The Hidden Equity Factor

November 16, 2016 at 10:04 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Written by: Carole Bausell, Ed.D., Director of Academic and Student Affairs

LCNV Director of Academic and Student Affairs Dr. Carole Bausell recently attended a National Advancing Equity in Adult, Community College, and Career and Technical Education Symposium about advancing equity in adult education.

Since we have spent considerable time over the past year voicing our concerns about equity issues affecting the population we serve, I was tremendously interested to attend the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education’s (OCTAE) symposium—the National Advancing Equity in Adult, Community College, and Career and Technical Education Symposium on October 31, 2016.

In his keynote address, Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. talked about the many groups in our society that face equity issues and celebrated the role of educators in their lives. When he lauded teachers who choose to focus on people’s potentials in lieu of their challenges, I couldn’t help but think of some of our own teachers here at LCNV who do the same.  But it was especially moving to hear Dr. King—who holds the top education job in the country—give tribute to the public school educators who mentored him and invested in him after he had lost both of his parents by the age of 12 years.

Dr. Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary for OCTAE, also spoke eloquently, addressing the importance of equity in federally funded initiatives. One such initiative, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), is intended to help advance those facing the greatest barriers to education and employment, including English language learners. (You may have read about WIOA in the Director’s Letter Spring 2016 by LCNV Executive Director Patti Donnelly). Dr. Uvin stressed the importance of access, persistence, and completion in education, the three pillars upon which all else relies. I couldn’t help but notice that included among Dr. Uvin’s impressive credentials is a Masters of Arts in teaching English to speakers of other languages.

We at LCNV see firsthand that adults who lack proficiency in English are unable to access many opportunities that the rest of us take for granted. Language limitations can serve as barriers to furthering your education, getting a job, obtaining medical attention, accessing social services, voting in an election, making friends, talking to your children’s teachers, and more. Language barriers also have multigenerational consequences, most notably affecting the achievement of children from homes where the adults do not speak English very well. Even when these first generation American children manage to go to college, they are much less likely to complete it than their peers.

Back during the 1990 census, the term linguistic isolation emerged to describe households where none of the adults speak English very well.  An effort was made to count and identify these families as they could potentially have difficulty communicating in the event of a disaster.

This concept continues to hold relevance today. Consider that according to the 2016 Fairfax County Human Services Needs Assessment, a quarter (25%) of households that speak Asian and Pacific Island languages and almost one fifth (19%) of those that speak Spanish live in linguistic isolation (based on 2014 Fairfax County data).

What is the emotional toll upon these families? At a profound level, language skills appear to build resilience in fragile refugee populations according to Language for Resilience, a research report from the British Council that my colleague Xavier Munoz shared with me.

Essentially, learning English not only enables folks to improve their lives, it also provides a protective factor for individuals who must restart their lives in new lands.

As we continue to develop and improve upon our academic program at LCNV, we rely on many of the things I heard that day at the symposium. We look to the power of teachers, instructional volunteers, and student advisors to help our students learn the language that will open doors in their lives. We look to the application of contextual learning in our Destination Workforce program to facilitate the ability to solve real world problems on the job. We look to the strength of our Family Learning program to help bridge gaps affecting both generations. We look to the potential of partnerships to assist our students in transitioning to other programs once they complete ours. And we know that as a society we have much more work to do on advancing equity, as some students continue to have less access than others to educational resources and success.

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