Work Force Education or Literacy Development: Which Road Should Adult Education Take?

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Work Force Education or Literacy Development: Which Road Should Adult Education Take? The world of work continues to change rapidly. Many workers will need to upgrade their skills and some will need to be retrained for entirely new jobs. Providing educational opportunities to these adult workers will lengthen their productive years and will also benefit the economy by creating a more flexible and more highly trained workforce. (U.S. Department of Education Strategic Plan, 1998-2002, 1997, p. 39) Our democratic institutions depend upon and are sustained by an educated citizenry. While moving from welfare to the workforce and creating economic advancement are valid outcomes of education, democracy demands much more. Democratic life requires critical inquiry, civic participation, and a commitment to the common good. (Auchter 1998, p. 2) During the past few years, the nations economic needs have driven many of the policy discussions within education. At the federal level, Congress has considered and debated bills that would consolidate a number of educational programs--including adult basic education and vocational education--into omnibus work force development and training bills. Provisions for block grants that would allow states greater autonomy and latitude in making decisions about how the funds are used have been included in these proposed acts. None of these education bills has passed, but the debate continues. In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. More commonly known as the Welfare Reform Act, this legislation not only created sweeping changes in welfare policies that affected education and training, it also provided block grants that give states greater flexibility (Nathan 1997). A number of states have responded to the move at the federal level toward greater state autonomy and control by merging education, human services, and employment service agencies to create "super agencies" to oversee state work force development efforts, including adult basic education, welfare reform, and vocational education (Jurmo 1996). The increasing emphasis on work force development as a policy goal is bringing to the forefront a continuing debate within the field of adult basic education. Although adults frequently enroll in adult basic education for job-related reasons, the programs themselves have always had broader goals. In an effort to shed light on current perspectives about the goals and purposes of adult basic education, this Digest reviews recent literature and suggests solutions to what frequently becomes an "either-or" debate. The Current Context: Its Impact on Adult Basic Education

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