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Welcome by Editor

Welcome to Focus on Basics

Dear Readers,

Exposing myths and confirming folk wisdom are opposite endeavors, yet that is what research is all about. In this issue, we do both. Our cover story, by National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) research team Cristine Smith, Judy Hofer, and Marilyn Gillespie, confirms what program-level staff in adult basic education (ABE) already know. Working conditions in ABE act against anyone's ability to improve quality. The result is that teachers challenge the conditions, cope with them, or quit. Bruce Wilson and Dickson Corbett, evaluators working with NCSALL, found much the same. ABE practitioners have little access to professional development, they write in the article. We must make a commitment to the challenge of improving working conditions if we want to reach the ultimate goal of benefiting adult learners.

Improving working conditions is one step necessary to increase the effectiveness of ABE; using research-based information is another. What ensures the use of research? How does NCSALL ensure that its research is used?  Focus on Basics plays a large part in the dissemination of findings, but interactive dissemination efforts are even more important. If you can  not join a study circle, go to a workshop, or participate in a research project, join in discussions with researchers about their work via the Focus on Basics electronic discussion list.

The NCSALL Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning (LSAL) is helping to expose some myths of adult education. As Steve Reder and Clare Strawn report, ABE students may conceive of their serial enrollments in programs as part of a long-term approach to educating themselves, rather than a series of failures. How do our attendance-calculating policies match, or contradict, the perspectives of our students? Data from the LSALs also encourage us to rethink our conception of adult learners as "school resisters," point out Reder and Strawn. Many students may have enjoyed, or at least not minded, school. What does that mean for program design and instruction? Additional findings from the LSALs will be available later in the year. In the meantime, give us your reactions to these.

The NCSALL study on the Literacy Practices of Adult Learners (LPALs) has also confirmed what many teachers know: by using authentic reading materials in class, we increase our learners' out-of-class literacy activities. We've included some examples of promising class practices to provide you with ideas on how to implement these findings.

To help you locate other research that might be of use in making decisions around program design and instruction, Jessica Mortensen has started compiling a list of current research activities in ABE. If your research project was not included, please contact Jessica at and provide her with the details. We will  add the information to the list on our website,

In addition to doing research, NCSALL runs a literacy class and publishes, with Jossey-Bass, Inc., the Annual Review of Adult Literacy and Learning. Volume Two is now available. Check our website for particulars, or call Jossey-Bass at 1-800-956-7739.


Barbara Garner