NSC staff connect the dots between adult education policy levers & real-life successes at COABE

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, April 10, 2018

Three National Skills Coalition staff members led presentations at the recent Coalition for Adult Basic Education (COABE) conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Each of the presentations provided real-life examples and practical resources to equip adult educators to advocate for local, state, and federal policies that invest in adult learners.

  • Upskilling Policy Analyst Michael Richardson presented a workshop on Creative Ways to Fund Adult Education: Advancing State and Federal Policies that Invest in Adult Learners. Michael shared examples of how state and local adult education advocates are using federal policies such as Community Development Block Grants, SNAP Employment and Training, and discretionary grants from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Institute for Museum and Library Services, to support innovative adult education and workforce programs. Michael’s session included a worksheet for participants to use in identifying potential next steps for when they returned home.
  • Workforce Data Quality Campaign Director Bryan Wilson presented a workshop on Creating Effective Pathways for Adult Learners: What Adult Educators Need to Know About State Data Tools. Bryan led a lively discussion of advocates in exploring how their states are currently using data (33 states incorporate their adult education data into their State Longitudinal Data Systems) and where there are opportunities for improvement. Attendees were particularly interested in how the Pathway Evaluator tool can help highlight bottlenecks or “leaky pipelines” in career pathways for adult learners. (Read WDQC’s publication on pathway evaluators.
  • Director of Upskilling Policy Amanda Bergson-Shilcock led Expanding Local and State Investment in ESOL: How Adult Educators Can Nudge Policymakers to Action. Her presentation shared examples of how some of the 25+ municipal Offices of Immigrant Affairs and six state-level New Americans initiatives nationwide are investing in adult English learner programs and services. Attendees received a rubric to help them work through the steps in identifying and pursuing such policies in their own communities.

Amanda also participated as a guest panelist in sessions led by Deborah Kennedy of the National Coalition for Literacy and B. Jasmine Park of the American Institutes for Research. The latter session included follow-up data from NSC’s earlier collaboration with AIR, which drew on data from the international Survey of Adult Skills (known as PIAAC) to produce the Foundational Skills in the Service Sector report.

Members of NSC’s National Advisory Panel on Skills Equity were also featured at the conference. Regina Suitt of Pima Community College joined fellow leaders from the Arizona Association for Lifelong Learning in being honored with the COABE State Innovation of the Year Award. Regina and other AALL colleagues developed and implemented a trailblazing Student Ambassador program that has trained numerous adult learners to participate in policy advocacy. Several of the Student Ambassadors presented at the conference about their experiences, and shared advice for other adult learners interested in policy advocacy.

Overall, nearly 2,000 adult education advocates participated in the conference. Other NSC Advisory Panel members in attendance were COABE President Kaye Sharbano and Executive Director Sharon Bonney. Major themes explored at the conference included alignment between adult education and career and technical education programs, and the impact of the “gig economy” on adult education, both highlighted by general session speaker Dr. Michael E. Wooten of the US Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education.

Another general session featured Denine Torr of the Dollar General Foundation, who emphasized the vital role of local practitioners in advancing strong programs and services for adult learners. Dollar General funded the conference’s awards, which celebrated the achievements of a half-dozen adult learners, advocates, and organizations.