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Massachusetts: A Case Study of Improvement and Growth of Adult Education Services

Volume 5: Chapter Four
John Comings and Lisa Soricone

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In this chapter, John Comings and Lisa Soricone present a case study of the adult literacy system in Massachusetts, a system that has undergone significant reform and benefited from considerable increases in state funding over the past 20 years. The authors begin the chapter with a brief history of adult education in the state, beginning in the 19th century and leading up to the current era of the Workforce Investment Act. Comings and Soricone then provide an overview of the adult education system in Massachusetts, briefly describing its administration and funding, programs, practitioners and students, as well as reports on the systemís effectiveness in serving adult learners.

The next part of the chapter outlines four key elements that have characterized the stateís approach to reform. These elements include: strong leadership and a sustained advocacy effort, improvements in the quality of services at the expense of quantity, institutionalization of staff and program development, and the involvement of multiple resources to support students. The authors conclude by presenting a set of lessons learned from the Massachusetts experience that may benefit other states seeking to strengthen and build support for their adult education systems. The first lesson is that reform requires a commitment of long-term leadership and sustained advocacy. Second, strengthening a system necessitates pursuing quality over quantity. Third, the implementation of new standards requires support in the form of program and staff development. Fourth, meeting adult learner needs is a complex task that requires multiple resources. Finally, agreeing upon, refining, and achieving new goals is a lengthy and challenging process. As the case of Massachusetts shows, however, reform is a worth pursuing despite the challenges it may present.

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