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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The Challenge and Opportunity Ahead for our Criminal Justice System

In 2014, the National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, released “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States, Exploring Causes and Consequences,” which pointed out that U.S. incarceration rates are 5-10 times higher than rates in Western Europe and other major democracies. It noted the staggering racial disparities in incarceration, and called for a significant reduction in rates of imprisonment saying that the rise in the U.S. prison population is “not serving the country well.”

This report didn’t make a huge splash in the press, but it cemented an emerging recognition that our criminal justice policies – our school discipline, “war on drugs,” “truth in sentencing,” and “three strikes and you’re out” policies – of recent decades resulted in unprecedented and costly U.S. incarceration rates that are both ineffective as a crime reduction strategy and harmful to our social fabric. It is safe to say that this is not how we want to be known in the world community. Instead, we should be known for how we engage at-risk populations, how we reinvest in people who deserve a second chance, and how we support the successful transition of justice-involved individuals back into our communities.

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College and Career Readiness: Using ELS:2002 to Study Important Educational Outcomes

Did you know the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has a NCES blog? Launched in April 2015, the blog is designed to provide a forum for news about the latest developments in NCES surveys, exciting new research opportunities, commonly misunderstood education measures, important new findings, and innovative data tools. 

This article by Elise Christopher and Lauren Musu-Gillette is cross-posted from the NCES blog.

Researchers, educators, and policy makers are interested in knowing what makes students ready for college and careers, and the Department of Education has identified college and career readiness as a priority. In 2011, the Department announced that it would allow for Elementary/Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility for states that developed plans for reforms in certain key areas of education, including college and career readiness.  In order to investigate what factors may be associated with college and career outcomes, several important questions arise. For example:

  • How do students’ high school experiences relate to whether or not they have to enroll in remedial courses in college?
  • How do these same experiences relate to whether or not they successfully complete college?
  • What high school and college experiences are associated with successful career choices?

Questions like these are best answered with longitudinal surveys, which track the paths of students as they transition from school to college and the work force.  The longitudinal surveys conducted by NCES contain a wide variety of survey components that enable researchers to address policy-related topics across disciplines.  Such longitudinal data can be expensive and time consuming to collect, particularly if they are nationally representative with sufficient sample sizes to analyze barriers faced by disadvantaged young adults. Building a sound statistical foundation for these important analyses is one of the key contributions NCES makes when producing datasets such as the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002) for the education and research community. 

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Impact Data on Adult Ed Program Participation

This article first appeared in the OCTAE Connection newsletter March 26, 2015. You can access that issue here

OCTAE commissioned Dr. Stephen Reder, professor in the Department of Applied Linguistics at Portland State University, to create five research briefs using that university’s Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning (LSAL) data to examine the long-term impacts of adult basic skills (ABS) program participation on a range of outcome measures. The study was part of the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy, with funding provided by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute for Literacy. All entities interested in or serving adult learners are encouraged to review each of the briefs in their entirety for a comprehensive discussion of the findings, as well as data graphics, and references. Links to each of them can be found in the summaries below.  PDFs for the series may be accessed on LINCS.

Background: National as well as international studies, including the Survey of Adult Skills, demonstrate the need and economic value of ABS. Yet, there is little rigorous research demonstrating that participation in basic skills programs directly impacts the skill levels, educational attainment, or social and economic well-being of adults with low levels of education.

Figure 1: Percentage of study participants who ever participated in programs .

Figure 1 shows the estimated percentage of the LSAL population that ever participated in an ABS program through each given wave of the study (line graph), as well as the median total hours of program attendance accumulated by participants (bar graph).

Most research on adult literacy development has only examined the short-term changes occurring as students pass through single ABS programs. Most studies use short follow-up intervals and include only program participants—making it difficult to see the long-term patterns of both program participation and persistence, and the ability to assess the long-term impact of ABS program participation. ABS program evaluation and accountability studies have shown small gains for program participants in test scores and other outcomes, but they rarely include comparison groups of nonparticipants and, studies that do include such controls have not found statistically significant ABS program impact. In short, more research is needed that compares adult literacy development among program participants and nonparticipants across multiple contexts and over significant periods of time.  This will provide life-wide and lifelong perspectives on adult literacy development and a better assessment of program impacts on a range of outcome measures.

The LSAL is one study that does address these long-term impacts. Between 1998 and 2007, LSAL randomly sampled and tracked nearly 1,000 high school dropouts’ participation in ABS programs. The study assessed their literacy skills and skill uses over time, along with changes in their social, educational, and economic status, to provide a more comprehensive representation of adult literacy development.

Brief Summaries: 

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Call for Research Papers Using PIAAC Data

EXTENDED CALL! New deadline for papers announced.

OCTAE is collaborating with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, specifically the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child and Human Development (NICHD) and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR), to sponsor a call for research papers on the relationship of education and skills to public health for adults and their families, particularly for those most at risk for poor educational, economic, and health outcomes. This collaboration reflects a shared commitment to increasing the evidence base for the work that these agencies perform and to making that evidence freely available for all.

The theme of the call is: Improving the Lives of Adults and Families: Identifying Individual and Systems-level Factors Relating Education, Health, Civic Engagement, and Economic Well-being. This effort leverages and extends the recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on U.S. Health in International Perspective as well as the recently released Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) cross-national, population-representative dataset, the Survey of Adult Skills, part of the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), to hone in on issues specific to the U.S. and allow for rich international comparisons.

Note that the U.S. PIAAC Background Questionnaire includes questions on health status, health insurance coverage, sources of information about health issues, and preventive health practices (based on age and gender). Online learning modules for the PIAAC dataset are available.

OCTAE, NICHD, and OBSSR plan to cover the publication fees associated with a select number of initial publications for this Collection. Authors interested in applying for financial consideration by these groups should submit a preliminary draft paper for funding consideration by September 15, 2015 to

PLOS icon, a stylized atom as a planet

PLOS icon

See the full Call for Papers on the Public Library of Science (PLOS) blog site. PLOS is a peer-reviewed, highly competitive, open source journal that publishes online, freely-available articles related to science, medicine, and health. The Collection is essentially an open-ended special issue where related articles can be easily grouped. The Collection will stay open for additional articles past the initial deadline for consideration.

New IES Partnership Research Grants Announced

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the National Center for Education Research (NCES) awarded eighteen new research grants under the Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy program (CFDA 84.305h).  In FY 2014, the Institute competed three topics under this program: Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research, Continuous Improvement Research in Education, and Evaluation of State and Local Education Programs and Policies. The topics support collaborations between research institutions and state or local education agencies on education issues of high priority for the education agency.  Total spending for these awards is approximately $18.6 million. Click on the grant titles below to learn more:

Awarded in the Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research Topic

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Online PIAAC Data Explorer Launched

Cross-posted from the PIAAC Buzz newsletter; sign up to receive the Buzz directly. 

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently launched a new interactive online web portal that will make it easy for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to build customizable data tables using the PIAAC data. This new tool supplements the information available in NCES’s First Look report—Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments Among U.S. Adults: Results From the Program for the Assessment of Adult Competencies 2012—and is designed to enable users to create their own data tables.

Like NCES’s First Look report, the PIAAC Results Portal reports average scores and proficiency levels in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. It can be used to compare U.S. performance to the international average and to the average in any or all participating countries.

You can also dig a little deeper by examining the data by a variety of characteristics. For example, if you are interested in how U.S. adults with different levels of educational attainment performed in literacy, you can create a table based on educational attainment variables. Likewise, if you are interested in what skills adults use at home and at work and how the use of these skills relates to performance in numeracy, you can look at that as well. There are many other variables to explore.

To make your searches easier, NCES has created profiles for two key subgroups, found under “Employment Status.” For example, the characteristics included in the “unemployed” subgroup profile include age, gender, race/ethnicity, U.S. born, and educational attainment. In addition to these characteristics, the “employed” subgroup profile includes occupation, industry of employment, and level of gross pay. After you have created your customized table, you have the option to export your data table to Excel.

You can access the PIAAC Results Portal directly from the PIAAC Gateway homepage.

How Effective is Correctional Education?

Did you catch the announcement by the RAND Corporation today of a major analysis of research to address the question: “How Effective is Correctional Education?”  Both Attorney General Holder and Secretary of Education Duncan commented on this seminal meta-analysis of research on correctional education in a press release out today.

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The Skills and Trajectories of Developmental Ed Learners

What do we know about successful developmental education students and programs? A recent special issue of Community College Review provides provocative perspectives and enhances the research base in this area.

Listen to a podcast of the special issue in which the co-editors (Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, Dolores Perin, and Brett Miller) discuss the findings and what they learned about developmental education through the process of coordinating the special issue.

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