A Collaborative Vision for Serving Adult Learners

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Photo by Tom Jung, San Mateo Adult School

Round table discussion report from CATESOL Northern Regional Conference.

The 2013 Northern Regional CATESOL Conference on Saturday May 4th gave us a wonderful opportunity to bring together a panel of ESL educators from community colleges and adult schools to talk about A Collaborative Vision for Serving Adult Learners. It was a chance to share ways of thinking about the two systems, how they differ, what they share and how they both strive to serve adult learners through the different historic filters that have shaped them.

The session was moderated by KQED Education and the panel brought considerable experience and expertise from both sectors to the table. Dr Bob Harper, Director of Campbell Adult School and Kristen Pursley, Lead Teacher from West Contra Costa Adult Education, presented their vision for adult education and Greg Keech, elected Chair of ESL at CCSF and Sonja Franeta, former Chair of ESL at Laney College, spoke to issues confronting noncredit ESL provision in community colleges. Both sectors addressed ways to work together towards a fair and equitable system that meets the needs of non native speakers in Northern Californian communities.

Greg Keech laid out the context for this discussion in his post on KQED ESL Insights blog - What is Noncredit? “What is known as "adult education" in the K-12 system is generally known as noncredit in Community Colleges. In the ESL realm, there have been two separate entities delivering instruction: some districts have adult ESL classes under their local K-12 district, while credit instruction is provided by the community college; in other areas, the community college district provides both credit and noncredit ESL, though not always under the same roof.” Our panelists offered examples of the differing systems - City College of San Francisco provides both credit and noncredit ESL classes, whereas Laney College offers only credit ESL courses.


The discussion was further set against the backdrop of Governor Brown's recent proposal to move adult education into the community college sphere, which was unanimously rejected on March 19th by the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance. However the subcommittee voted to approve it "without prejudice," which means they did not disagree with the principle. As such the idea is likely to come back in the May budget revise.

To summarize the points discussed:

  • Both systems are based on principles of social justice.
  • The community college system is more driven by standards and outcomes that frame their work.
  • Colleges privilege credit courses in terms of funding, with more funding allocated to courses where students matriculate. Many ESL students do not seek to go to college but look for other outcomes that may be vocational. Their right to language provision should be protected, as should the rights of seniors to attend lifelong learning classes, and classes for adults with disabilities. CCSF also offers non-credit Parent Education classes – all of this provision could be under threat if the Governor’s plan goes though.
  • Both sectors stressed the importance of open access, fluidity in terms of access and achievement, with clearly delineated pathways for students to navigate systems whether in terms of progression or reentry.
  • Participants in the session talked about the importance of solidarity between sectors in terms of defending provision. Adult schools are clearly in a more vulnerable position and face considerable uncertainties in terms of jobs and program survival if they are absorbed into the community college system.

To understand the impact on adult education under K-12 in California, please visit http://a4cas.blogspot.com/2013/03/weekly-update-33113.html.

It was agreed that setting up a working group between adult education and noncredit ESL sectors would be a positive way forward to collaborate on issues discussed. Participants from the group signed up to stay involved.


For KQED ESL Educator resources, visit www.kqed.org/esl

Edsource 5/14/2013 - Governor tries to fix adult ed plan, but controversy remains