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What is Noncredit?

| March 26, 2013 | 14 Comments
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fox5sandiego.com

fox5sandiego.com

Two part series by Gregory Keech

Part 1

Governor Brown’s recent proposal to move adult education into the community college sphere was unanimously rejected on March 19th by the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance but the discussion generated is bound to continue. The committee did not disagree with the goal but rather the details of implementation. The Legislative Analysts Office has weighed in on the subject, and practitioners in both arenas – adult education and community college noncredit – are concerned. (See What’s Happening to Adult Education? on ESL Insights)

What is known as adult education in the K-12 system is generally known as noncredit in Community Colleges. In the ESL realm, there have been two separate entities delivering instruction: some districts have adult ESL classes under their local K-12 district, while credit instruction is provided by the community college; in other areas, the community college district provides both credit and noncredit ESL, though not always under the same roof. With recent state budget cuts of education, both delivery systems have suffered, but I would venture to say that adult education under K-12 has suffered more statewide. When faced with budget cuts, K-12 systems logically prioritize adult education lower than elementary or secondary classes.

But what is noncredit?

The first thing to consider about noncredit instruction is that it is fundamentally different from credit. Most of us recognize the credit model of instruction because that’s how we were educated. You register for a course, attend classes for a specified time (a semester, a quarter, a trimester), and are assessed at the end on the acquisition of course content. The key framing element is time. You do not get credit if you miss classes, do not submit homework, or do not pass the test.  Our K-12 experience was similar. You moved to the next grade (or not) at the end of the school year, not at the point at which you acquired the content and/or skills.

Noncredit instruction is, conversely, based on achievement, not time. This is a difficult concept to grasp, because it is unfamiliar. Noncredit is also misunderstood because the lack of a time frame brings up issues of student accountability. Noncredit courses are often “open entry/ open exit.” Students attend classes when they can – every day, several times a week, or intermittently – moving to the next level when they are ready. A certain number of course hours are available (for example 10 hours a week for 18 weeks), but students may not be able to attend the entire course. Noncredit is mostly associated with working adults, often working poor, who may have several jobs, childcare issues, housing issues, health issues, and so on, which take priority.

Credit students contend with these same issues, to be sure, but noncredit instruction is designed to take them into account. Yet we are more comfortable with the idea that credit students will either succeed or fail based on a grade, than we are with the idea that noncredit students may “stop out” for awhile with no penalty.

Many students do something we call “stopping out.” We do not say “drop out” because they come back when their life situation allows. It is not because of a lack of interest, noncredit students tell us that they would like to attend every day, but life challenges make it impossible.

The interesting thing about this to ESL practitioners is the how these students come back to class after six months, or a year, or more, at a higher ESL level. How did they do that? They acquired more language with the learning tools they had been taught.

Here’s an illustrative anecdote that I love: A teacher sees a student who was in her literacy class a year before but who had “stopped out.” She asked him how he was doing and he told her he was a taxi dispatcher. Somewhat taken aback as she thought about the literacy and numeracy skills required for that job, the teacher asked, “But when did you learn to read?” He looked at her quizzically and said, “You taught me, teacher.” This was a moment of revelation to the teacher: he recognized she had given him tools to achieve.

Noncredit challenges our traditional notions of education, but suits the adult learner in several important ways: it allows for scheduling flexibility for a population with serious life challenges; it allows for language acquisition in a natural and dynamic way. Credit instruction will always be with us; noncredit has never been so stable, but its loss would mean that access to ESL and many other forms of learning would be inaccessible to a large and underserved portion of our population.

Resources

KQED Education offers a wealth of ESL Resources for educators at www.kqed.org/esl

Gregory Keech is the elected chair of the Department of English as a Second Language (ESL) at City College of San Francisco – comprised of 250 faculty members and serving over 25,000 ESL students a year. Its curriculum encompasses literacy to advanced composition, in both credit and noncredit modes. The department complements academic pathways already in place for its students with strong pathways to the many Career and Technical Education certificate programs at the College.

Greg holds a BS in Portuguese from Georgetown University (1980) and an MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from San Francisco State University (1985).

 

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Category: ESL Insights, Post-Secondary ESL

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A community dialogue exploring issues of concern to ESL educators and students from diverse immigrant communities. KQED Education offers a wealth of ESL Resources for educators - visit www.kqed.org/esl
  • http://www.adulteducationmatters.com Cynthia Eagleton

    Thank you so much for this excellent affirmation of the value of non-credit ESL. One of the things that has been important for us at San Mateo Adult School is to reach out, support, and connect with other Adult Ed programs. If you check the blog I run adulteducationmatters.blogspot.com, you will find a whole collection of posts about CCSF. I have not covered the recent events in depth because they have gone beyond the AE issues and I wanted to try to keep my focus on AE in the AEM blog. A group of us also went to the Rally for CCSF just two weeks ago tomorrow, bringing our Adult Education Matters banner. We are a little unique in that several of our teachers, including Bruce Neuberger, work at both our K-12 affiliated Adult School, and at City College.

    One thing I struggle with, personally, is the sense that while we are reaching out to connect and support other schools, not much support has been offered to us, the K-12 programs, by the CC programs. To a degree, I feel the AE programs inside the CC system were better sheltered from the cuts of the past 5 years. I feel sad that that more people who taught within those CC Adult Ed programs did not turn out for us. To be truthful, I don’t think any of us – whether that be K-12 or CC – did enough for the many programs that went down and are now gone. Over 50 Adult Schools have been closed. Many more were cut. Where were any of us when that happened? Yes, maybe they weren’t “our” programs and yet… they were and are.

    For those of us who work in Adult Ed, we understand these programs better than many. I don’t need to read Mr. Keech’s excellent description of his program to know its value. I work in one just like it. It just doesn’t happen to be situated inside a Community College.

    When I created the Rebuild Adult Ed petition (http://signon.org/sign/rebuild-adult-ed-k-12), I was very careful to say that the desire is to keep the K-12 programs and obtain DESIGNATED FUNDING. I had to limit the amount of text on the petition. I couldn’t go into huge detail. I don’t want it to be a contest between delivery systems for a shrinking piece of pie. I want both delivery systems to continue. They were both doing just great prior to 2009. Changing that up now would cost a lot of money and create a lot of chaos and the losers would be the people of California. The real issue is Designated Funding. Out of the 2000 some signatures on the petition, there are probably less than 20 signatures from people who live in SF – and one of them is mine because SF is where I live. That makes me sad, too.

    Do the people who live in SF, especially the ones who work inside CCSF, not understand that the ESL and other Adult Ed programs outside of SF are just as valuable as the ones in City College? Do not they not understand that Designated Funding – or lack thereof – is truly the elephant in the room? For too long, we lived under the radar. Our system was complicated and hard to explain but we were doing a great job so we didn’t explain it. Well, it’s pretty hard to do a great job when your funds have been slashed (or your school has been closed or has been threatened with loss of accreditation), so now we are forced to assess who we are, our value, and stand up for it. I am trying to do that through the petition, the blog, and my work with other schools, programs and individuals via A4CAS. I continue to believe that together, all of us who care about Adult Ed – the folks in the K-12 programs, the folks in the CC programs, the people use attend the classes and the people who can’t because their schools have been closed – can work together to renew and rebuild Adult Ed, creating a system that is stronger, savvier, and better than it even was before. And that… was pretty damn good.

    I Invite Mr. Keech and all others to visit the adulteducationmatters.blogspot.com, check out A4CAS – the Alliance for California Adult Schools – on Facebook, and sign the petition. Separately, we can let each other fall. But together, we can help each other rebuild. Thank you, Cynthia Eagleton

    • Maxine

      Hi Cynthia,
      I will certainly visit your blog and I do hope the dialogue you describe between adult schools and community colleges can happen.
      Maxine

  • http://www.adulteducationmatters.com Cynthia Eagleton

    Thank you so much for this excellent affirmation of the value of non-credit ESL. One of the things that has been important for us at San Mateo Adult School is to reach out, support, and connect with other Adult Ed programs. If you check the blog I run adulteducationmatters.blogspot.com, you will find a whole collection of posts about CCSF. I have not covered the recent events in depth because they have gone beyond the AE issues and I wanted to try to keep my focus on AE in the AEM blog. A group of us also went to the Rally for CCSF just two weeks ago tomorrow, bringing our Adult Education Matters banner. We are a little unique in that several of our teachers, including Bruce Neuberger, work at both our K-12 affiliated Adult School, and at City College.

    One thing I struggle with, personally, is the sense that while we are reaching out to connect and support other schools, not much support has been offered to us, the K-12 programs, by the CC programs. To a degree, I feel the AE programs inside the CC system were better sheltered from the cuts of the past 5 years. I feel sad that that more people who taught within those CC Adult Ed programs did not turn out for us. To be truthful, I don’t think any of us – whether that be K-12 or CC – did enough for the many programs that went down and are now gone. Over 50 Adult Schools have been closed. Many more were cut. Where were any of us when that happened? Yes, maybe they weren’t “our” programs and yet… they were and are.

    For those of us who work in Adult Ed, we understand these programs better than many. I don’t need to read Mr. Keech’s excellent description of his program to know its value. I work in one just like it. It just doesn’t happen to be situated inside a Community College.

    When I created the Rebuild Adult Ed petition (http://signon.org/sign/rebuild-adult-ed-k-12), I was very careful to say that the desire is to keep the K-12 programs and obtain DESIGNATED FUNDING. I had to limit the amount of text on the petition. I couldn’t go into huge detail. I don’t want it to be a contest between delivery systems for a shrinking piece of pie. I want both delivery systems to continue. They were both doing just great prior to 2009. Changing that up now would cost a lot of money and create a lot of chaos and the losers would be the people of California. The real issue is Designated Funding. Out of the 2000 some signatures on the petition, there are probably less than 20 signatures from people who live in SF – and one of them is mine because SF is where I live. That makes me sad, too.

    Do the people who live in SF, especially the ones who work inside CCSF, not understand that the ESL and other Adult Ed programs outside of SF are just as valuable as the ones in City College? Do not they not understand that Designated Funding – or lack thereof – is truly the elephant in the room? For too long, we lived under the radar. Our system was complicated and hard to explain but we were doing a great job so we didn’t explain it. Well, it’s pretty hard to do a great job when your funds have been slashed (or your school has been closed or has been threatened with loss of accreditation), so now we are forced to assess who we are, our value, and stand up for it. I am trying to do that through the petition, the blog, and my work with other schools, programs and individuals via A4CAS. I continue to believe that together, all of us who care about Adult Ed – the folks in the K-12 programs, the folks in the CC programs, the people use attend the classes and the people who can’t because their schools have been closed – can work together to renew and rebuild Adult Ed, creating a system that is stronger, savvier, and better than it even was before. And that… was pretty damn good.

    I Invite Mr. Keech and all others to visit the adulteducationmatters.blogspot.com, check out A4CAS – the Alliance for California Adult Schools – on Facebook, and sign the petition. Separately, we can let each other fall. But together, we can help each other rebuild. Thank you, Cynthia Eagleton

    • Maxine

      Hi Cynthia,
      I will certainly visit your blog and I do hope the dialogue you describe between adult schools and community colleges can happen.
      Maxine

  • Bob Harper

    I absolutely agree with Cynthia Eagleton in her comments. I note that as a lifelong adult educator, working in K12 adult schools, what Mr. Keech describes as non-credit isn’t a difficult concept to grasp, it is my life’s work. The devastation to public adult schools in the last five years has been of such a scale, and so unnoticed (until recently perhaps), it’s easy for me to feel like Cynthia, “where have our friends in the CC been?” There are probabaly ONE MILLION fewer adult schools students in 2013 than were served in 2007. The impact on immigrant integration is huge. And although I don’t understand the CCC system and its delivery of non-credit (CCSF gets slashed, but CC’s in my area are starting new non-credit programs where there are already adult schools) I think it’s hugely important to resist the competition and struggle for limited resources. Both CC non-credit and adult schools have as their core mission to serve those marginalized, the underserved, those who have fallen through the cracks of previous education or are new to the country or just released from criminal justice systems… or, or… we both want more justice, more opportunity, and to build the capacity of those who are being pushed down and out to a permanent underclass. We absolutely need to work together. We in adult schools are ready. We wait for our brothers and sisters to recognize we are here. In solidarity…

  • Bob Harper

    I absolutely agree with Cynthia Eagleton in her comments. I note that as a lifelong adult educator, working in K12 adult schools, what Mr. Keech describes as non-credit isn’t a difficult concept to grasp, it is my life’s work. The devastation to public adult schools in the last five years has been of such a scale, and so unnoticed (until recently perhaps), it’s easy for me to feel like Cynthia, “where have our friends in the CC been?” There are probabaly ONE MILLION fewer adult schools students in 2013 than were served in 2007. The impact on immigrant integration is huge. And although I don’t understand the CCC system and its delivery of non-credit (CCSF gets slashed, but CC’s in my area are starting new non-credit programs where there are already adult schools) I think it’s hugely important to resist the competition and struggle for limited resources. Both CC non-credit and adult schools have as their core mission to serve those marginalized, the underserved, those who have fallen through the cracks of previous education or are new to the country or just released from criminal justice systems… or, or… we both want more justice, more opportunity, and to build the capacity of those who are being pushed down and out to a permanent underclass. We absolutely need to work together. We in adult schools are ready. We wait for our brothers and sisters to recognize we are here. In solidarity…

  • http://www.susangaer.com Susan Gaer

    What a beautifully written article. Please thank Greg. And Maxine thank you.

    • http://www.susangaer.com Susan Gaer

      Please thank Greg….

  • http://www.susangaer.com Susan Gaer

    What a beautifully written article. Please thank Greg. And Maxine thank you.

    • http://www.susangaer.com Susan Gaer

      Please thank Greg….

  • Rita Wong

    Well-written explanation of the difference between non-credit, credit, and adult ed, Greg!

  • Rita Wong

    Well-written explanation of the difference between non-credit, credit, and adult ed, Greg!

  • https://www.facebook.com/AllianceForCaliforniaAdultSchools Karen Arthur

    Bob and Cynthia — thank you. I concur with your comments completely.

  • https://www.facebook.com/AllianceForCaliforniaAdultSchools Karen Arthur

    Bob and Cynthia — thank you. I concur with your comments completely.