OCTAE Acting Assistant Secretary Uvin’s Keynote Address to COABE 2015

This speech was delivered at the Commission on Adult Basic Education (COABE) conference as a keynote on April 23, 2015. It was dedicated to two individuals who have passed away this year and who made significant contributions to the field of adult education: Eugene Owens, Senior Advisor for the Assessment Division at the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education; and Mary Jane Schmidt, co-founder of the Adult Numeracy Network and an Adult Numeracy Project Director at TERC.

 

Thank you, Jackie [Taylor], for that kind introduction and for all the work you and your COABE board have done to put on this conference.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.

I want to start by saying, skills matter. They matter to our:

  • Health. We know that adults with higher levels of literacy and numeracy report themselves to be in better health condition and U.S. adults with low literacy skills are four time more likely to report fair or poor health than adults with higher skills. This is twice the international average.
  • Family well-being and quality of life. What makes up quality of life? Economic security, safe neighborhoods, children’s health and achievement, trust in authorities and a sense that your voice and opinion matter? These things are all strongly correlated with adults’ skills.
  • Employment and advancement on the job.  We know that youth and adults with higher skills are more likely to be employed, to work in jobs with higher wages, and to work at jobs that allow them to exercise and extend their skills.
  • Social mobility.  Another staggering finding in the OECD Survey of Adult Skills was the strength of intergenerational lack of social mobility. In the U.S., adults with low educated parents (that is, without any postsecondary education) are 10 times more likely to have low skills than adults with at least one college-educated parent. This relationship eases somewhat for younger cohorts, but it is still stronger here than in our competitive countries.

You know these facts. I know these facts. Our adult education colleagues know these facts. What is not clear is if our neighbors, employers, elected officials, and many adults with low skills know these facts. And, they ought to.

I’m not going to share a lot of data with you today except to say when the OECD Survey of Adult Skills was released in Oct 2013, the findings were stunning. 36 million of our fellow Americans struggle with literacy skills, 48 million struggle with numeracy skills, and an even larger number struggle with the technology skills needed to solve every day work-like problems. We’ve spoken about these findings for a year and a half, sounding the alarm that it is “time for the U.S. to reskill” and upskill.

What I’d like to talk about today is how we can do what is necessary to make significant, lasting changes in the skills profile of this country that are evident to all now and in the long run.

Don’t mistake me for Don Quixote de la Mancha with an impossible dream. I know that our efforts in adult education and literacy alone cannot address the vastness of the challenge. I also know that the efforts by our partners in health and human services and workforce development help a lot but those efforts, too, are simply not enough.

I may be eternally optimistic and express big dreams, but I am also a realist. I know that we need to tell the story in a compelling and transformative manner and that we need friends and partners in this quest. Lots and lots of friends.

We need to reframe the narrative, seek new and unlikely partners, and find fresh solutions. The current narrative does not match the severity and magnitude of the skills challenge. Skeptics have pointed at prior reports, data, and efforts and say this time can’t or won’t be different.

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SkillsUSA Celebrates its 50th Anniversary

Happy Birthday, SkillsUSA!

Tim Lawrence and Karen Ward stand and cut the first slice of the birthday cake while Brooke Johnson stands in the background

National SkillsUSA Executive Director, Tim Lawrence, and SkillsUSA Massachusetts Director, Karen Ward, cut the birthday cake. President Brooke Johnson looks on.

SkillsUSA celebrated its 50th anniversary on May 8th at its National Leadership Center in Leesburg, Virginia, by celebrating with a Founders Day to recognize the contributions of its members, their instructors, administrators, state association directors, industry partners and alumni.

Some of the event highlights included a dedication of the new entryway of the Leadership Center, designed and constructed by students, memories and testimonies shared among charter members, state directors, and former members, and the opening of the 25th Anniversary Time Capsule.

Brooke Johnson and Ahmad Shawwal stand at a podium

SkillsUSA 2014-15 Presidents Brooke Johnson, NC and Ahmad Shawwal, VA, at the podium during the flag raising ceremony of the 50th Anniversary of SkillUSA celebrations.

Over its 50 years, cumulative membership is more than 11.9 million. The 2014-15 membership of SkillsUSA is 360,404. Its first conference in Nashville, Tennessee 50 years ago brought 200 students, teachers and administrators together. Last year more than 16,000 attended the annual National Leadership and Skills Conference.

SkillsUSA was founded as the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA) with a goal of establishing a nationwide organization to represent trade and industrial education and serve students’ needs. VICA was changed to SkillsUSA in 2004 but what has not changed is the organization’s commitment to help students discover career interests, develop relevant skills to compete globally, and value their own self-worth. SkillsUSA continues to reach toward the founders’ vision, whether it’s fulfilling the 1965 motto of “Preparing for Leadership in the World of Work” or helping to develop today’s “Champions at Work”.

SkillsUSA and is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. SkillsUSA helps each student excel by providing educational programs, events and competitions that support career and technical education (CTE) in the nation’s classrooms.

You can find more information about SkillsUSA on their website at SkillsUSA.org.

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Robin Utz serves as the chief for the College and Career Transitions branch in the Division of Academic and Technical Education (DATE) for Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) at the US Department of Education.

Upskill America: More Education and Training for Front-line Workers

YouTube video of Vice President Speaking at Upskill

Remarks by Vice President Biden at the March 24, 2015 Upskill Summit.

On April 24, the White House convened nearly 200 employers, labor leaders, foundations, non-profits, educators, workforce leaders and technologists who are answering the President’s call to action to join his Upskill Initiative, a new campaign to help workers of all ages and backgrounds earn a shot at better, higher-paying jobs. The Upskill Initiative is a public-private effort to create clear pathways for the over 20 million workers in front-line jobs who may too often lack the skills or opportunity to progress into higher-paying jobs, and realize their full potential.

Since the President’s call to action in January, the Upskill Initiative has already made significant progress with an initial set of partners and resources already on board:

  • Over 100 leading employers – representing more than 5 million workers – and 30 national and local labor unions answering the President’s call to action
  • Coalition of 10 national business networks partnering together to form Upskill America
  • New tools and resources for workers and employers

Last week’s White House Summit is just the beginning for the Upskill campaign. As the President and Vice President have highlighted, the Initiative’s success will require much more: Employers and labor leaders, philanthropists and tech innovators, educators and workforce leaders, and more committed to unlocking the potential of every American worker.

What is adult education’s role in the Upskill Initiative?

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Exploring Games for Learning

How can games transform education? That question was at the core of the Games for Learning summit that was held in New York City in conjunction with the 12th Annual Games for Change Festival. The Office of Education Technology led the day-long event that convened educators, game developers, and technology companies to discuss the latest trends, products, and barriers to developing games that effectively deliver education content.

Photo a crowd viewing a series of video displays with demonstrations of games

Game developers try the latest educational games at the Games for Change Festival in New York City.

OCTAE had the opportunity to announce the EdSim Challenge that will be launching soon. The EdSim, or Educational Simulations, Challenge seeks to demonstrate the value of establishing a predictable framework for developers, schools, and businesses to develop and use high-quality immersive 3D simulations to deliver high-quality CTE. The framework will be developed through a crowdsourced comment phase through which the public can recommend technology and educational approaches to integrate into the challenge.

To stay updated on the EdSim Challenge and receive notification when the public comment period opens, register for email notifications on EdPrizes.com.

Also on Twitter at #EdSimChallenge and #EdPrizes.

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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College and Career Readiness Standards-in-Action

“It’s essential to keep rigorous content standards at the heart of instructional planning, delivery, and evaluation.” Christopher Coro, Deputy Director of the Division of Adult Education and Literacy, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE)

That is exactly what 66 adult educators from 12 states did throughout their participation in an intensive, three-day training workshop held in Washington D.C., March 17-19, 2015. The workshop was designed in response to the following question: What do adult educators need to know and be able to do to translate content standards into college and career readiness (CCR) aligned curriculum and instruction?  Participants will tell you they know now! They spent three action-packed days learning the core instructional actions to effectively implement CCR standards in adult education classrooms.

Under the guidance of StandardsWork Inc. staff and coaches/trainers, participants delved into the instructional and institutional implications of CCR standards. Half the participants worked with the CCR standards for English language arts/literacy while others immersed themselves in the math standards.  Now team members know how to:

  • Determine the alignment of an instructional resource to the standards,
  • Revise the resource to improve its alignment, and
  • Create CCR-aligned lessons.

And they know how to implement their training and the tools and lessons with instructors across their states. Participants left the workshop equipped with ready-to-use training material that will enable professional development staff to provide training activities statewide.

Between now and June 2015, the 12 teams will pilot the training in up to two local-programs in their states (AZ, CO, CT, IL, KY, ME, MA, MN, MT, PA, TN, and VA).  Simultaneously, they are engaging in longer-range planning to scale up what they learned regarding translating standards into CCR-aligned curriculum and instruction statewide. Implementation teams will continue to have access to StandardsWork staff and coaches to assist with their sustainable implementation of CCR standards. In September 2015, everyone will return to Washington D.C. for a second training workshop, Improving Student Assignments and Conducting Focused Classroom Observations.

OCTAE is proud to partner with StandardsWork, coaches, and participants in taking these next steps in improving adult education services for our adult learners. See previously released materials from this project and the College and Career Readiness in Adult Education report.

Celebrating Digital Learning Day

 

Every day is a good dayView image on Twitter for digital learning! One of OCTAE’s top-line priorities is to ensure that teachers and students have access to high-quality learning opportunities on demand. To meet this priority, we have been working on several efforts. To celebrate Digital Learning Day 2015, here is a round-up:

LINCS.ed.gov has an established Community of Practice that is home to lively peer-to-peer and expert-led discussions among nearly 10,000 adult educators. Seventeen self-access courses on topics such as establishing career pathways, accommodating learners with learning disabilities, teaching science,  serving English language learners, and integrating technology provide on-demand professional development for thousands of practitioners. All of this is available to teachers 24/7 and on the go.

Teacher User Groups in two projects have supported adult education teachers to find, evaluate, and review high-quality Open Education Resources (OER) in the areas of science, math, and English language learning for use in adult education classrooms. Their reviews are posted in OER Commons where there is a growing category of reviewed OER tagged as “adult education” and “adult ESL” so other teachers can easily find them and incorporate these resources into the classroom or assign as supplemental learning.  The Open CTE Resources: Educator’s Guide Roadmap to help teachers use, build, and share their own OER is also freely available on the site.

To facilitate more students, teachers, and programs going digital and bringing more digital resources to learning, OCTAE is an enrollment partner with EveryoneOn.org, a broker of low-cost Internet and refurbished high-end devices. Learn how to help students get connected through Everyoneon.org/adulted and learn more about this program here.

OCTAE has also teamed up with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to promote local library-adult education partnerships focused on digital learning and digital literacy. Libraries are a natural source of hands-on assistance with digital and print literacy in the community and can be a productive outreach and recruitment partner. To assist literacy tutors and library volunteers, OCTAE and IMLS co-sponsored development of the Tutor Ready Learning Plans, available online at . Read more about these resources and access an archived webinar presentation.

The Employability Skills Framework is an interactive, one-stop resource for information and tools to inform the instruction and assessment of employability skills for teachers in adult education and career and technical education. The Framework aligns resources around nine key skills, organized in three broad categories: applied knowledge, effective relationships, and workplace skills.

Keep an eye on the horizon for two challenges to be launched by OCTAE. The Reach Higher Career App Challenge seeks to spur innovation in career exploration by empowering students with individualized career and education information at their fingertips. The EdSim Challenge will encourage developers of cutting edge 3D simulations and games to develop the next generation of immersive, interoperable, open platform simulations. More details will be provided soon.

Closing the Equity Gap

“We must close the equity gap for immigrants, refugees, returning citizens, and all adults with disabilities.” – Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier

Rigoberto Alvarado left El Salvador in 1991 in search of a better life in the United States. He needed English and a job. With the help of friends and family, he found an English class at the Neighborhood Centers’ Oakland Adult and Career Education. He started learning English. He found a job he liked in the hospitality industry. But he quickly realized he needed more skills in order to advance, so he returned to Neighborhood Centers to learn about computers and computer applications. Through hard work and dedication to his education, Rigoberto advanced through the ranks to become banquet manager at the Waterfront Hotel in Jack London Square. He now hires and supervises many employees, manages costs and inventories, and strives to create a positive employee work environment. Rigoberto put himself on the path to the middle class.

As Rigoberto’s experience indicates, employment-focused literacy and numeracy, as well as job skills are critical to the prosperity and well-being of individuals. One third of the 36 million adults with low skills in our country are immigrants or refugees like Rigoberto but they have not yet had the opportunities he has had. Our current programs can only offer English language learning opportunities to about 678,000 adult English learners per year. Unless we create additional opportunities for them, these twelve million adults will have a harder time finding a well-paying job than their higher skilled peers.

Making Skills Everyone’s Business – which was released on February 24 – makes a commitment to closing the equity gap for immigrants and refugees and other adults with multiple barriers including adults with disabilities, returning citizens, homeless adults, and emancipated youth transitioning out of the foster care system. Closing the equity gap is one of the seven strategies included in this national call to transform adult learning.

Data from the Survey of Adult Skills support this strategy. For instance, adults with learning disabilities are twice as likely to have low skills but few programs are equipped to meet these adult learners’ unique needs. Twenty-six percent of adults at Level 1 and 9 percent of those below Level 1 reported a learning disability. The figure below, Figure 9 in the Making Skills Everyone’s Business report, demonstrates the challenge.

This chart shows that 8 percent of U.S. adults ages 16–65 answered yes to a question about whether they have ever been diagnosed or identified as having a learning disability; 92 percent answered no. Of those who answered yes, 35 percent had low literacy skills; that is, they scored below Level 2. Of those who answered no, 17 percent had low literacy skills.

Percentage of U.S. adults ages 16–65 at each level of proficiency on the PIAAC literacy scale, by their responses to a question about whether they have ever been diagnosed or identified as having a learning disability

One subpopulation that requires our attention and commitment are older youth and adults in our correctional facilities. Data on the skills of the incarcerated and on returning citizens are forthcoming, as the National Center for Educations Statistics is completing data collection on a representative sample of institutionalized individuals. Conclusive data are available, however, that show that career-oriented education is one of the more effective interventions that contribute to significant reductions in recidivism according to a recent meta-analysis, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education, conducted by the Rand Corporation. OCTAE’s expanding investments in adult and youth reentry education programs and the expanded provisions for corrections education in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act are just the beginning. We need to work directly with employers to create pathways from prison to good jobs.

Partnerships with employers, employment and training agencies, agencies that can support wrap around support services, and integrated education and training programs that simultaneously provide skills remediation and postsecondary education and training are doable and can create real opportunities. But these partnerships and services demand more resources. In addition to demanding resources, we should have the political will to create more opportunities.

When I traveled all across the country gathering input for Making Skills Everyone’s Business, adult learners told me repeatedly that they are ready to take advantage of the opportunities to improve their skills. Let’s work together to make it happen.

Guest Author: Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier is the former Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Dann-Messier launched the national engagement process that resulted in Making Skills Everyone’s Business.

Making Skills Everyone’s Business: Report Launch

OCTAE Announces the Release of Making Skills Everyone’s Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States

UPDATE: See an Ed.gov Homeroom blog post by Undersecretary Ted Mitchell and Acting Assistant Secretary Johan Uvin about The Importance of Transforming Adult Learning.

Data from the OECD Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies’ Survey of Adult Skills, which tested adult skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments, found that 36 million Americans have low literacy skills, nearly 24 million of whom are part of the workforce. In addition, nearly 46 million Americans struggle with numeracy. These skills issues have significant negative impacts on individuals, their families, and their communities. In contrast, higher skills are linked to improved economic and social outcomes, such as better employment, earnings, and health; social mobility; and greater civic engagement. To address the need to connect so many Americans with learning opportunities, OCTAE has released the report Making Skills Everyone’s Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States.

See the recorded video announcement about the report from Acting Assistant Secretary Johan E. Uvin.

Opening image of Uvin Video Message

Recorded Video Message by Johan E. Uvin

Grounded in evidence and informed by effective and emerging practices, Making Skills Everyone’s Business offers seven strategies that hold great promise for improving the conditions that create and perpetuate poor literacy, numeracy, and problem solving. These strategies do not distinguish between public and private obligation, nor do they compartmentalize actions at the federal, state, regional, tribal, or local levels. Instead, they are based on the principle of shared responsibility and acknowledge that America’s skills challenge is too large to address by any stakeholder group independently.

Many OCTAE stakeholders contributed to the development of this report through attending engagement events or hosting roundtables on adult skills in their own communities. OCTAE greatly appreciates all of the input we received and the ongoing commitment to excellent services for youth and adult students.

Please spread the word about this new report by forwarding the link and accompanying video to your community stakeholders. Together, we can empower teachers, tutors, workforce development specialists, librarians, and other practitioners serving adult learners to develop collective strategies that provide all U.S. adults the opportunity to improve their foundation skills and access middle-class careers.

This report is just one of OCTAE’s ongoing efforts to promote adult learning. For continually updated news about our work, visit OCTAE Connection, the OCTAE blog, and the www.ed.gov/AEFLA page.

 

Job-Driven Training: Next Steps

“This [work] is really about the future of the middle class.” That is how U.S. Secretary of Labor Perez framed the work of The Skills Working Group (Work Group), earlier this week. Secretary Perez brought Cabinet members together to talk about how the Administration can make sure that everyone has the skills they need to get a job or get ahead. Members of the Work Group identified priorities and projects to focus their joint work. They discussed how best to maintain a national focus on skills and maintain interagency collaboration on skills beyond 2016.

In November 2014, Perez launched the Work Group, an effort to keep the momentum of the Job-Driven Training Initiative. This initiative is making sure that youth and adults leaving our education and training programs have the skills businesses need. Thirteen federal agencies, the White House National Economic Council, and the Office of Management and Budget make up the Work 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 Work Group coordinates activities across these various agencies.

Overview of Job-Driven Training Milestones:

Jan. 2014 State of the Union: President Obama announces Job-Driven Training initiative and asks Vice President Biden to lead a federal government wide review of job training programs.

Feb-Jun 2014 Job-Driven Training Review: White House and agencies develop job-driven checklist and review job-training programs across 13 agencies.

July 2014 Ready to Work Job Driven Training Initiative Report: White House releases job-driven training report with the results of the job-driven review and an action plan for moving forward, including:

  • Steps to make competitive and formula program more “job-driven”
  • Collaborative efforts across agencies to better align systems, braid funding, and enhance coordination
  • A call to action around long-term unemployment, upskilling, and tech hiring

Nov. 2014 Skills Working Group Launched: Launch of the interagency Skills Working Group in November 2014 to maintain focus and attention around interagency, collaborative efforts component of job-driven training initiative, as well as emerging opportunities around cross-agency skills coordination.

Dec. 2014 Sub-Committees Meet: Skills Working Group deputies establish sub-committees that met in December and over the holidays to develop initial project work plans.

Jan. 2015 State of the Union: President Obama acknowledges the success of Vice President Biden’s job-driven training initiative and highlights apprenticeship and upskilling.

Members presented the goals, objectives, activities, and expected outcomes developed by interagency work teams focused on four topics. Secretary Perez presented on apprenticeship. Secretary Moniz discussed possible pilots for better coordination around skills in targeted communities. Secretary Pritzker introduced technology innovations. And we discussed efforts to increase the skills of 24 million front-line workers so they can advance to higher-paying jobs. We also talked about ways to get more states involved in creating career pathway programs.

Following these mini-presentations, we spoke about what we are already doing and about what more we can do together.

We left the meeting with a clear sense of direction to develop and implement together a comprehensive strategy to solve America’s skills challenge.

Guest Bloggers: Johan E. Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education. Carmen Drummond is a Special Assistant and Policy Advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary. Uvin and Drummond are facilitating the career pathways and upskilling work stream of The Skills Working Group.