United street action and online communities making a difference

ADULT EDUCATION HAS been on the ropes, yet it continues to come back swinging to defend programs that are vital to many California communities.

Immigrants, older adults, low-income families and high school dropouts rely on adult schools and non-credit community college programs as avenues for self-improvement and civic engagement, but the programs are rarely seen as those most harmed by the state’s failure to fund education adequately.

The fights to defend adult schools from deep cuts or elimination are often overshadowed by larger funding struggles, and typically affect marginalized communities that are less visible to legislators and the public.

CFT members who teach in adult schools and community college non-credit have begun to change this by working with their students and community allies to raise the public profile of adult learning communities within the broader effort to fully fund public education.

For example, when Los Angeles Unified, the second largest school district in the country, proposed closing adult schools serving more than 30 cities last year, thousands of adult school teachers and students protested in the streets and at board meetings.

In our quest to take care of our youth, we often forget that young people are part of a family unit. Active older adults are able to care for young children, be mentors to them, helping them with their homework, keeping them off the streets, helping keep them happy and healthy. 

—Irma Becerra Nunez, Teacher, Older Adults Program, Los Angeles Adult School

Irma Becerra Nunez, who teaches in the Older Adults Program at the Los Angeles Adult School, told board members, “In our quest to take care of our youth, we often forget that young people are part of a family unit. Active older adults are able to care for young children, be mentors to them, helping them with their homework, keeping them off the streets, helping keep them happy and healthy.”

In the end, more than 200,000 people signed a petition to save the Los Angeles adult schools. Their efforts raised the public profile of adult schools and saved about 50 percent of the district’s adult education program.

Since 2009, more than half the state funding previously dedicated to adult education has shifted to other purposes. That year the Legislature allowed K-12 districts “flexibility” with categorical funds, meaning that funds for adult learning were no longer guaranteed.

As a result, the number of adult learners served has plummeted from more than a million in 2009 to fewer than 700,000. Many adult schools have closed, and nearly all of those remaining have been forced to eliminate or drastically cut back programs. Community colleges have also significantly reduced their non-credit offerings.

To monitor the status of adult education, the CFT Adult Education Commission, comprising representatives from numerous local unions, keeps watch on district programs and advises CFT on legislative policies that impact adult education.

Adult educators are also fighting back by building online communities. Teachers at the San Mateo Adult School launched the blog Adult Education Matters to raise the profile of adult education and to build a shared online resource.

According to adult teacher Cynthia Eagleton, a member of the San Mateo Adult School Federation of Teachers, who oversees the blog, “Adult education has always been about second chances. Now we’re living that as we push to renew and rebuild adult education. Just as adult education students prove every day: It can be done and we’re doing it.”

In February, Karen Arthur, an ESL teacher at the Oxnard Adult School, and member of the Oxnard Federation, created a Facebook group Alliance of California Adult Schools that serves as a clearinghouse for everything adult ed with regular news posts about adult schools around the state.

While the future of adult education remains uncertain and there are many competing ideas about how to meet the needs of adult learners, the CFT believes California can rebuild schools that work for all students, including the state’s vital population of adult learners.

— By Zev Kvitky, CFT Field Representative

Adult educator writes how-to book

IN HIS NEW BOOK, How to Teach Adults, adult educator Dan Spalding covers everything from getting that first job to teaching a class to growing as a professional. The book includes a teaching glossary and a union glossary. Spalding is a former shop steward and bargaining team member for Oakland AFT, representing teachers at Oakland adult schools. He also taught at Laney College as a member of the Peralta Federation. Spalding relied upon Kickstarter to raise the funds necessary to edit, design and print How to Teach Adults, but has also made the book available for free. >Download the free pdf or epub.