The Case for Managed Enrollment in the Adult Reading Classroom

By Guest Writer, Stephen Dolainski, ABE consultant

I was talking to an adult reading teacher in Los Angeles the other day and asked her how her evening class was going.

“Well, I’m not sure,” she said. “I’ve got 40 students, so my administrator seems happy, but I’m not. Besides that, I’m exhausted and I’m afraid my students aren’t getting what they need.”

This was an experienced teacher who was not one to complain. She had recently been trained to deliver evidence-based reading instruction (EBRI) and was trying to phase it in. EBRI requires:

  • assessment of students’ skills in the four crucial components of reading (alphabetic, fluency,vocabulary, comprehension)
  • instruction based on the assessments
  • direct, explicit instruction
  • tightly-focused, systematic and sequenced lessons
  • multiple opportunities for students to practice and receive teacher feedback

“Are you using managed enrollment at your school?” I asked. She smiled weakly and shook her head. “No, we’re still on open enrollment, and I get new students just about every night.” Think about that—a classroom with 40 high-needs adult learners, one teacher, and new students arriving almost nightly. Is that a recipe for success? Research suggests that open, or continuous, enrollment causes “attendance turbulence” (Sticht et al, 1998) and contributes to the widespread use of highly individualized instruction, which, in fact, results in students receiving little of the systematic or direct reading instruction the research tells us is more effective with this population.

Writing for the U.S. Department of Education, John Strucker, Ed.D, of Harvard University, says:

“It is difficult to imagine implementing systematic instruction when…learners are free to drop in or out at any point …. Under these circumstances, teachers face the dilemma of presenting material for which the new enrollees have no foundation, or endlessly reviewing what has already been covered and thus short changing previous enrollees.”

When it comes to managed enrollment (ME), one size does fit all. When I was the adult literacy adviser for the Los Angeles Unified School District, I worked with our adult school administrators and teachers to tailor ME models that worked for individual schools. In one case, where the reading class covered a four-hour block of time, we divided the class into two periods. Period 1 employed a six-week ME model, when new students were not permitted to enter after the first week of class. Period 2 was the open-enrollment class. At another school, ME looked like this: new students were admitted to the class weekly, but only on Monday. When I taught adult reading at the adult school in Burbank, Calif., we used a nine-week ME model. Students could enter the class during the first two weeks; after that, they had to wait to enter the class until the next enrollment period. We also implemented an attendance policy. Students were allowed to miss three classes. At any time, if they missed more than three classes, they lost their place in the class. Students, of course, need to be counseled and encouraged about enrolling in a reading class when they have the time to attend regularly. There is research (Comings, Parella and Soricone, 1999; 2000) to suggest that some form of ME may help learners improve their attendance and completion rates. Strucker again:

“The case for managed enrollment rests on the following logic: teachers need to deliver reading instruction that is systematic, and the success of systematic instruction depends on good attendance by individual learners and relatively stable classroom environment with minimal turnover and turbulence.”

You can read Strucker’s policy paper on managed enrollment here.


Stephen Dolainski is an adult educator, editor, and author. He was the adult literacy adviser for the LA Unified School District for 10 years, and has trained adult reading instructors in evidence-based reading instruction. As an instructor, he had taught ESL, Adult Secondary Education, and Adult Basic Education. He is the co-author of series Words to Learn By: Academic Vocabulary (Contemporary/McGraw-Hill).

Dolainski recently presented a webinar for Reading Horizons titled, Adult Reading Instruction: What the Research Tells Us that can be viewed free at anytime.


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Jan 07 2013

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