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Seeking Innovative Solutions to The Challenge of Adult Literacy

By Liza McFadden

My great-grandparents emigrated from Westport, Ireland and I’ve traveled to see the home they left. In the summer it’s a charming, whitewashed building with a picturesque view of the harbor that belies the hunger and hardship that motivated its residents to seek a better life across the ocean.

I’m reminded of this image daily in my work as a literacy advocate. Not too long ago, myself and Doro Bush Koch, Honorary Chair of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, visited families in our Rockville, Maryland program, most of whom had come to America seeking relief from dire poverty in Guatemala. One mother cried when sharing with us that due to funding constraints, she would have to leave the program when her son turned four and went to preschool.

Despite our knowledge that a mother’s educational level is the number one determinant of a child’s likelihood to graduate from high school, we’re going backwards. Enrollment in adult literacy and English Language Learning programs has declined by 27% since 2001. The recession steamrolled dreams: in Los Angeles alone there was a decline of over 800,000 students served from 2008 to 2013, and local adult literacy waiting lists are in the thousands.

I believe in order to address these problems, it is time to consider all options that increase access and opportunity. Why aren’t innovative education reform models found in the K-12 system more prevalent in adult education? I believe we could benefit from studying both successful and emerging implementations of these models. For example:

  • Sonia Gutierrez,who is considered both a Hispanic rights activist and literacy leader, championed the rights of adult literacy students, and in 1998 the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School was awarded the first adult charter school in Washington, D.C.
  • Briya Public Charter School in

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Mississippi’s Charter School Law: A Sad But Sitting Duck for a Lawsuit

A group claiming to work against poverty has filed a lawsuit against Mississippi’s fledgling and very modest charter school law that was intended to help poor kids. This is ironic at best, and harmful to kids, at worst. The Southern Poverty Law Center should be about eradicating poverty through the very foundation that holds the key to a child’s future and upward mobility – education! That great charter schools all over the nation are solving the achievement gap for the poor should be their model.

But then again, Mississippi’s charter school law was a sitting duck. sittingduck

As we argued when it was being debated, proponents should have demanded a law that allows for authorizing by school districts and universities, and provide for a high number of charters that could create a natural support base from the get-go. Allowing for institutions already publicly approved to spend taxpayer dollars to authorize charter schools not only avoids the creation of new bureaucracies but is legally sound.

Charter commissions, while held up as model, are fraught with challenges. In the few states that have them, commissions are becoming agents of charter-loathing state education departments who tack on more regulations and have narrow views of what innovation really is in public education.

That’s why we support and are advocating for strong laws that provide for multiple authorizers, a high or no cap on schools, fiscal equity and operational autonomy.

Laws that don’t provide for these are not laws worth having. They take just as much political capital to pass as does a pilot or weak law, but once enacted, they create more momentum to withstand increasing political pressure to roll back and over-regulate.

Like a weak-kneed bully who goes after the smallest kid on the block, Mississippi’s

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A Call to Action for Renewed Focus on REAL Education Reform

by Steven Guttentag, President of Connections Education

On Wednesday June 15th, I attended a lunch at the National Press Club at the invitation of Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, and a long-time, tireless and effective supporter of choice and charters. At this event, Jeanne unveiled The New Opportunity Agenda, a manifesto for renewed energy, strategy and action around education innovation and opportunity.

In a nutshell, Jeanne and the panel argued that the progress made over the last 25 years around creating educational choices for all parents (not just the privileged few who can afford private schools) and the development of new educational models, practices and pedagogy, is starting to wane. In some cases, it seems to be even going backwards. She provided a wake- up call to education reformers and asked all of us, across the ideological spectrum, to find common ground around the “twin values of opportunity and upward mobility.”

As someone who has been on the front lines of education reform my entire career, first as a teacher in the District of Columbia Public Schools, then as an administrator in the School District of Philadelphia and now as a co-founder and president of Connections Education, a company supporting K-12 online and blended learning in schools and school systems across the country for 15 years, this was a message for which I had been waiting. Attempting to innovate within our public education system is a constant battle to fit a square peg into a round hole—to justify, to explain, to try to comply with antiquated rules and regulations.

Joining Jeanne at the front of the room in support of this change agenda was John Engler, Former Governor of Michigan, David Levin, President and CEO of McGraw-Hill Education, and Donald Hense, Chair and

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