Policy strategies for “upskilling” the learning disabled

It’s not often that I get excited reading about a government report. Not often, as in, never.

But in this month’s edition of LDA Legislative News, an article summarizing a government report made me sit up and go “Yes! They’ve figured it out!”

The article (it’s the third one down in the link) discusses a report that addresses how to improve the literacy, numeracy, and problem solving skills among the millions of American adults with deficits in those areas. (Oxford Dictionaries says numeracy is “the ability to understand and work with numbers.”)  As you might expect, a significant proportion of the adults with low skills have learning disabilities. Low skills translate to trouble finding and keeping a job, which is likely to be low-paying anyway, which leads to low income for families, which often leads to societal problems and poor health and gloomy outcomes for the next generation. Not good.

The report is titled Making Skills Everyone’s Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States and was prepared by The Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) in the U.S. Department of Education.

While the report’s title might trigger a “Snoozefest Alert,” what jolted me was the article’s bulleted list of “seven promising strategies for improving conditions” that contribute to low skills.

Here’s the list, copied from the article:

  • Act collectively to raise awareness and take joint ownership of solutions. This problem is too large to be tackled by any one agency or entity, public or private, so all stakeholders must get involved.
  • Transform opportunities for youth and adults to assess, improve, and use foundation skills by improving participation rates of low-skilled individuals in formal, informal, and employer-sponsored education and training programs.
  • Make career pathways available and accessible in every community. According to research, single interventions are rarely successful in turning around skills deficits.  Partnerships and integrated systems are necessary to achieve real results.
  • Ensure all students have access to highly effective teachers, leaders, and programs. Ongoing professional development delivered through multiple means, including online learning, is critical to ensuring adult education professionals keep current with trends in teaching and learning.
  • Create a “No Wrong Door” approach for youth and adult services. Youth and adults should be able to engage with a variety of service providers and be matched with the best services to fit their needs, avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach.
  • Engage employers to support “learn while you earn” programs. Apprenticeship programs, online learning, and making specific connections between skill building and job payoff are critical strategies.  In addition, employers can take steps to help workers persist in education and training by providing computer rooms, tuition reimbursement, and peer tutors.
  • Commit to closing the equity gap for vulnerable subpopulations. The report identifies a number of groups with specific barriers to employment that should be targeted for specific outreach and deliberate service strategies. Among the groups identified are individuals with learning and other disabilities, older individuals, low-income populations, individuals with limited English proficiency and other cultural barriers, ex-offenders, and displaced homemakers.

The report itself devotes a few pages to each of these strategies, with examples of existing programs and reasonable responses to “easier said than done.”

Anyway, as someone who’s been trying for years to figure out what’s available for our atypical kiddos – especially the ones who “fall through the cracks” of diagnoses and services – I felt that these strategies outlined much of what I’ve been seeking.

Did these ideas leap out at you also?

  • “This problem is too large to be tackled by any one agency or entity, public or private.” How true! While there’s some coordination, sometimes, among those helping the atypical population, we need them to be consistently part of a connected universe. So many times our families stumble from one place to another, or think they’ve reached a dead end because the staff in one entity doesn’t know what’s available in the greater community.
  • “… improving participation rates of low-skilled individuals in formal, informal, and employer-sponsored education and training programs.” That means more programs that are structured to be convenient, attractive, and doable. Programs that are employer-sponsored would focus on skills that the employers especially need among their employees. It’ll be a win-win, for the companies and for the newly-trained.
  • “Make career pathways available and accessible in every community. According to research, single interventions are rarely successful in turning around skills deficits.” Again, the authors recognized the need for consistent and ongoing help throughout the country. Currently there may be good programs in this city or in that state, but if you don’t live nearby, you’re out of luck. And it’s good that the authors recognize that multiple interventions are frequently what it takes: some people may not “get it” or be receptive to training on the first exposure.
  • “Ensure all students have access to highly effective teachers, leaders, and programs.” Another great idea. The skills of this population won’t improve with programs that look good on paper but are poorly executed.
  • “Create a “No Wrong Door” approach for youth and adult services.” This is my favorite! A commitment to routing the individual to the services that will help him or her the most, no matter which “door” s/he enters through.

Now, those of us who haven’t just fallen off the turnip truck know that government plans can get derailed or fizzle out before going anywhere. Even though this one connects to bipartisan ideals like Improving America’s Economic Competitiveness, and Creating More Vibrant Communities, it won’t be a big surprise if political forces work to squelch the initiative. Implementing these strategies might take years or decades, if at all.

On the less cynical side, the report itself says that in July 2014 the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into law:

The new law, which will become fully implemented over the next two years, reflects an increased emphasis on the alignment of policies across programs; employer engagement; the accountability and effectiveness of programs; increased access to services, particularly for individuals with barriers to employment; and integrated competitive employment for individuals with disabilities.

So it sounds like some of the principles behind the strategies are already part of federal law.

Additionally, the report notes that the Dept. of Education “has committed to a renewed focus on improving achievement rates and graduation rates of students with disabilities, as well as improving transition supports to help youth move from school to work successfully. WIOA demands greatly heightened attention on youth and adults with disabilities to address this challenge.”

It’s heartening to see that “upskilling” the special needs community has attracted attention at the highest level of government. If I ever get to be administrator for the as-yet-nonexistent Office of Atypical Success Support (whoops, that acronym won’t fly) or the Foundation for the Neurologically Different, the “Seven Strategies” would be part of the blueprint for action. More than that, I’d expand the strategies beyond their current focus on job skills to include life/social skills and mental health counseling. No Wrong Door, and effective, accessible services in every community – now we’re talking!


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About janet565

I've lived in the Inland Empire of Southern California since 1982. My profession involves maps and geography. I hope you find the blog useful, and wish you well....

2 responses to “Policy strategies for “upskilling” the learning disabled”

  1. DebzDreams says :

    Reblogged this on Debbie Oveland, FNP-BC, Special Needs Consultant and commented:
    Excellent re-cap of WIOA which hardly anyone in my community has noticed! Thank you!


    • janet565 says :

      Thank you, Debbie! Yes, I hadn’t heard of WIOA until researching this blog post. I agree with you that it deserves attention in the special needs community.


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