Contested Ground: Performance Accountability in Adult Basic Education

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Adult basic education (ABE) has long been viewed by many educators and policymakers as a tool for addressing social and economic problems. Now, in a context of global economic restructuring, changes in work and employment, and the largest immigration to the USA since the early 1900s, ABE must demonstrate its success in terms of student and societal outcomes. In short, ABE is facing demands to be accountable for its performance.

A focus on results is new for adult education, and potentially transforming. Performance accountability offers the chance to re-focus on what learners accomplish by participating in ABE and to re-orient every aspect of the system to achieve the best results.

It is tempting to rush into developing measurement and reporting systems. Experiences with performance accountability show that this would be a mistake. Agreement on what to measure must be established first.

This policy paper lays out key issues in performance accountability and presents recommendations for policy and action. It is based on the literature from education, government, management, and other fields, and draws on interviews with researchers and adult education leaders at state and national levels. Its recommendations were informed by a discussion with a group of experienced adult education practitioners and researchers.


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