Recently, a California Report on KQED noted (with alarm) the impending closure of almost all adult education in the Oakland school district. From the Oakland Local (“Edward Shands School to Close, Adult Education Faces Severe Cutbacks in Oakland” by Pamela Drake on the 3rd):
Thursday night may have been the last graduation the Edward Shands Adult School puts on. After 139 years of free basic adult education and ever-expanding offerings, including its high school diploma program, Oakland Unified School District has decided to close almost the entire adult school department.
All that may be left would be skeletal literacy training for ESL students whose kids attend the school where they study. Some GED programs would be saved, but the complex in East Oakland named after Oakland’s beloved adult education leader, Edward Shands, will be shuttered.
Shands has offered ESL programs, nursing assistance training classes, morning and evening GED classes, and the high school subject program in which students may take regular high school classes and receive diplomas in front of their friends and family. It is located next to the Eastmont Center and is convenient to the majority of students who live in Fruitvale, Central East Oakland and Deep East .
I’m especially concerned about the ESL and GED programs, which are offerings with obvious significant public good. How will immigrants learn English, and how will dropouts get a second chance at a high school education?
How did we get to this?
The root cause isn’t complicated: as states (California among them) are faced with declining income, in the face of legally required balanced budgets, education budgets are being slashed, at all levels and all over the country. Federal stimulus grants staved off the disaster to some extent, for a while, but that money is now gone.
A complicating factor in California: back in 2008, the governlor and the legislature negotiated a deal to cushion K-12 education from the worst of the cuts, by allowing school districts, if they wish, to shift state support for adult education to other programs. Of course, they did, and now Oakland is saving its Early Childhood Education Program by gutting adult education. The current pickle had been anticipated for some time; in the East Bay Express of 6/1/11, “Adult Education Dismantled” by Scott J. Morris, with the subhead:
Just two years ago, Oakland schools taught English and basic literacy skills to more than 25,000 adults annually. Next year, it might not help any.
These days, you’ll have to find ESL and GED courses at fee-charging institutions (and, of course, public institutions, like the community colleges, CSU, and UC find themselves having to cut programs and charge more for the ones that survive).
That’s the first bulletin, from Oakland CA. Then there were census figures released last fall about poverty levels in U.S. cities. The city I grew up outside of, Reading PA, came out especially badly in these statistics. From the New York Times on 9/27/11, by Sabrina Tavernise:
Reading, Pa., Knew It Was Poor. Now It Knows Just How Poor.
… Reading, a struggling city of 88,000 that has earned the unwelcome distinction of having the largest share of its residents living in poverty [41.3%], barely edging out Flint, Mich., according to new Census Bureau data. The count includes only cities with populations of 65,000 or more, and has a margin of error that makes it difficult to declare a winner — or, perhaps more to the point, a loser.
Reading began the last decade at No. 32. But it broke into the top 10 in 2007, joining other places known for their high rates of poverty like Flint, Camden, N.J., and Brownsville, Tex., according to an analysis of the data for The New York Times by Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College.
(When I lived there, Reading had a population of around 100,000, down from its 1930s high of around 120,000. The population decline has now halted, thanks to an influx of Hispanics (mostly from New York City) attracted by the low cost of living in Reading.)
Along with these high poverty rates, Reading has a extraordinarily low percentage of adults with some college education and an extraordinarily high dropout rate. So education programs would seem to be a high priority for the city. But, once again, declining state support for education has forced the city to curtail these programs; a story of June 15th reports that the city has been obliged to eliminate pre-K education and furlough 110 teachers. (If the public schools have an adult education program, I can find no evidence of it on the web.)
In the contest for poorest city in the nation last fall, Memphis TN has its own claim, but in a different category from Reading. From the Memphis Commercial Appeal of 9/23/11, “Census calls Memphis poorest in nation” by Tom Charlier:
Of the 1.3 million people in the eight-county metro area, an estimated 246,265 — 19.1 percent — lived in poverty last year, according to figures released Thursday from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
That poverty rate, although a slight improvement from the 19.4 percent estimate for 2009, was the highest among the 51 U.S. metro areas with populations of at least 1 million. Metropolitan New Orleans, with an estimated 17.4 percent of residents living in poverty, had the second-highest rate.
(Metropolitan areas, not cities; and 1 million and over, not 65,000 and over.)
The subhead for the story was:
Metro area poverty rate tied to education, expert says
Well, sure. But how to fix any of this?