State education departments throughout the country are, for the first time, in the process of agreeing on and establishing new and more demanding educational standards for kindergarten through high school. The nationwide trends and factors prompting this coordinated rise in education standards and accountability affect adult education as much as they will K-12, according to a recently published McGraw-Hill Research Foundation report, "Common Core State Standards: What Effect Could They Have on Adult Education and High School Equivalency Programs in the U.S.?"
To date, 46 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted what's called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and they have committed to schedules for full implementation of CCSS over the next few years.
The new standards are essential to help students compete in an increasingly interconnected and digital world but they will demand more from teachers, as well as from students.
The new guidelines, the reasons for them, and their potential impact are outlined in The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation policy paper, "Common Core State Standards: What Effect Could They Have on Adult Education and High School Equivalency Programs in the U.S.?"
"If the standards for earning a high school diploma become more demanding, and the economic benefits of having a high school diploma increase as a result, won't the standards for and difficulty of earning a high school 'equivalency' degree have to increase as well?" ask study authors Jeff Fantine, MA, Adult Education Consultant, and Mitch Rosin, MA, MS, Director of Adult Learning and Workforce Initiatives, McGraw-Hill Education.
In addition, if what a high school graduate is expected to know and be able to do to compete effectively in a 21st century economy rise to a higher level, vital federal Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs and/or state and local High School Equivalency (HSE) training will be impacted.
Fantine and Rosin raise many crucial questions with regard to adult education and HSE, including:
- How can the adult education community adapt to the CCSS to raise educational achievement and reduce the marginalization and stigmatization that adult education carries with it today?
- How can the instructional guidelines now being established for the CCSS in English Language Arts and Literacy and mathematics in K-12 be adapted so as to be relevant (and realistic) for adult education students?
- How can adult learners – especially those who did not finish high school – be supported to meet higher academic standards? Can learners be motivated to pursue an education with enhanced rigor? What services can be implemented to support transition into postsecondary education, advanced job training, and lifelong careers?
- What can be done to support instructors and administrators in all areas of adult education to ensure that adequate professional development is provided to enable them to meet the challenges that might result from the implementation of the CCSS?
- Are there sufficient resources in a time of fiscal austerity to adapt and adequately implement the CCSS, and, if not, what can be done to implement the CCSS in some meaningful form without a substantial increase in funding?
The policy paper includes opinions from several adult education professionals who offer their views on how the coming K-12 standards might impact the adult education community of administrators, teachers, and students. While these experts offer a variety of ideas, the authors summarize a general consensus:
- Whatever the impact of CCSS is, they will raise the bar for teaching and administering adult education and high school equivalency by increasing the rigor and quality of services;
- There will be pain at the beginning as the field adjusts to the CCSS. The lack of funding for better instructor professional development will be a particular issue, but, if adult education authorities want to implement CCSS effectively, a fundamental change to how they perform in the classroom will be required;
- In the long run, the higher standards and greater rigor resulting from the CCSS will benefit adult basic and secondary education, giving them a higher profile, spotlighting their need for more funding, and giving the entire field an elevated level of respect and cachet that comes from implementing higher standards.