June 30, 1992 to July 1, 1995
Adult Education Act, P.L. 100-297 as Amended by the
National Literacy Act, P.L. 102-73

Submitted by:

California Department of Education
Specialized Programs Branch
Youth, Adult and Alternative Educational Services Division


Chapter 9

The State of California provides the greatest amount of state resources of any in the Nation for adult and non-credit education. Most of this is for basic skills instruction.

This chapter describes the resources to serve California's adults. Following an overview of California's adult education program, information about basic education curricula, personnel and community resources are provided.


The State of California provides the greatest amount of state resources of any in the Nation for non-college enrolled adults, ESL, and programs for illiterate adults. During FY 1990-91, approximately $267 million was expended for the following program areas:

English-as-a-Second LanguageCitizenship
Substantially HandicappedOlder Adults
Health and SafetyVocational Education
Elementary Basic SkillsParenting
Secondary Basic SkillsHome Economics

Basic Education funds from the Adult Education Act [P.L. 100-297], as amended by the National Literacy Act [P.L. 102-73], under this Revised State Plan are supplementary to the English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) and elementary basic skills classes offered by: 133 Kindergarten-adult districts, 19 community college districts, 13 community-based organizations, and the California State Departments of Corrections, Youth Authority, Developmental Services, and the California Conservation Corps.

Numerous agencies, in addition to the grant agencies, serve unreported English-as-a-Second Language students and illiterate adults but do not apply for supplemental funding.

Statistics reported by Section 321 project recipients indicate that for 1990-91, 1,022,583 participants entered basic education or ESL classes.1

Curriculum, Methods and Materials

Following is a brief description of the two major types of literacy programs in California, namely English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) and Elementary Basic Skills.

English-as-a-Second Language (ESL)

English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) is California's largest and fastest growing adult education program. More than 40 percent of all state apportionment dollars for adult education and 80 percent of federal dollars received under the Adult Education Act are used to meet the basic skill needs of adults with limited or no English proficiency.

Due to both increased numbers of immigrants and refugees from Eastern Europe, Central America and Mexico, Russia and Southeast Asia, and inadequate funding, adult schools are unable to serve all those in need of ESL instruction. Many adult schools have long waiting lists.

While adult schools cannot serve many adult ESL learners, they often serve adults who repeat the same beginning classes year after year. These may be adults who are not making satisfactory progress.

The focus of instruction is communication-based (i.e., students are engaged in purposeful use of the language, rather than learning about the language). Students can use the skills gained to achieve basic life needs, to enhance employment and career opportunities, to progress to vocational or academic programs, and to function in English at high cognitive levels, furthering self-worth and contributing to their communities. ESL programs are offered in day, evening and weekend formats; as well as via cable television in some locations. Vocational ESL classes (VESL), designed with a vocational emphasis, are a refinement of ESL. Many California adult programs promote progression from ESL to vocational education, once the student is proficient enough in English to be employable. In addition to vocational programs offered through adult schools and Community Colleges receiving State general fund apportionments, students may progress to programs provided under the Carl Perkins Vocational Education Act (VEA) and the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA).

Within an agency's ESL program, federal funds will be used on a priority basis in beginning and intermediate levels of ESL. This will allow those most in need of ESL instruction to be served.

The Revised State Plan will adopt the Proficiency Levels described in the document Model Standards for Adult English as a Second Language Programs. This publication is forthcoming from the Bureau of Publications, California Department of Education.

Students are typically placed in appropriate skill-level classes on the basis of a variety of assessments of general language proficiency; for example, an oral interview to assess listening and speaking skills and a reading/grammar test to assess literacy skills. There are seven levels of instruction -- beginning literacy, low beginning, high beginning, low intermediate, high intermediate, low advanced, and high advanced. Assessment for exiting from one level into another measure both general language proficiency and specific instructional content.

The key objectives for adult education programs in English as a Second Language are to:

Instruction is usually carried out in English, and instructional materials and technical assistance programs are also in English. However, in the design of curriculum, the students' literacy skills -- whether primary language literacy or English language literacy -- are an essential consideration. When programs have large numbers of students from the same language group who lack primary language literacy skills, curriculum may develop primary language literacy skills in order to accelerate the acquisition of English language literacy. They may also incorporate a component that uses the primary language as a medium of instructional support in an ESL class.

The major issue in California ESL continues to be one of demand exceeding supply. Roughly two thirds of adult schools and 80 percent of community colleges do not recruit for ESL courses. Instead they are concerned with being able to provide instruction to those who enroll. Community colleges averaged 170 persons on their ESL waiting list, compared to only 30 for remedial or ABE courses. Adult schools exhibited a similar pattern. Compared to ABE, ESL classes confronting excess demand had more than four times the number on waiting lists.2

Elementary Basic Skills
(Adult Basic Education - ABE)

Basic Skills includes literacy (reading and writing) and computational skills necessary for functioning at levels comparable to students in the elementary system. Courses may be remedial for students, or they may provide educational opportunities for individuals who speak but do not read English. These programs are competency-based in that they are designed to teach the basic academic and life skills necessary for success in today's world.

The clients of the Elementary Basic Skills program are generally perceived as hard-to-reach. Half the of adult schools and community colleges find it necessary to recruit to fill basic skills classes. Among community-based organizations, two-thirds have to recruit.3 These statistics probably understate the difficulty in recruiting native speakers of English to basic skills programs, since many basic skills classes in urban areas are attended by people who started in ESL.


Over 5,500 credentialed teachers, counselors and other adult education personnel provide public adult basic education services in California. The level of preparation of these individuals varies considerably, particularly with respect to knowledge of how adults learn and experience teaching adults. Although there are several staff development activities throughout the State, the number of new teachers coming into the field each year is so large (it is widely believed that turnover of teachers equals one third) that it has been difficult to make much headway in assuring a sufficient number of adequately prepared staff.

Community Resources and Other Providers

In addition to California's broad-based adult education funding structure and program, numerous agencies and programs are involved in the delivery of educational programs and services to the population served by the Adult Education Act. These can be grouped into the categories of employer provided instruction, postsecondary institutions, private schools and educational services, community-based organizations, voluntary organizations and literacy consortia, and a wide variety of state and local agencies that offer adult education, such as libraries, employment and training agencies, correctional institutions, and rehabilitation and developmental services agencies. These are listed in the chapter on "Needs Assessment" (Chapter 4).

1 Annual Performance Report for the Adult Education-State Administered Program, California Department of Education report to the U.S. Department of Education, February 1990.

2 Dixon, et. al., op. cit. pages 76-81

3 Ibid.

4 Annual Performance Report for the Adult Education State-Administered Program, op. cit.


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