News-in-Brief – June 2012

LDA Prominent in Fighting Across the Board Cuts

LDA is an active participant in a new and very important national network of coalitions, the Non-Defense Discretionary (“NDD”) Summit. Last summer Congress passed the Budget Control Act (BCA) to address deficit reduction. The BCA will trigger a process on January 2, 2013, known as sequestration, an across-the-board 8.4% cut in all federal programs. The NDD Summit is an attempt by all constituencies that are part of the “non-defense discretionary” budget to work together to ensure sequestration does not take effect and to counter efforts to exempt Defense and other security-related government programs from these cuts.

NDD programs represent the core functions government provides for the benefit of all citizens. For example, NDD includes education, health and medical research, roads and bridges, food safety, law enforcement, and other critical services. These communities all agree that sequestration would be very harmful for the country and that federal budget cuts have disproportionately impacted these very important government activities. Furthermore, if defense and security functions are exempted from the cuts, NDD programs would see cuts of more than double the current estimate of 8.4%.

At a recent Town Hall gathering of 350 people in Washington, the NDD Summit began a campaign to gain thousands of signatures on a letter to all members of Congress urging them to take a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Already over 1,000 local, state, and national organizations have signed on, with hopes by the June 22, 2012 deadline of several times that number of signatures. LDA of America was one of the initial signers of the letter, and LDA state affiliates have been asked to add their organization to the list, as well.

Organizations can add their name to the letter by going to https://nlihc.wufoo.com/forms/signon-letter-stop-acrosstheboard-cuts/.

The network was started by the leadership of three major Washington coalitions: The Committee for Education Funding (birth – adult education), the Coalition for Health Funding (Health and Human Services programs), and the National Skills Coalition (labor and employment). A steering committee has been formed that includes representatives from programs budgeted under Education, Health and Human Services, Commerce, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, and Environment, and representatives of other government sectors continue to join. LDA Policy Director Myrna Mandlawitz, in her role as Vice President of the Committee for Education Funding, is one of the representatives from the education community participating in planning meetings.


Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization Moves Forward

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has reported out the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012 (H.R. 4297). The bill to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), introduced by Representatives Foxx (R-NC), Heck (R-NV), and McKeon (R-CA), consolidates over 20 existing federal workforce programs, including Title VI of the Rehabilitation Act, into a single $6 billion Workforce Investment Fund that would be allocated to states and localities by formula.

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Employment and Training Task Force, of which LDA is a member, sent a letter before the committee markup expressing several concerns that would affect individuals with disabilities. The Task Force notes that consolidating Title VI of the Rehabilitation Act into Title 1 of WIA would seriously limit services because Title 1 requires a 21.3% state match, an amount many states already are unable to meet in order to receive the full federal allocation. Title VI contains the Supported Employment and Projects with Industry programs, the former program providing services to individuals with the most severe disabilities, and the latter which actively involves business to provide training and competitive jobs in the community. In addition, the bill repeals the In-Service Training of Rehabilitation Personnel and Recreational Programs. These programs provide essential training for rehabilitation personnel to ensure people with disabilities receive the supports they need in the vocational rehabilitation system.

The bill requires workforce investment boards (WIB) to include two-thirds representation from the business community. Additionally, the bill eliminates current requirements for representation from local education stakeholders, community colleges when available, and WIA partner programs.

Finally, H.R. 4297 reworks the current accountability system to create common performance measures for WIA, the Adult Education Program, and Vocational Rehabilitation. This would require state WIBs to report on the number of people who receive work-ready and training services, those who successfully exit those services, and who secure employment in the field for which they were trained.

A substitute bill was offered at the committee mark up by Representative Tierney (D-MA), but the amendment failed. It is unclear when H.R. 4297 will come up for a vote in the full House, but possibly some time this summer.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee issued a draft bill in June 2011. Although the draft was a bipartisan effort, the committee was unable to come to agreement on how to proceed. Therefore, the draft was not acted upon in the committee, and it is unlikely the Senate will take up a House-passed or any WIA bill in this Congress.


Report Highlights Costs of Low Literacy Among Adults

LDA recently participated in a public discussion on a new report, Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research. The report states that negotiating most areas of 21st century life requires a high level of digital and print literacy. However, it is estimated that more than 90 million American adults lack adequate literacy skills, and only 38% of high school seniors are at or above the proficient level in reading. Given these grim statistics, surprisingly little research has been conducted on effective approaches to teaching adults specifically to read and write.

The National Research Council, at the request of the U.S. Department of Education, convened a cross-disciplinary committee of experts to examine and synthesize research on literacy and learning with the goal of improving literacy instruction for adults. Several committee members had particular expertise regarding literacy and individuals with learning disabilities, including Drs. Daryl Mellard and Noel Gregg. With the lack of rigorous research, the committee examined and extrapolated from general research on how individuals learn and on effective techniques used to teach reading and writing with other populations, including younger students and better-educated adults.

The report includes some of the consequences of low literacy rates among adults. For example, these individuals have lower employment rates and, for those who are employed, lower income levels. They are less likely to read to their children or participate in their education. Their health outcomes are often worse, as well, since they are less able to access, read, and use health care information. The general conclusion is that adults with low literacy are actually costly to society because they earn too little to pay much tax, and require more social supports than better-educated adults.

The committee makes four broad recommendations to improve adult literacy instruction:

  • Policymakers must expand the infrastructure of adult literacy education to support instructional approaches, curricula and materials, and assessments that are consistent with current research. Since research on adult literacy instruction is minimal, instructional programs must be evaluated for effectiveness after implementation.
  • Professional development and technical assistance for instructors must be more widely available, ongoing, and consistent with research.
  • Policymakers, literacy program providers, and researchers should collaborate to find ways to help adults stick with literacy programs to their conclusion, since dropout is a big problem for adult learners.
  • Strategic and sustained investments in a coordinated, systemic approach are necessary to evaluate and improve programs and to support new research specifically on adult literacy learners.

To read the report (“Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research”) or watch the webcast of the public discussion (“Improving Adult Literacy Instruction Options for Practice and Research”), go to http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/CurrentProjects/DBASSE_069193


States Ahead on Implementation of Universal Design for Learning

Even without federal mandates, many states are moving ahead to implement the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). A recent report indicates states and local school districts have used Race to the Top grant funds and federal stimulus money to institute education reforms using a UDL framework. According to the National Center on UDL, educators across the country are discovering that not only is UDL an excellent way to improve instruction and personalize learning, but it is also an effective method to implement Common Core State Standards and other education initiatives.

UDL is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, which helps create flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. UDL calls for creating curricula that provide multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge; multiple means of expression to give students alternatives for demonstrating what they know; and, multiple ways to engage learners by finding their interests, challenging them appropriately, and motivating them to learn.

Universal Design for Learning: Initiatives on the Move, based on a study conducted by the Center on Applied Special Technology (CAST) and Thomas Hehir and Associates, examines for the first time how UDL is being implemented and understood, how the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) and its Race to the Top grant program advanced UDL, and state and district leaders’ perceptions about the principles. The report’s conclusion is that UDL is “becoming more widely accepted as an educational framework within the national policy landscape.” View the report or related webinar on the UDL website: http://www.udlcenter.org/advocacy/state/report

The study found that all 50 states and the District of Columbia reference UDL in their preK-12 or postsecondary activities, and a growing number of school districts and states are infusing UDL principles into their instructional practices and Common Core State Standards implementation work. Also, education leaders from states who mentioned UDL in their Race to the Top applications reported familiarity with UDL principles and saw a strong link between UDL and standards-based education initiatives. Local education leaders also were aware of UDL principles and reported using ARRA funds to purchase computers and technology for UDL implementation and to support professional development.

Despite greater awareness of UDL, the study noted how much still needs to be done to explain UDL and its importance in addressing the needs of all students. Maryland is one of the leaders in the effort to fully implement UDL in all its schools. Through the efforts of advocacy organizations, including the Learning Disabilities Association, the Maryland legislature passed the Task Force to Explore the Incorporation of the Principles of Universal Design for Learning into the Education Systems in Maryland bill (HB 59/SB 467), the first of its kind in the nation. Massachusetts, New York, Kentucky, and Ohio are also in the forefront in the use of UDL. The Bartholomew Special Services Cooperative of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation in Columbus, Ind., has fully implemented UDL and reports an 11% increase in the number of students with disabilities who are passing standardized tests and a 60% increase in fluency scores for English learners since implementation began two years ago.

LDA has been integrally involved in the National UDL Task Force since its inception, joining with over 40 national general and special education organizations to raise the level of awareness about UDL. The Task Force was successful in getting a definition of UDL and language regarding teacher training into the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Language appears in the draft bills to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as well.

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