Certifying Adult Education Staff and Faculty

The paper provides a background on certification in adult education, outlines benefits of certification, and suggests next steps for improving teacher quality in adult education through professionalization, teacher preparation, and related research.

C. Smith
R. Gomez
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

This paper was commissioned by the Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy (CAAL) as background for a June 2010 Roundtable to respond to three broad questions:

  1. What adult education certification and credentialing systems for teachers and staff are currently used in the U.S.?
  2. What benefits could such a system have for learners, teachers, and institutions?
  3. Based on current practice and understanding, what steps might be taken to further examine difficult issues and develop a comprehensive system?

The authors conducted literature reviews, examined adult education research concerning the connection between certification and teacher quality, held interviews with numerous stakeholders, and reviewed website information on certification requirements in adult education.  In addition, a Q-sort survey was conducted to provide information on current perspectives of practitioners, policymakers, and researchers.


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What the experts say

This resource is timely and would be of use to the field of adult education because many states are exploring credentialing in various forms in order to professionalize the field or to aid in the process of ensuring that students are able to attain their goals and are taught by highly-qualified teachers. States, programs, and the federal government are stressing the need for adult education programs to provide career pathways for students and to implement programming that enables adult students to enter work, plot a career path, and achieve in the workplace. This article shows how credentialing may provide that career pathway for professionals.

The resource represents a careful, well-written and comprehensive treatment of the state of the field regarding teacher certification in adult education. Its clarity and thoroughness are especially commendable given the pure volume of the information it provides and the almost dizzying variation in current state-level approaches and practitioner viewpoints that it captures. There can be no doubt that the information presented has value for the field in informing the ongoing discussions about whether or not teacher certification makes sense in adult education.  And yet – I’m struck by the irony of some of the key messages transmitted by that information – that we don’t really agree on a definition of the "teacher quality" that would be certified in the first place, and further, that we don’t have any solid evidence that there is a significant correlation between teacher certification and teacher effectiveness. Nevertheless, certification endures as a "hot topic"; the authors do a very nice job of discussing the political and environmental factors that explain why.

In the "Next Steps" section of the report, the list of research needs and potential questions – many designed to address particular approaches in particular states --  is important and welcomed. On the other hand I was a bit disappointed by how little of substance was said there about further development of professional learning opportunities. Overall, though, this resource does an admirable job of "mapping the terrain" of teacher certification in adult literacy education.

As the field continues to explore credentialing or professionalization, questions remain concerning the impact on learner outcomes and potential funding.  Additionally, states and organizations will need to consider many issues as they further investigate and develop systems and related processes for national, regional, or state specific credentialing.

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