Transforming the Lives of Adult Learners at Scale

Last week, I, along with regional representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke as part of a Fresh Federal Perspectives plenary session at the 2016 youth conference hosted by the California Workforce Association in Sacramento. Assemblymember Autumn Burke, a strong advocate for career and technical education, kicked off the session.

Students learning to climb utility poles in outside yard.

Beginning students learn how to safely climb poles. The program has a waiting list of several hundred students, many of whom will wait a year.

There were over 500 youth practitioners and policy makers in attendance. I stressed why partnerships are essential at all levels if we want all youth – not some youth – to have the opportunity to access a path into the middle class. Later in the day, I had the opportunity to meet briefly with the executive leadership of California’s Workforce Board to talk about California’s draft Unified Plan under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Then, I had the opportunity to hear from state administrators and local program leaders in a listening and consultation session at the California Department of Education. WIOA and state funding in California, called the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG), California’s WIOA State Plan, and other statewide initiatives were the key topics of discussion.

Students in Photovoltaics program working in a classroom.

Students in the Photovoltaics program that integrates math, technical and hands-on training learn how to install solar panels.

Later, I flew out to Los Angeles and met Carmen Drummond, my Chief of Staff, to visit one of the larger adult education programs in the U.S. at the Los Angeles Unified School District.  Former U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education and current Chief Executive Officer for Educational Services, Dr. Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana and other senior district officials joined us for the visit. The program serves nearly 86,000 adult learners annually at 264 locations across the city managed by ten schools. The program employs 1,275 staff and has an annual budget for adult education and adult career technical education of $107 million.

We went to two sites and toured programs, met with leaders, held a listening session with immigrant and refugee learners, and engaged in a discussion with teachers. At the East Los Angeles Skills Center, we looked at two adult career and technical education programs: Photovoltaics and Powerline Systems. The partnership between the Photovoltaics program and Homeboy Industries is a great example of how reentry of men and women can be successful. The program has two job offers for every student and all students that want to work, get well paying jobs in the solar industry.

Students at Evans Community Adult School

Immigrant and refugee ESL learners talked about their dreams and challenges as part of their pathways to success at the Evans Community Adult School.

At Evans Community Adult School, the visit focused on adult ESL and other services for immigrants and refugees. The school creates pathways to success with adult education and training programs. In 2014 to 2015, 8,000 students participated, 5,771 of whom were ESL students. “The student stories were truly inspirational,” said Carmen as she reflected on the classroom visits and listening sessions with students and teachers. As one student put it, “Education is the key to the future.”

This visit coincided with OCTAE’s release of a Frequently Asked Questions document on Integrated English Literacy and Civics Education, which provides guidance on integrated English literacy and civics education services to support high-impact investments in adult learning. Title II of WIOA, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA) provides over $70 million of formula funding for “integrated English literacy and Civics Education (IELCE), which are education services provided to English language learners who are adults.

I was pleased to hear that both state and local leaders noted the usefulness of our recent Frequently Asked Questions document.

Evans Community Adult School Leaders

Superintendent Michelle King, Board President Steve Zimmer, Acting Assistant Secretary Johan Uvin, Chief of Staff Carmen Drummond, teachers and staff at the Evans Community Adult School gather for a photo after a discussion about teaching and learning.

It is critical to ensure continued access to these important services for adult immigrants and refugees in both the contexts of community and work. These programs are transforming lives and put thousands of older youth and adults on a path into LA’s middle class.