Inspiring educators, so adults succeed and communities thrive

A conversation with Sharon Bonney, CEO, Coalition of Adult Basic Education

On this week’s Work in Progress podcast, my guest is Sharon Bonney, CEO of the Coalition of Adult Basic Education (COABE), which represents the nation’s system of adult educators.

“There’s roughly 65,000 teachers and administrators in the workforce education system specifically focused on adult education, and there’s over 1.5 million adult learners that are participating in the WIOA Workforce Innovation System,” explains Bonney. “Our goal is to work with the teachers and administrators, provide them with the tools and skills that they need to then work with the adult learners.”

Here is how the WIOA Adult Education system prepares these adult learners for family-sustaining levels of employment:
• fortifies critical academic skills
• integrates instruction with workplace essential skills and in-demand job training
• provides English Language instruction and citizenship classes
• prepares adults in High School Equivalency (HSE)

The emphasis is building a strong base of basic skills that adult learners can build on. COABE offers more than 75 webinars annually to help educators develop their teaching programs for adult learners.

“We try to equip the teachers through a number of different ways, but primarily each month we’ll have a topic that we’re teaching. For perhaps one month, it’s on writing skills. So helping the teacher that is working remotely. We want to make sure to help answer ‘How do you teach an adult learner to write remotely?'”

She says that of 1.5 million adult learners in their system, over 940,000 of them are
immigrants. For those students, helping them learn English is a key basic skill that can help them find a job.

Like many in the workforce development space, COABE is putting a lot of emphasis on helping adults gain or update their digital skills. “Digital literacy is huge because of where we are right now with the pandemic,” Bonney explains.

“We put a program in place where we were providing training at the local level on Google applied digital skills, so that they could in turn work with their adult learners to implement this so that their adult learners would have the applied digital skills that they needed. How do you set up a Gmail account? How do you have an online budget? Those sorts of things. That really took off and the field really embraced that.”

Bonney says that she has often felt that the field is severely underfunded because there’s such “a lack of recognition and visibility for the great work that’s being done on the front lines by the teachers and administrators, and how they are truly impacting the lives of the adult learners.”

She says success for COABE would be that the visibility was finally there. “That the members of Congress, the funders, the general public understood what these local programs are doing, the sorts of individuals that they’re working with, and how they truly are helping to transform their lives through literacy. That to me would be success.”

You can listen to the full podcast here, or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 186: Sharon Bonney, CEO, Coalition of Adult Basic Education
Host: Ramona Schindelheim, editor-in-chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan LynchMelissa Panzer, and Ramona Schindelheim
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

Download the transcript for this Work in Progress podcast episode here.
Catch up on all the other episodes here: Work in Progress