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Focus On Basics

Volume 8, Issue C ::: November 2006


It's fitting that the final issue of NCSALL's Focus on Basics is filled with reports from NCSALL researchers across the country. Harvard-based John Strucker starts us off. Although adult basic education (ABE) students often have sporadic attendance, their interest in learning doesn't waiver. If we provide more structured curriculum, he suggests, students will be able to continue to study at home when they cannot come to class, and to pick up more easily when they return.

To make this argument, Strucker draws on the research of his NCSALL colleagues at Portland State University in Oregon, Stephen Reder and Clare Strawn. In their article they share findings from the Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning, which, since 1998, has tracked Portland-area adults who dropped out of high school. Many of these adults engaged in self-study to increase their academic skills. Reder and Strawn suggest that as adult educators we should recast our thinking about our students, and redesign our policies and programs to support learners' self-study efforts.

Some adult educators have already done this. Lauri McLellan Schoneck, Florida, describes Seminole Community College's home study program, started and continuously refined since 1985. Indiana 's Molly K. Robertson describes GED on TV, a program that provides additional support to Indiana learners who are studying for the GED by watching a television series that helps viewers build the skills they need. A word of caution: both the Florida and Indiana programs experience the same retention problems more traditional ABE programs have. Self-study may be an additional tool; it doesn't seem to be a solution.

Once learners have a GED credential, gained through self- or classroom study or a combination of both, do they use it to enter postsecondary education? On surveys, many GED test-takers profess a desire to do so, but NCSALL researcher John Tyler, now at Brown University, Rhode Island, finds that only a small percentage actually enroll. While this seems like bad news, Tyler points out that the data come from the period preceding the growing consciousness among adult educators that the GED is not enough. His findings remind us that, to gain more than marginal economic advantage from the GED, ABE needs to strengthen its efforts to move learners into postsecondary education. Over the past decade, NCSALL's Rima Rudd, based at the Harvard School of Public Health, has been a leader in bringing to light the links between literacy and health. She and Jennie E. Anderson describe a study they conducted to understand and document why navigating hospitals is so difficult. Both health care professionals and adult educators can play a role in making them more accessible.

We close the final issue of Focus on Basics with a piece written by NCSALL dissemination staffers Cristine Smith, Mary Beth Bingman, and Kaye Beall, who took the occasion to synthesize the professional wisdom they have garnered over the past 10 years. Enabling research to move into practice, they find, requires a simultaneous interplay of efforts: policy from the top down, and practitioners' involvement from the bottom up.

For the past nine years I have had the privilege of working with adult basic educators as they crafted articles for Focus on Basics. Almost 220 people have written pieces, about 155 have served on editorial boards, and every state has been represented. I have learned from each issue and from each of you. I thank NCSALL and the field of ABE for giving me this rich vantage point for so many years. I hope I have been of service and that Focus on Basics, available at www.ncsall.net beyond the life of NCSALL, continues to be.

Barbara Garner

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL