The Challenge of Teens in the Adult Education Classroom
Wherever adult educators gather, whether at conferences, meetings, or in e-mail discussion groups, a topic on many minds is the challenge of increasing numbers of teenagers enrolled in adult education classes. Teachers express concern about classroom management and motivation issues when 16 or 17 year olds are placed in classes with older adults. Administrators worry about retention of these young students, additional burdens of tracking and reporting attendance to the agency or court that referred the teen, and the broader question of whether this is the population their programs are intended to serve.
"Most teen students wishing to obtain a GED are now forced to enroll in adult programs because they no longer qualify under new guidelines to enroll in [alternative] high school GED programs. If they have little expectancy of graduating with a high school diploma they either find an adult program or drop out of the education sector all together." Debbie Malone, Administrator, Mt. Pleasant ISD Community Learning Center
"We are having teens and parents calling daily - most want to enter our program and drop out of high school, a few have been home-schooled and simply want to test but are 15 or 16, then there are the numbers that are court ordered for truancy. If they do not attend at regular high school why would we think they would attend our program?" Jan Salzman, Director of Adult Education, Temple College
"If we don't address the situation formally, the 'older students' either put the 'younger-disruptive-with-an- attitude-students' in their place or the older students end up dropping out. Teachers came to adult education to 'enjoy their teaching' and not to worry about discipline." Joanie Rethlake, Director of Adult & Continuing Education, Harris County Department of Education
"[Our Program Coordinator] is pulled away from her 'regular' tasks continually to deal with teens, their parents, parole officers and judges. The paper trail for court ordered students is lengthy and time consuming. In our in-school GED program a whole team of teachers, counselors, and a principal was devoted to nurturing and nagging the students through the process. Adult Ed cannot offer that level of intensive intervention without there being implication/repercussions on our real mission - to serve adults." Cathy Rhudy, Director Adult & Community Education, Northside ISD, San Antonio
"Discipline problem is too mild a term to describe the incidents that have occurred with our under-aged students. Some of these kids are dangerous. We are not equipped to deal with this type of student and some of my teachers are afraid of them. The 16 and 17 year olds are not usually here by choice and that seems to make a big difference." Susie Bradshaw, Administrator, Alvin Community College Adult Education
"We have an optional student policy brochure that teachers can request. If they request it, ALL students in the class must sign it. This brochure basically states that if the student does not follow the rules, he/she can be dismissed immediately. There is a 'grievance' procedure for students to follow also." Joanie Rethlake, Director of Adult & Continuing Education Harris County Department of Education
"In our program, I require a conference with the parent and student prior to enrollment in which I am very dramatic. I make sure that both parent and student understand that this is not an 'alternative' school for kids who cannot make it in regular K-12. I have them take either a page from each section of the Official GED Practice test or the TABE Locator and use that as a predictor of how far they have to go to complete their GED. Once I go over all of this, I ask the student if they want to be put on the list to be considered for the program. I have told some of the call backs that I'm sorry, but you did not make the first cut off." Bobbie McGee-Benson, Supervisor of Adult Education, Kilgore College
"The vast majority of GED completers are less than 21 years old according to the GED Test Center. Without them, our GED completion rate would be quite dismal. Schools do take advantage of adult education programs to solve their dropout problems sometimes. However, because we are not an entitlement program we are may control our enrollment as long as we have written guidelines that are fair and based on legitimate criteria and not on presuppositions regarding students' behavior." David Joost, Director of Community & Adult Education, Houston Community College System
Title II of the 1998 Workforce Investment Act reauthorized the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA) through 2003 to provide services or instruction below the postsecondary level for adults
(1) to become literate and obtain the knowledge and skills necessary for employment and self-sufficiency;
(2) who are parents to obtain the educational skills necessary to become full partners in the educational development of their children; and
(3) in completion of a secondary school education. But what is an adult? AEFLA defines the population to be served as individuals -(A) who have attained 16 years of age;
(B) who are not enrolled or required to be enrolled in secondary school under State law; and
(C) who -(i) lack sufficient mastery of basic educational skills to function effectively in society;
(ii) do not have a secondary school diploma or its equivalent; or
(iii) are unable to speak, read, or write the English language.
Questions lead to yet more questions. What youth of 16 is not "required to be enrolled in secondary school" under Texas law? According to the Texas Education Code, Compulsory Attendance applies to students from six years old until the student's 18th birthday, but some exemptions apply. Certain expelled students (depending on population of their county) are exempt from compulsory attendance, and others are required to attend juvenile justice alternative education programs. A 17 year-old can be exempt from compulsory attendance and instead enrolled in a GED course if he/she (A) has a parent/guardian's permission to attend the course; (B) is required by court order to attend the course; (C) has established a residence separate from parents/guardians; or (D) is homeless. A 16 year-old is exempt from compulsory attendance to attend a GED course only if he/she (A) is recommended to take the course by a public agency that has supervision or custody of the child under a court order; (B) is ordered by a justice or municipal court to take a GED examination after a preparatory course due to truancy; or (C) is enrolled in a Job Corps training program.
New Research Underway
The Office of Vocational and Adult Education is sponsoring an exploratory research project to examine changes in the number of 16 to 20 years old youth enrolling in adult education programs during the past 5 years and the effects of increased youth enrollments on adult education programs. The study is being conducted by the Center for Advanced Study in Education (CASE) of The City University of New York Graduate School. Dr. Seymour Spiegel, Senior Principal Investigator for the project, explains that CASE is interested in (1) policies and practices that local providers or state agencies have adopted to accommodate increased youth enrollments, and (2) problems associated with providing services to this younger population. In April 2002, State Directors of Adult Education were asked by Dr. Case to help gather input from adult educators, so the research is still in the data-gathering phase. For more information, contact Dr. Spiegel at (212) 817-1831 or via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Sheila Rosenberg, Senior Director of Adult and Community Education at Texas Education Agency, has encouraged Texas adult educators to provide their input to this national-level research, noting, "This is obviously a big issue for us in Texas as well." Discussion of the impact of teens on adult education programs is planned for upcoming state-wide meetings of program administrators.
Anderson, David A., General Counsel, Texas Education Agency Office of Legal Services. Administrators' Letter regarding state laws relating to public school admission and attendance that applied during the 2001-2002 school year. July 31, 2001.
Workforce Investment Act of 1998 http://www2.ed.gov/policy/adulted/leg/legis.html.
About the Author
Harriet Vardiman Smith is Materials Coordinator (i.e. Librarian) for the Adult Literacy Clearinghouse project housed in TCALL. In her first career as an early childhood educator, she became interested in parent education and teacher training, which led her into A&M's master's program in EHRD (adult learning). Harriet would like to salute Dr. Don Seaman, who has been a most outstanding boss AND master's committee chair -- as well as his wife, Dr. Anna Seaman, a very fine professor of early childhood education -- also retired from Texas A&M.