters is critical. Keeping student housing open and available for youth experiencing homelessness during semester breaks is an effective approach.”

Programs in states like Colorado and North Carolina have implemented Single Points of Contact (SPOCs) in their postsecondary institutions which provide these students access to designated college administrators who are committed to helping them to successfully navigate the college-going process. States and higher education institutions across the country are also working to address the issues these students face, including

  • access to higher education opportunities and financial support;
  • navigation of the college-going process, including financial aid and service referral processes; and
  • basic needs like employment, housing and food.

These efforts are ensuring these most vulnerable students reach their highest potential.

Colleges can play a pivotal role in supporting the academic success of these students. Just ask for foster youth, Alain Datcher. “Entering college as a first time student was a daunting experience. It was a mixture of culture shock, academic rigor and rapid growth. I don’t believe I would have succeeded without the support network I had in one woman – Tamara Malone. She was a mentor, academic advisor, dean and more in one caring, compassionate woman.” When asked how he thought his experience could translate for other students who are homeless or in foster care he replied, “Proximity will define opportunity for these young people. Having a close, approachable, and tangible support network will make the difference. It did in my college education at Biola University. I’ll be earning a Master’s of Public Policy degree in April. Having one caring, single point of contact in Tamra is a big reason why I will.”

When educators act, they change lives. If you know of a foster youth student in your institution, be proactive and reach out. It can make all the difference. Find out more at

Guest bloggers: Annie Blackledge, Casey Family Programs Senior Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education, and Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary for OCTAE.

Recap: Performance Partnership Pilots (P3) Webinars with Tribal Leaders

by Johan E. Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary, OCTAE, U.S. Department of Education

On Thursday, August 21st and Tuesday, August 26th, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, the Corporation for National and Community Services, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Office of Management and Budget and the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education co-hosted tribal outreach webinars on Performance Partnership Pilots (P3). These national calls had attendance from various tribal leaders and provided an opportunity for the tribal communities serving disconnected youth to learn about the goals of P3 and current activities to launch the program this fall.

It is essential that we develop solutions to reconnect the more than 5 million youth, nationwide, who are not employed nor in school to help them on a path to post-secondary education and careers, and to ensure we have a skilled and talented workforce that can meet the needs of employers both now and in the future. We know that for many American Indian & Alaska Native youth, the challenges they face are great. American Indian and Alaska Native students continue to lag behind their peers on national assessments, account for the highest dropout rate of any racial or ethnic population, and hold a dramatically lower share of baccalaureate degrees than the rest of the population.

According to the National Congress of American Indians, over 40 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native people are under the age of 24. The P3 tribal outreach calls are an extension of the Administration’s commitment to strengthen the nation to nation relationship with tribal governments in order to improve the quality of life for all American Indians and Alaska Natives. In partnership with tribal nations, the Administration continues to identify and promote critical reforms that prepare American Indian and Alaska Native students for leadership in their communities and success in the 21st century.

About Performance Partnership Pilots

The 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Bill provides authority to the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, along with the Corporation for National and Community Service, to enter into up to 10 Performance Partnership agreements with state, local, or Federally-recognized tribal governments that give them additional flexibility in using discretionary funds across multiple Federal programs. States, localities, and Federally-recognized tribal governments that seek to participate in these pilots will commit to achieve significant improvements for disconnected youth in educational, employment, and other key outcomes in exchange for this new flexibility.

The primary focus of the pilots will be providing disconnected youth with more effective supports to climb ladders of opportunity. The pilots will support innovative partnerships across local governments, non-profits, businesses and other sectors. In some cases, pilots will help propel collaborative and evidence-based work that jurisdictions already have underway. Finally, the pilots as a group will provide a valuable opportunity to learn whether this model for Federal partnership improves outcomes on the ground, and how it could be extended to other Federal programs.

Additional information on P3 can be found by visiting this link. Questions regarding P3 can be sent to



Workers Need More Options to Earn and Learn at the Same Time

This is a cross-posted article from the  SEIU Healthcare NW Training Partnership /SEIU Healthcare NW Health Benefits Trust in Seattle.

by Charissa Raynor and Johan E. Uvin

The U.S. workforce is in crisis.  Today, 36 million adults in our country are considered low-skilled (OECD, 2013).  This means about 1 in 6 American adults lack the ability to spell, read, and write and about 1 in 3 lack the ability to do basic math. These are the basic skills that 21st century employers need as they look to fill millions of current job vacancies. Meanwhile, the majority of working adults with low skills earn meager wages with little to no pathways for career advancement into the middle class. The skills gap also has serious social and economic implications for an individual’s overall quality of life. Adults with low skills are also four times more likely to report poor to fair health than those with higher skills. Needless to say, the economic consequences for our country are significant.

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Educated and Skilled to Lead America! SkillsUSA: Champions at Work!

Two student competitors sit at a table programming computers while a third student configures a computerized milling machine.

Students test their skills in an advanced manufacturing competition at the SkillsUSA NLSC.

Thank you dedicated students, advisors, state directors, alumni, and business partners for showing the world that SkillsUSA members are true Champions at Work! SkillsUSA returned to Kansas City June 23-27, 2014, for its 50th annual National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC). I am honored to have witnessed the largest national conference it has ever held with the most participants in its history. It was the premiere showcase of career and technical education students. More than 15,000 students, teachers, education leaders, and representatives from more than 600 national corporations, trade associations, business and labor unions participated in the event. In addition, the 2014 NLSC marked the beginning of a year-long celebration as SkillsUSA turns 50 in May 2015! I have already marked my calendar to be in Leesburg, VA on May 8th for the birthday celebrations.

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TSA Rocks DC

Over 6,800 students, parents, and advisors attended the 36th Annual National Technology Student Association (TSA) Conference in Washington, DC last week. I was privileged to be one of those. TSA is committed to students studying in Technology Education and those interested in a STEM career. Middle and high school TSA students traveled to DC from across the nation to network, compete, and share new ideas and skills that could be used in the future.

Photo of Elisabeth Stansbury, Robin Utz, and Caleb Gum standing in front of a banner at the National TSA Conference in Washington, DC.

Elisabeth Stansbury, left, and Caleb Gum, right, pause for a quick photo at the 36th Annual National TSA Conference in Washington, DC.

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White House Maker Faire Highlights the Value of CTE

“If You Can Imagine It, Then You Can Do It — Whatever It Is”

These were among the inspirational words shared by President Obama at the first-ever White House Maker Faire on June 18. And, Camille and Genevieve Beatty, 14- and 12-year old entrepreneurs from Asheville, North Carolina, showed just how true these words can be. They, along with their dad, Robert, are co-founders of Beatty Robotics, a project that began as a tech blog to share their innovative projects and has grown into a company that builds custom robots for museums and prototype robots for part manufacturers.

Photo in the White House with Sharon Lee Miller and Margaret Romer standing with Camille and Genevieve Beatty of Beatty Robotics, Dale Doherty, President and CEO of Maker Media and Creator of Maker Faire and Dale's wife Nancy.

Sharon Lee Miller and Margaret Romer of the Division of Academic and Technical Education stand with Camille and Genevieve Beatty of Beatty Robotics and Dale Doherty, President and CEO of Maker Media and Creator of Maker Faire. Also pictured is Dale’s wife Nancy.

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Getting to “Yes”

Photo of students standing with Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier and DATE Division Director Sharon Miller

Students gather for a photo with Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier and DATE Division Director Sharon Miller

Earlier this week, Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier and I visited an Advanced Manufacturing Early College High School in Queensbury, New York. A partnership between the Hudson Falls, Queensbury, and Saratoga School Districts, the State University of New York (SUNY) Adirondack, and the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES, this high school enables students to earn up to 24 college credits, four nationally-recognized industry certifications, a Regents diploma, and a valuable internship experience.

Students (juniors and seniors) are dually enrolled in high school and SUNY Adirondack as non-matriculated students. They spend half of their day attending classes that are co-led by college faculty and BOCES instructors, and the other half of their day taking Regents-level courses at their home school. Their work is largely project-based, requiring them to solve real-world problems generated by the program’s extensive group of business partners. A current project involves the students developing an MRI cooling system for Queensbury-based Philips Health Care.

As part of the visit, we received a student-led overview of the program, a brief tour of an advanced manufacturing lab, and then conducted two round tables–one with administrators, teachers, faculty, and employers, and a second with teachers, parents, and students. What stood out among the comments, one employer said, “The wonderful thing about this program is that it helps students ‘get to yes!'” By this, the employer stated that many of today’s new and current employees see only challenges and barriers to their work. They lack the problem-solving skills to analyze data, synthesize information, work through failure, and persist to resolution. This program is helping students to gain these and other essential skills to help them prepare for college and careers!

Indeed, our nation needs many more high schools and CTE programs like this across the nation. In so doing, we’d be helping many more students “get to yes!”

Sharon Miller is the Director of the Division of Academic and Technical Education in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education