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Achieving Adult Education Program Quality

Volume 7: Chapter Three
Mary Beth Bingman and Mary Ziegler

In Chapter Three, Mary Ziegler and Mary Beth Bingman examine state adult education agencies’ efforts to work with local programs systematically to improve program quality. They begin by situating adult education programs in the “quality” efforts started in the 1980s by the private sector and government arena. They review how legislation reflected these efforts: The National Literacy Act of 1991 focused on processes leading to quality; the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 emphasized the outcomes that provide evidence of quality.

The authors provide case studies of three state-level efforts (Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont) that used different systematic approaches to improving program quality. Oregon’s process is based on the premise that all levels of the adult basic education system must participate in change initiatives to see sustainable program improvement. The process, known by the acronym AIDDE, involves these steps: analyze, identify, develop, document, and evaluate. Tennessee bases its systematic program improvement on the Baldridge Criteria for Performance Excellence and focuses on program managers. Vermont has taken a standards-based approach, using the Equipped for the Future (EFF) standards as its model. 

Ziegler and Bingman review the commonalities found across these cases, noting that where adult basic education is located within a state structure may influence the type of improvement process the state adopts, and how that model is applied in practice. Approaching program improvement systematically leads to the development of a common language used by everyone across the system. It also helps people cross boundaries within a system. Learning is shared across boundaries, and professional development is key. Each model also demonstrates the need to use data strategically, to align program processes, and to become more deliberate and systematic and eventually more proactive than reactive.

The authors end with a brief discussion of the implications for practice, policy, and research, noting that the relationship between systematic improvement of program processes and student performance as measured by the National Reporting System outcomes is unclear. Just how this can be done requires more research and policies that reflect what the research indicates.

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Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL