Challenges in maintaining ABE programs
Excerpt from an interview with:
JULIET E. CRUTCHFIELD by CUBA Z. MILLER
December 6, 1995
Now, you mentioned the ESL student knocking down the doors.
Why is it possible that the ABE students don't have to come knock down
Oh, okay. They … first of all, they speak the language, so
they are able to deal with a lot of things. Language is no barrier, in other
words. And some of them have become very, very skillful at hiding the fact that
maybe they can't read or....
Most of them can compute pretty good. You try to shortchange them on change for
a dollar or a twenty, and usually you can't do that. Their pretty good with
money, and maybe that's because that's something that brings in another
modality, you're handling it or whatever, but [they're] pretty good with that.
They've learned how to get by without being able to read.
And actually, our society as a whole, this is Juliet's opinion, is drifting in
that way. Because you go into McDonald's or somewhere like that and there's an
icon. There's a lot of icons in the world now. There's an icon of
the hamburger and the shape of fries or whatever, so you press that as the
clerk in the restaurant. The street signs, by and large, if you want to think
of them that way, you have a stop sign that's standardized. You don't need to
read S-T-O-P. So they're able to get by. They're skillful, if there's really
something that's text, written text, and it's, oh, what's the word, it's…
Dense, yes. Then they have learned, "Well, I left my eyeglasses at home. Would
you read this for me?" or something. So they've learned to get by that way,
wherein the ESL students.... Also, there's a stigma attached for the ABE
students, so they may be very well ashamed to come and admit that they can't do
this or that, where there's no stigma attached for the ESL students.
Okay. Not always successful at their efforts, but anyway, the state has not
been totally indifferent to this discrepancy between the ESL and ABE programs.
What have been some of the specific actions that the state has taken to try to
promote basic skills instruction?
Well, in terms of the federal program, and in terms of that section which we
call Section 321 [of the federal Adult Education Act, later changed to National
Literacy act], which are local assistance grants to agencies, qualifying
agencies, there has been a differential in the amount of money given per
increment, let's just call it that, for ABE programs in contrast with ESL
programs. So there's been a higher unit rate or a higher dollar amount given to
adult basic education programs. And I can kind of remember when that came
about, and I would like to claim credit for that.
Take the credit for it! [Chuckling]
Maybe somebody else would not agree with that statement, but I remember we were
sitting at a staff meeting, and all the reasons that I've told you, it's harder
to serve ABE and et cetera, and I made the statement that I thought there should
be a different rate. And I remember the reaction of some of the people, other
consultants around the table, was very hostile, in fact, because the argument
was made that the need might have been greater for the ESL students. So that's
a legitimate argument, in that there's no doubt that there's a need there. But
when you look at some statistics we had collected at that time, you just have a
pocket of people out there that aren't and weren't being served.
Aren't being served. And still aren't.
Right. So there was a differential made, in terms of a unit rate or funding,
but we never really held programs' feet to the fire, in terms of making sure
that that money really went for an ABE classroom or setting. And, in my
opinion, the money was not significantly greater than … to really jazz
local programs up. Remember, I said it's much easier for the local
administrator to just sit back and let the money roll in, so to speak, let the
a.d.a. roll in, so it wasn't motivating enough.