Tag Archives: Adult Education

What is the Common Core? And Why Are People Freaking Out About It?

Next up on my list of Education Controversies in 2015: Common Core! It’s a household name! But what does it mean?

“Common Core” to some means worksheet-driven, teach-to-the-test curriculum.

“Common Core” for others is code for failed educational policy.

“Common Core” can translate into “teachers are unappreciated and underpaid,” or “high stakes standardized testing,” or “failed funding formulas that perpetuate economic inequities.”

Say that one five times fast!

When I see headlines that blame “Common Core” for everything wrong in education, my hands get clammy and my heart starts pounding. I have to take a few deep breaths and think about my happy place.

Hearing the rhetoric around Common Core feels like I’m on an elevator that is going up at a normal pace, and suddenly someone starts yelling it’s going too slow, and another person wants to get off, and someone else is convinced they are going to get lost and it’s all the elevator’s fault.

And for some reason these screaming voices seem most angry that they do not know how the elevator works.

So here’s how the Common Core elevator really works. Let me break it down for you…

Now, I realize that education is much more complicated to operate than an elevator, but this is a metaphor so bear with me. Also let me qualify by saying that I have plenty of normal-voice, reasonable conversations with insightful educators about their take on the Common Core. Maybe you’re one of them. If so, please keep reading. I have a potential opportunity for you at the end.

But just in case you’re not an education policy nerd, let me explain: the Common Core State Standards “elevator” is a list of skills that students should know at each grade level in English Language Arts and Mathematics.

That’s it. A list of skills. Example: 2.NBT.2 “Count within 1000; skip-count by 5s, 10s, and 100s.”

Nothing more, nothing less.

Confession: I like the Common Core State Standards!

You are skeptical? “What’s to like?” you ask.

The list of skills is logical. The end point makes sense for the demands of the emerging economy. The emphasis on argument (in both language arts and math), three-dimensional geometry, and understanding complex texts is based in solid evidence on what is both effective in education and needed in the workforce.

I could say more, but I highly recommend that anyone interested read the Standards yourself and form your own opinion.

When talking about the standards, it’s equally important to note what the Common Core is NOT.

It is not a funding policy. It is not a test. It is not a reading list or a series of workbooks. It’s not a lesson plan or a teacher evaluation rubric. It’s not a union contract and it is definitely NOT a federal mandate.

You see, the Common Core elevator just determines the height of skill for each grade level, so they build on each other. And it also means that the 45 states who have accepted the same standards will be able to communicate better and share resources, because they have shared goals and language.

How teachers build those skills are called lessons and curricula.

How schools measure those skills are called standardized tests.

How schools measure teacher effectiveness at building the skills is called teacher evaluation.

How states funds schools based on student performance on standardized tests is called a tragedy…I mean the funding formula.

So Common Core is the backbone of this structure because it determines how high students have to perform to move up the elevator to get to the next level. A massive multiplex of lessons, curricula, standardized tests, teacher evaluation, and funding policy has already been built on this Common Core backbone in 45 states. The standards go higher than ever before. They defy gravity. Now that we’ve seen it in action, some people are getting vertigo.

It’s different than what adults learned in school, and many teachers and parents have no models for how to teach these skills to their students or kids. That is enough for some people to send them packing without taking the time to figure out if the new way is actually better or worse.

The worst part about the screaming people on the elevator is that it’s too much, too late.

Where were these voices in all the boring academic and administrative committee meetings starting back in 1995? Where were these voices during the stages of public comment on the standards in 2009-2010? Where were these voices when individual states were reviewing and evaluating the standards to decide on adoption between 2010-2013?

That process was led by state governors. It involved people at all levels from parents to presidents. Writing the standards was a very slow, quiet, transparent and highly democratic process that the general public ignored until 45 states had adopted it, built policy around it, and started putting these communal decisions into action.

Where have these talking heads been for the past five years while this stuff was being built? Or twenty?

It’s my personal conviction that if you wait to act on an issue until people are screaming in the streets, then in a democracy that means you probably missed the quiet meetings where the decisions were made. Sure, it feels very “civil rights era” to stage walk-ins or walk-outs or protests or press releases, but the real savvy and effectiveness of the movement was that they had targeted political objectives. Rallies may increase awareness, but what really matters is what you say during your turn at the microphone. Do you have a detailed, well-informed agenda when you get to the table with decision makers, or become a decision maker yourself?

I have yet to see talking points about “Common Core Reform” that actually address the content of the Common Core State Standards.

If you want reform (like the grass roots reformers who advocated for the Common Core Standards in the first place) you win by showing up over and over and over with the same message in front of as many audiences as you can find.

So whether or not you like the Common Core, you join the conversation by getting very familiar with the existing Standards. Remember this website: CoreStandards.org. Read everything on it.

Then think you can write a better test for it? Do it!

Think you can develop better lessons and curricula? Please!

In fact, if you really think you can create some awesome lessons for adult education aligned to the Common Core, my employer Essential Education is currently hiring Instructional Designers. Apply on LinkedIn and see if it’s a good fit.

And if you really don’t like the Common Core State Standards themselves, then draft your own version.

Yes, there are plenty of things going wrong in education right now. But quite frankly, I think the Common Core State Standards are a shining star. I give it an A+! The process and the result were a massive achievement that exceeded my expectations.

But what about the massive multiplex built around the Common Core elevator? What about the tests, and funding, and worksheets…the parts the public actually sees?

What would you do differently? Let me know in the comments. I look forward to your thoughts.


Filed under Adult Education, Education

Is the New GED Test Too Hard? Why Aren’t More People Passing?

I’m going to start the New Year by responding to a couple of the biggest controversies in education, starting with the new GED Test. I want to hear your thoughts, too.

I’m going to get straight to the point: I like the new GED Test, for the same reasons I like the Common Core State Standards. But even with five years of development, we weren’t ready for it.

Side Note: I’m just getting acquainted with the TASC Test from CTB-McGraw Hill and HiSET Test from Education Testing Service, so I won’t comment on them yet.

My attitude hasn’t changed too much since I wrote about this two years ago. In “The 2014 GED Test and Its Impact on Adult Literacy Providers” I thought the key impacts of the new test would be:

  1. Increased program costs for technology to prepare students for computer-based testing.
  2. Students would take longer to prepare for the new exam.
  3. Increased cost for the exam will be a barrier for low income students.
  4. Programs would have to invest heavily in upgrading curriculum and instructors’ skills.

I concluded, “There is a cumulative effect of increasing testing fees, requiring technology to prepare for computer-based testing, and aligning to the CCSS. … Shifting to technology-enhanced, standards-aligned instruction will increase the long-term baseline cost of delivering GED test preparation services. Programs will require increased funding in the short-term just to maintain quality and capacity for learners. Programs will need to plan for ongoing maintenance costs for professional development, technology consultation, Internet and physical security, assessment and software licenses, and equipment and hardware updates.”

To put it plainly: GED Test preparation will require a lot more money and time to achieve the same results.

I wrote that in Spring 2013.

Am I surprised in January 2015 at the news that my predictions came true? Unfortunately no. We didn’t make the investment. Money didn’t come flowing in. We didn’t start hiring more full-time staff (77% of adult literacy instructors are part timers). It took six months into 2014 for the first Spanish-language version of GED Test prep materials to reach the market.

The big question in my mind was the degree of impact the new test would have. I have to admit it’s worse than I thought it would be. Folks who lived through one or two of the last GED Test changes reassured me that the field took a plunge for a year and then bounced back. But the news that is the plunge is steeper this year than the last change in 2002.

How long will it take us to bounce back?

Will we bounce back?

I am frustrated that adult literacy programs and funders were not able to read the warning signs, and that our field is underprepared. I can’t pin point one organization, or even one category or group that is really to blame. It is a whole systems failure: funders, employers, state and federal administrators, publishers, instructors. We dropped the ball. We did not transition gracefully.

It’s not the fault of the GED Testing Service alone, though they had their role to play. GED Testing Service showed up at every conference, conducted online surveys, did field research to answer educators’ questions, and tried to get the word out in every state. That’s when we had a chance to give our input, and to change direction. At the same time, GED Testing Service can’t change the economy, can’t make employers invest in training for entry-level workers, can’t stop the international community from having a better education system than the U.S. The GED Test has been accepted by 40 states. A whole mountain of curriculum and assessments and policy have been built up around it.

So now what?

I’m concerned that the rhetoric of failure will contribute to underfunding adult education instead of recognizing the significant investment required. We need more support, both funding and political will, to get up to speed, or really just to maintain our old speed.

Most people still don’t know the field of adult literacy exists. The general public does not understand the complexity of barriers faced by those who didn’t complete high school or have been out of the workforce for a long time. A few folks who ask what I do in adult literacy have even responded that they think low literate adults are just undeserving poor who should have taken advantage of their free public education when they were kids. Some did, some didn’t, some couldn’t, some did in other countries…it’s not that simple.

My question to you, readers, is: Who is responsible for the education of low literate adults?

I’m not asking who is to blame, but how do we inspire the investment of time, funding, and motivation necessary to improve the basic skills of adults? What do we do next with the new GED Test? Please respond in the comments with your ideas.


Filed under Adult Education, GED Test Instructors

Adult Educators’ Recommendations for Best Free Resources

It was a delight to work with adult educators to share and evaluate a smattering of the free content available out there for adult education and GED Test Prep. Participants at The Literacy Cooperative’s training organized into groups to become the Adult Education Resource Evaluation Team (AERET). After introducing 25 free websites available for Ohio adult educators (18 of those sites are free to a national audience), I sent the teams on a webquest.  They have shared their recommendations with you:

Low Level English Proficiency Learners

Our first group were professionals who serve a variety of literacy levels. Their overall finding was that there is not much out there that is intuitive and well paced for low level English readers or speakers. Almost everything requires instructional intervention.

Parameters for evaluation:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Site navigation
  3. General app look and feel
  4. Tech requirements


  1. Accessibility : Need to sign in which requires a username and Need to have an email address in order to enter the site. Need to answer a series of questions in order to enter the site.
  2. Site Navigation: The site is difficult to navigate; it doesn’t allow you to return to the previous page.
  3. Applications : The speaking part of the testing is too fast for low level learners. There are multiple ads on the page which makes it confusing for low level English.
  4. Tech Reqs: Need to have speakers on the computer to do the testing.

Gcflearnfree.org (non profit)

  1. Accessibility : No sign in for this site ; no email address needed.
  2. Site Navigation: No ads on the site but you need to have a higher level English level to understand the choices.
  3. Applications : Navigate in multiple languages to understand what to choose but there is a lot of narrative (content). There are many applications but they are scattered and difficult to navigate by technology.
  4. Tech Reqs: No special technology requirements.


  1. Accessibility : Need to sign in (register) and requires an email. You need to enter a birth date which is a personal security issue.
  2. Site Navigation: Requires that you go to your email and click a link to sign up. Once you go to the email you then have to enter additional information which is confusing.
  3. Applications : Requires you to select an avatar which is confusing and then does not allow you to move to the next level.
  4. Tech Reqs: Speakers would be nice for interaction of sound but not necessary; necessary for video component. Adobe flash needed for video component.


  1. Accessibility: No sign in required ; no security issues or email address needed.
  2. Site Navigation: The site has too many ads that could be confusing to the low level English learner.
  3. Applications: The quality of the videos is very low; not ESOL teachers on the video which allows for the use of confusing English for low level learners.
  4. Tech Reqs: Speakers and Adobe flash for video component.

NEO Literacy Corps

The next group was a team of AmeriCorps Members serving for a year in adult literacy and workforce development contexts.

We evaluated four different sites for GED preparation. It was our goal to find sites to use in our classrooms, with students ages 17-22 as well as adult learners (22+).  All sites evaluated require internet access and access to a computer with a functioning keyboard, mouse or track pad, and monitor. We analyzed the sites based on Usability and Instructional Quality. In the conclusion, we covered Cost Analysis.

Tri-C’s Math MOOC


  • the students need to know how to navigate the Blackboard Course system.
  • Accessing the system requires login
  • Facilitators would need to have taken the course themselves, as there is no instructor companion material.

Instructional Quality:

  • Student & adult learners can use website
  • Math, English, GED readiness
  • Learners use without instructor guiding

McGraw Hill Online Learning Center

[Farrell Ink’s note: Aligned to the 2002 GED Test Prep Series from Contemporary/McGraw Hill.] Websites:


  • Has a teachers guide
  • Does not require auxiliary equipment
  • Simple, logical layout and structure
  • Language arts focus on writing, but not reading comprehension.

Instructional Quality:

  • Both instructors and students can use site for language arts, math, various refreshers for GED readiness
  • Instructors can assist students with curriculum
  • Does not have to be instructor lead



  • Unappealing set up: small print, antiquated look.
  • We don’t know if signing up grants you access to automatic grading for question responses.

Instructional Quality:

  • Student based
  • This site does not give process updates, this is not instructor based



  • This site was one of the only places we could find for Reading Comprehension, which is one of the major components of the GED and one that many sites (including Khan Academy) did not specifically target.
  • Sleek, appealing layout and appearance.

Instructional Quality:

  • Reading comprehension, language arts, reading development
  • Student based but they can track their progress


With respect to analyzing cost, start-up fees are associated with any computer lab or computer based program including location (renting or maintaining available space, as well as associated utilities).  Classroom instruction fees could be incurred as well.  Maintaining the computers will require IT personnel, which may be volunteers but it is more likely that programs will pay for these services.  All of the online programs we analyzed were free to access.

Workforce Development

The final group’s target population were low-income, low-literacy un-employed or under employed adults with limited labor market attachment; individuals who need to advance towards self-sufficiency.

Costs:  Headphones for computers (if needed), paper, pens, printer


  • Low-cost/free resources for low-income and low-computer literacy users
  • Materials written at around a 6th grade level; visually appealing as well to keep users engaged
  • Sites able to blend smoothly into the job search process AND support career retention and advancement

Recommended Resources and Process:

  1. DigitalLiteracyAssessment.org
    • We will start off with an assessment of each individual’s existing computer literacy level
    • Students will be instructed on how to improve their skills, as most resume and job search is done online
    • This website has different modules that individuals can take on their own; they are scored and instruction can be tailored to the lacking skills
  2. DOL.gov’s Soft Skills to Pay the Bills
    • This site uses role play and interactive classroom-based activities
    • These can keep students engaged while teaching valuable job skills that are needed to gain and retain employment
    • The materials on the site are written at an appropriate literacy level and the printable worksheets are visually appealing
  3. TheBeehive.org
    • This site offers an excellent section on jobs
      • Includes online career coach, resume tips/examples, interviewing basics, how to dress for success, and how to find a job with a criminal background, amongst others
      • The site is well-written at an appropriate literacy level, and again is visually appealing
  4. OhioMeansJobs.com
    • At this point, we envision students registering on the website, uploading the resume, and beginning to search for jobs online
    • They can also perform WorkKeys testing, if they want to brush up on their skills
  5. The Beehive (again)
    • After obtaining employment, students can be referred back to the Beehive.com for additional supportive services
  6. Tri-C’s Math MOOC
    • Students who are interested in career pathways and advancing their education and career will be referred to Tri-C for MOOC and other classes

Thanks again to all the awesome AERET groups for their recommendations! Happy teaching, and Happy New Year!

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Filed under Adult Education, Education, eLearning, Free Cool Online Tools, GED Test Instructors, NEO Literacy Corps, Technology Integration

Your Quest? Find the BEST of the Web!


Congratulations! As a participant in today’s training, you have been selected by The Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland to join the Adult Education Resource Evaluation Team (AERET).

As you are well aware, area literacy programs are constantly trying to balance instructional needs and financial constraints. Budgets are tight, and instructional materials are increasingly expensive. Many programs have invested in purchasing or updating computers to make technology available in the classroom. However, even technologically literate instructors can be overwhelmed by the learning curve of new technology.

The main question we need your team to answer is: How do you judge which resources are worthwhile to incorporate in an adult literacy program?

You can benefit our adult education community by developing recommendations for which free resources are best suited for different settings. Some of the other questions to consider in your exploration:

  • What is the cost-benefit of using free resources? What are the “hidden costs”?
  • What is the range of technology available in adult education programs?
  • At what point is it cost effective to invest in a paid program?
  • How user-friendly are the resources? In other words, how easily can students and teachers learn to use them?
  • What changes need to be made in adult education programs to support instructors when introducing new resources into the classroom?

Thank you for your commitment to serving Northeast Ohio in the field of adult education!

Task and Process

Your goal for the morning is to develop recommendations on these resources to share with adult education programs in Northeast Ohio. Your team will develop both a written and an oral presentation of your decisions

5 MINUTES: Please decide on the following roles within your team:

  1. Usability Specialist: Your task is to evaluate the selected resources to decide how easy they would be for students and instructors to use. Some questions to consider: What are the technology requirements to access the programs? How easy is it to get started? What are the features that adult educators would require to get the most out of the programs?
  2. Instructional Specialist: Your task is to consider the instructional quality and implications of the selected resources. You need to decide how well the programs meet various instructional needs. Some questions to consider: Who is the intended student audience? What skills are taught? What is required of the instructor in the learning process?
  3. Cost Analysis Specialist: Your task is to make administrative recommendations for implementing the selected resources. Some questions to consider: How well would the selected resources help meet the goals of various adult education organizations? What training or support do staff need to use the resources? What are the hidden costs and barriers to using the resources?

5 MINUTES: After assigning roles, your AERET will decide on a subsection of the resources shared this morning to evaluate, and also take some time to find and consider additional resources.

10 MINUTES: Exploration and evaluation of selected resources.

10 MINUTES: Discussion of findings within group. Create a list of talking points for each resources: pros and cons, tips and concerns, who and how, etc.

10 MINUTES: Draft both a written and oral presentation of your findings:

  • Develop an appealing and informative one-two page flyer or blog post to share with area literacy programs. Here is an example: Chromebook for Education? Home?
  • All members of the team must participate in presenting a brief, two minute summary of your results.

5 MINUTES: Multiple team members proof read the draft. Practice and polish your summary. Remember, your final product is a professional recommendation that reflects on The Literacy Cooperative. Adult educators are depending on you to provide relevant but succinct information to aid in their decision making.

Presentation and Conclusion

Thank you for taking time out of your busy week to participate in AERET as a service to our region and the field of adult education.

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Filed under Adult Education, GED Test Instructors

Top 18 FREE Websites for Workforce and GED® Test Prep

Warning: Once you start clicking these links, you may be amazed at what you find!

This list is not offered in any particular order of importance or quality, and without comment. I offer it to you as a starting point to the many free resources available on the web for self-motivated adult learners, and tech savvy adult education instructors.

  1. MikeRoweWORKS Tool Shed
  2. WorkKeys Practice Tests at OhioMeansJobs
  3. The Beehive
  4. My Job Scout
  5. USA Learns
  6. National College Transition Network Publications
  7. Tri-C’s Dev Ed Math MOOC
  8. Women Employed Resources
  9. Free Test Prep GED Practice Tests
  10. TV411
  11. Khan Academy
  12. Federal Student Aid
  13. Guiding Ohio Online Training
  14. Sense-Lang
  15. GED Testing Service
  16. Digital Literacy Assessment
  17. Occupational Outlook Handbook
  18. Soft Skills to Pay the Bills

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Filed under Adult Education, Free Cool Online Tools, GED Test Instructors, Technology Integration, Uncategorized

Exciting Strategies for 2014 GED® Test Preparation Instruction

Saving some trees by posting this workshop’s presentation online! In-person participants will also receive a sampler including instructional activities from Teaching Adults: A 2014 GED® Test Resource Book.

To mix & match GED Assessment Targets (or as I’ve come to call them, GEDATs, pronounced “Gee-Dats”), participants will break into one of the following small groups:

  • Reading skills with Science content
  • Reading skills with Social Studies content
  • Math skills with Science content
  • Math skills with Social Studies content

The Assessment Targets can be found in Chapter 2 of the Assessment Guide for Educators by GED Testing Service or the Appendix of my book.

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Filed under Adult Education, GED Test Instructors

Tell Me: What Are The Skills You Need To Be An Adult Education Instructor?

Ten years ago…

I started as a volunteer adult literacy tutor at a homeless shelter and outreach center. In six months, I helped a student change from calling herself stupid to picking up the community college brochure to look at classes. My Site Manager asked me to teach a class two evenings a week. I joined the ranks of the 77% of adult literacy instructors who teach part-time with little training.

Within a couple years I became a full-time Site Manager, learning most of my teaching skills from watching other volunteers and co-workers. Eager to serve my students better, I attended a national conference organized by ProLiteracy. The workshops gave me a new perspective, connected me to the latest research, and transformed my teaching.

It has been thrilling to give back to the adult literacy community as an author, consultant, and trainer over the past few years. I have seen instructor training change lives, classrooms, and programs.

Essential Education-Learning Made CertainThis month I started a new adventure creating Social Studies materials for Essential Education. Much to my joy, I also get to work on a team developing professional development materials for adult educators! And WE WANT YOUR INPUT!


What about you?

What did you wish you knew when you started as an instructor? What workshops would/do you provide for new instructors? What skills or training improved your teaching? What professional development topics do you think have the most impact?

 If you respond by Tuesday, August 26th, I will share your comments at our team meeting, but this is an ongoing process and your comments are welcome at any time.

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Filed under Adult Education, Education, GED Test Instructors