Washington County Adult Learning Center
1997 Inquiry Project
Submitted by Thomas H. Brillat, Director
The purpose of this project was to understand why there has been little, if any, financial support for the Washington County Adult Learning Center by local governments and school departments. It is believed that a better understanding of why this situation exists will enable the Center to create a plan that changes this historic trend.
The project utilized a survey format to solicit data from local government representatives who are responsible for making financial decisions for towns and school departments. Ninety-four surveys were mailed, with a target response number of 45. Thirty-one responses were received, a rate of 33%. This is a good response rate for a survey, however, do to the small survey size, the data may not be sufficient to draw reliable conclusions. Nonetheless, after analyzing the information gathered from the respondents, a few interesting facts appeared.
One major hypothesis was confirmed by the data; the Adult Learning Center
is not well known among local town government officials. It is difficult
to gain support from any organization or individuals if they do not know
who you are or what you do. Creating a greater awareness of the Center
is fundamental to long-term success. Although the effort to achieve broader
familiarity throughout southern Rhode Island is underway, beneficial results
are slow to achieve.
As a counter-balance to the lack of recognition among town council members, the survey indicated that WCALC has very good exposure among school committee members. The relationship between WCALC and schools is a vital one and it is important to know that this relationship extends beyond guidance counselors and principals and reaches elected school officials.
Intangible aspects of social and educational perspectives play an important role in how communities view themselves and how others view specific communities. These intangibles are often the basis for rumors and innuendo, but they can have impact at decision-making levels. For many years in southern Rhode Island South Kingstown has been viewed as having the best schools in the region - insofar as they are purported to have better college preparation programs then other school districts. Property values tend to be higher in South Kingstown, the presence of the University, faculty residences, and a somewhat more suburban versus rural or urban "feel" to the town have given both South Kingstown residents and the residents of neighboring towns, a sense that South Kingstown has the best schools in the area. Although statistical reports on student performance are ambiguous in this regard, sometimes others schools do better, the survey data show that government officials appear to care more about the overall issue of education. South Kingstown had the highest response rate to the survey - 3 of 5 Town Council members, 4 of 7 school committee members, and the superintendent.
On the other hand there is Chariho. It is a district viewed by frequently by outsiders as "backwoods" and possibly "backwards". Chariho has a large segment of local residents desirous of preserving the areaÕs rural aspects. For a number of years double sessions were held at the high school; the district operates a technical and vocational school, such schools considered by many for the Òless intelligentÕ and/or non-college bound student; in fact Chariho does have a lower percentage of students that go on to college compared to South Kingstown. Yet student scores of those students that do go on to higher education from Chariho are highly competitive and have recently exceeded those, not only of South Kingstown, but all other districts in the state. However, the perceived interest, at least in making the connection between public schooling and adult education program offered by WCALC, is low. Only 2 of 12 school committee members responded to the survey (16% - the lowest for all districts surveyed) and no answer was received from the superintendent, the only superintendent not to respond.
I realize this information may not have scientific value, but it continues to perpetuate a perception of interest and value placed by individual communities on education in general and adult education in particular. To decipher the complexities of why these perceptions (which appear to be supported by the data) continue may require much more psycho and social analysis than time and other resources available. This aspect of the survey has not provided assistance in helping to design a plan for gaining greater financial support from certain towns and school districts.
Answers to specific questions are equally interesting. For instance, every respondent that knew someone who had attended a GED, ESL, or reading class stated that classes should be free. Those people that did not know anyone who had attended a class felt that there should be some type of fee structure. 9 of 10 respondents who said they would hire a high school graduate over a GED graduate, also said they did not know any GED graduates.
Drop-out rate information appears to have been reported in at least two different ways - annually and cumulatively. This was due to insufficient details in the question. Nonetheless, respondents from the same districts had different answers, and, based on the information available to WCALC, only 5 of the 21 respondents had accurate information. The other 16 all underestimated the dropout rate. (It is interesting to note that 4 respondents from South Kingstown said they knew the drop out rate. Two of them gave low rates and two gave no rate data. Vice versa, the two respondents from Chariho also said they knew the dropout rate and provided very accurate figures.)
Nearly unanimous responses were received in assessing whether or not knowing English and having a GED instead of no diploma will be likely to help raise the standard of living of those individuals. 97% of respondents also agreed that dropping out of high school was not related to intelligence. Likewise, 100% of respondents said that knowing how to read was in the public interest. These responses came as no surprise, but they are important to verify the validity of current WCALC programming.
Two areas of concern presented themselves in the results of the questions about teacher certification and rate of pay. 87% of all respondents believed it is not necessary to be ÒcertifiedÓ by the RI Department of Education to teach reading. In fact, WCALC utilizes the services of many volunteers to perform this task within our reading program. However, these tutors are under the direction of a program supervisor that has been well trained and is a certified teacher. 87% also said it was not necessary to be certified to teach writing, 74% said no for math, and 71% said no for ESL. These percentages are consistent for town council members, school committee members, and the superintendents. It is interesting to realize that the elected and professional representatives of public education believe it is not necessary for teachers to be certified in these areas. One short-coming of the survey was that there was no comparison made between certifying teachers for teaching adults or teaching children. Another short-coming is that the survey failed to quantify whether on not the respondents realized that most WCALC classes teach the same grade level of material that is taught to children. Therefore, if a sixth grade teacher is required to be certified by state regulation, do the results of this survey support the fact that most respondents would agree that sixth grade teachers do not 'need' to be certified to be effective?
The second area that gives cause for consideration is teacher wages. Although the ranges of wages suggested by respondents were similar for each respondent category (town council, school committee, superintendent) the averages were noticeably different. The overall average was $13.30 per hour. Town council members averaged $11.14, school committee members averaged $14.38, and superintendents averaged $14.60.
On the surface these appear to be excellent wages. However, these are part-time positions without benefits. If a teacher was paid the highest average wage, $14.60, and worked 6 hours per day for a 180 day teaching year, this equates to only $15,768. At the town council average it only totals $12,031. This is a very real concern for most adult educators. If certification and college degrees are not required, then these wages may be realistic. However, having certification and a degree bring substantial amounts of credibility, rightfully or not, to any program that have teachers with these qualifications. It appears that the societal stigma that applies occasionally results in lower wages for GED graduates also transfers to the wages paid to teachers in GED instructional programs. However, the real practical problem for WCALC is how to explain to town councils and school committees that the current wage of $16 is not very competitive and well below market value for any teacher. The solution to this issue may be to avoid specific discussions about teacher wages and to focus on program benefits and overall program delivery costs, which are considerably less than public school costs.
A final are of focus is the knowledge or intuitive guesses that respondents had concerning the GED test. Not one respondent new the correct answer for the number of high school seniors that could not pass the GED test. Most refused to guess and simply had no knowledge in this area - leaving the door wide open for better public relations by WCALC and others. This was the case for all three GED specific questions. 12 of 14 respondents indicated high school seniors do better than they actually do, and 2 said they did worse. Likewise, knowledge of the reading level and math content was scattered through all categories, with no correlation noted among groups of respondents. Information can be improved in these areas by 'getting-the-word out.' The inquiry project experience provided WCALC with answers to some questions and also generated a number of additional questions. It substantially supported the need for better dissemination about WCALC's existence to the local communities. It reinforced the fact that adult education does not appear to have a high priority among local government officials. It indicated that there still appears to be a bias against GED graduates. On the other hand, it presented a direct correlation between the need for knowledge in certain areas and a willingness to support programs through federal and state taxes. However, taxes based on property values (school and local) should not be used for adult education programs - although this is the method used exclusively to fund public education.
The recommended course of action will be for the WCALC director and staff to set up a schedule of public speaking engagements and town council, school committee, PTA, and civic club meetings. The agency must should also try to develop a multi-media presentation format that can be used by anyone and shown in the absence of WCALC staff. A better rapport and increased visibility need to occur in local publications and integrating adult education with public, K - 12, education needs to become a cornerstone for all WCALC outreach efforts.
Inquiry Project - Survey Results
June 23, 1997
94 surveys mailed - 31 returned = 33%
45 (48% of total) mailed to Town Council Members - 12 returned
= - 27% of those mailed to council members - 39% of total returned 32 council members are men = 71% - 6 men mailed returns = 19% of men 13 council members are women = 29% - 6 women mailed returns = 46% of women
43 (46% of total) mailed to School Committee Members - 14 returned
= - 33% of those mailed to committee members - 45% of total returned 17 cmte members are men = 40% - 4 men mailed returns = 24% of men 26 cmte members are women = 60% - 10 women mailed returns = 38% of women
6 (6% of total) mailed to School District Superintendents - 5 returned
= - 83% of those mailed to superintendents - 16% of total returned 6 superintendents are men = 100%
55 were mailed to men = 59% 39 were mailed to women = 41% 15 men sent returns = 48% of those returned 16 women sent returns = 52% of those returned Returns Calculated by Town
Town Council # Mailed / # Returned
Charlestown 5 2
Exeter 5 / 1
Hopkinton 5 / 1
Jamestown 5 / 0
Narragansett 5 / 2
North Kingstown 5 / 0
Richmond 5 / 1
South Kingstown 5 / 3
West Greenwich 5 / 2
Returns Calculated by School District
District # Mailed / # Returned
Chariho 12 / 2
Exeter-West Greenwich 8 / 2
Jamestown 6 / 3
Narragansett 6 / 2
North Kingstown 8 / 4
South Kingstown 8 / 5
SPECIFIC QUESTION RESULTS
1. Prior to receiving this letter had you heard of WCALC?
17 yes = 55% 15 school cmte/supt. = 88% of those saying yes 14 no = 45% 10 council members = 71% of those saying no
2. Do you know that WCALC has classes at 7 locations?
3 yes = 19% 13 no = 81%
3. Do you know that WCALC has offices in the Government Center in Wakefield?
13 yes = 81% 3 no = 19%
4. Do you know that WCALC teaches:
a. GED 15 yes = 94% 1 no = 6%
b. ESL 12 yes = 75% 4 no = 25%
c. Reading 12 yes = 75% 4 no = 25%
d. Family Lit. 8 yes = 50% 8 no = 50%
e. Job skills 10 yes = 63% 6 no = 37%
5. Do you know that WCALC has no full-time employees? 6 yes = 37% 10 no = 63%
6. Do you know that WCALC has a volunteer program? 8 yes = 50% 8 no = 50%
7. Do you know that WCALC is an official GED testing center? 10 yes = 63% 6 no = 37%
8. Do you know that WCALC programs are free? 8 yes = 50% 8 no = 50%
9. Have you seen newspaper advertisements for adult education courses or GED testing given by:
A. WCALC 6 yes = 19% 24 no = 77% 1 n/a = 4%
B. Other 8 yes = 26% 16 no = 52% 7 n/a = 22%
10. Do you know anyone who has attended a WCALC class?
4 yes = 13% 1 family member, 3 other 26 no = 84% 1 n/a = 3%
11. Do you believe that all educational resources available for instruction at the K-12 grade level should be restricted to students under the age of 20? 3 yes = 10% 25 no = 81% 3 n/a = 9%
12. During your work history have any of your employers offered on-site training in:
A. GED 7 yes = 23% 20 no = 65% 3 don't know = 9% 1 n/a = 3%
B. ESL 6 yes = 20% 20 no = 65% 3 dont know = 9% 2 n/a = 6%
C. Reading 6 yes = 20% 21 no = 68% 3 don't know = 9% 1 n/a = 3%
D. Fam. Lit. 4 yes = 13% 22 no = 71% 3 don't know = 9% 2 n/a = 7%
E. Job skills 11 yes= 35% 17 no = 55% 2 don't know = 6% 1 n/a = 3%
13. During your work history have any of your employers provided financial assistance to you for:
A. Tech. Trng 13 yes = 42% 15 no = 48% 3 n/a = 10%
B. College 12 yes = 39% 17 no = 55% 2 n/a = 6%
C. GED 2 yes = 6% 26 no = 84% 3 n/a = 10%
D. ESL 1 yes = 3% 26 no = 84% 4 n/a = 13%
E. Reading 0 yes = 0% 27 no = 87% 4 n/a = 13% F. Fam. Lit. 0 yes = 0% 27 no = 87% 4 n/a = 13%
14. Do you believe that teaching someone to read is in the public interest? 31 yes = 100%
15. Do you believe that someone who cannot read should be able to attend reading classes for free?
26 yes = 84% 3 no = 10% 2 n/a = 6%
16. Do you believe that most high school dropouts are/were not smart enough to do the work?
1 yes = 3% 30 no = 97%
17. Do you believe that high school dropouts should be able to attend GED classes for free?
18 yes = 58% 12 no = 39% 1 n/a = 3%
18. Do you believe that legal immigrants/residents should learn English? 30 yes = 97% 1 no = 3%
19. Do you believe that legal immigrants/residents should be able to attend English language classes for free? 21 yes = 68% 9 no = 29% 1 n/a = 3%
20. If you believe that reading, GED, and/or English language classes should be provided for free, in your opinion, how should classes be funded? (Can select multiple categories.)
A. by volunteer organizations = 10 responses
B. by local school taxes = 4 responses
C. by local municipal taxes = 6 responses
D. by state taxes = 15 responses
E. by federal taxes = 18 responses F. other = 5 responses
21. If you believe that reading, GED, and/or English language classes should not be provided for free, what type of fee or fee schedule would you assess/implement for a 60 hour training program? Most said sliding scale based on income. Others suggested trade-off for community service.
22. Do you know anyone who has taken a GED course?
22 yes = 71% self - 1, family - 5, friend - 5, other - 12 9 no = 26% 1 n/a = 3%
23. Do you know anyone who has taken an ESL course? 8 yes = 26% other - 8 21 no = 68% 2 n/a = 6%
24. Do you know anyone who has taken a Reading course?
7 yes = 23% family - 2, friend - 1, other - 5 22 no = 71% 2 n/a = 6%
25. Do you know the dropout rate for you school district?
21 yes = 68% 9
no = 29% 1 n/a = 3% 1 - 2.5% 1 - 5% 2 - 10% 1 - 13% 1 - 20% 1 - 2.6% 1 - 8% 2 - 11% 2 - 14% 3 n/a 1 - 4% 1 - <10% 1 - 12% 3 - 15%
26. In your opinion, do you believe having a GED as compared to having no diploma, will enable someone to earn a better living? 27 yes = 87% 2 no = 7% 2 n/a = 6%
27. In your opinion, do you believe understanding how to speak, read, and write English will enable someone to ear a better living in your community? 30 yes = 97% 1 n/a = 3%
28. Do you believe it is necessary to be a 'certified' teacher to be a successful adult education teacher in the following areas?
A. Reading 2 yes = 7 % 27 no = 87% 2 n/a = 6%
B. Writing 2 yes = 7% 27 no = 87% 2 n/a = 6%
C. Math 6 yes = 19% 23 no = 74% 2 n/a = 7%
D. ESL 7 yes = 23% 22 no = 71% 2 n/a = 6%
29. In your opinion, what is a fair hourly wage for a part-time adult education teacher?
1 - $7.50 1 - $9-$10
1 - $12.50 1 - $8.00
4 - $10.00
1 - $12-$15
2 - $8-$10
1 - $12.00
3 - $15.00
5 - $20.00 30.
Please list any organizations in Rhode island with whom you are familiar, other than WCALC, that conduct adult education programs similar to WCALC's. 4 listed - LVA, 2 listed public school department
31. In your opinion, what organization in your community is best able to provide adult education courses: 5 - 16% said WCALC 8 - 26% said public schools 1 - 3% said local adult ed. program 17 - 52% - n/a
32. What percentage of high school seniors cannot pass the GED exam? 1- 3% said <15% 7 - 23% said 15% 4 - 13% said 25% 1 - 3% said 65% 1 - 3% said 75% 17 - 55% n/a
33. What is the primary reading level of the GED exam? 4 - 13% said 8th 3 - 10% said 9th 4 - 13% said 10th 0 - 0% said 11th 2 - 12% said 12th 1 - 3% said 8th to 12th 17 - 55% n/a
34. What type of mathematics problems are included in the GED exam? 3 - 10% said arithmetic 5 - 16% said arithmetic and algebra 6 - 19% said arithmetic, algebra, and geometry 17 - 55% n/a
35. If you were interviewing two people for a job, one with a GED and one with a high school diploma from a school you did not know, all other things being equal, would you hire: A. HS grad - 10 = 32% B. GED grad - 3 = 10% C. decide based on other criteria - 16 = 52% D. 2 n/a
36. In your opinion, do you believe that funding adult education programs can help reduce other costs funded by the taxpayers of your community? 26 yes = 84% 1 no = 3% 4 n/a = 13%