Evidence-based practices and performance-based funding are on the rise in adult education. The explicit goal of these strategies is to use data to more effectively manage and improve ongoing programming. We want to hold administrators and educators accountable for the failures of our students. Attrition and student failure are presumably symptomatic of poor teaching.
Having been an adult education instructor, administrator and grants manager, I understand that our goals for success are not always compatible with each other’s. An effective educational environment is not always efficient. Efficiency is not always effective when we talk about student progress and transitions to career pathways. Students need time and meaningful connections. We need success stories, level gains, and satisfactory enrollment and attendance.
If we truly care about adult learners and providing resources that may enable student success, we need to rethink the structure and function of adult education programming today. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I think we should propose these alternatives:
- Evaluate unproductive and unnecessary hierarchy. In the spirit of Paulo Freire there’s a new focus on student-centered classrooms. We want students to actively participate in making meaning of their own learning; educators should serve as facilitators and partners, not lecturers. We should all work as collaborators. Unfortunately, educators are not always treated like collaborators beyond the classroom. We espouse a top-down hierarchy in which staff must go through “proper channels” in order to have issues resolved. We expect them to be gifted educators, but don’t tap into their expertise as diverse professionals with varied professional experiences, especially when we administrators are in uncharted waters.
- Reduce (I dare say eliminate) the dependency on state and federal funding. Collaboration is essential for quality programming. At times funding regulation can present a barrier against collaboration. In other cases, funding is administered later than scheduled due to the political tide. This may force organizations to scramble and overburden (and undervalue) committed staff. Funding is essential for sustaining service organizations, but if funding sources are at odds with the organization’s explicit mission, perhaps we should find other ways to fund our dream.
- Reflect on and reduce staff attrition. If we plan to use data to determine program effectiveness, we need to do the same regarding attrition of staff. It cannot be and should not be normal and regularly accepted to have an ongoing stream of data entry assistants, managers, deans, principals, program coordinators, etc. regularly leaving the organization. If student attrition is symptomatic of poor teaching, staff attrition is symptomatic of poor leadership.