IT TAKES no special expertise to figure out that illiteracy and unemployment are related, or that unemployment has something to do with crime. But in Baltimore, some experts from government and private industry have teamed up to do something about it, and they are producing impressive results. Ex-offenders with little or no job experience - adults who couldn't read above the fifth-grade level or solve math problems above the third-grade level - are learning those basic skills at an unusually swift rate. And they are moving into jobs.
A few weeks ago the first graduating class at the city's Adult Learning Center heard a valedictory speech written and delivered by a classmate who only months ago was illiterate and jobless. Today she is working as a secretary for a Baltimore company. She and her 36 fellow graduates have been learning basic reading, writing, speaking, mathematics and clerical skills with the aid of computerized video display terminals - typewriter-and-television-screen arrangements that offer individualized lessons. The machines can be programmed to provide animation as well as information and questions, which the students answer by touching the screen. Tests indicate that the average improvement rate in reading has been almost a grade level for every 15 hours spent with the machines; math skills have been improving at just over a grade level for slightly less than 20 hours at a terminal.
The center is a joint venture of the mayor's Office of Manpower Resources and the Commercial Credit Company, a subsidiary of Control Data Corporation. Money for the project comes from nearly $200,000 in grants from the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) and a two-year commitment of $450,000 from Commercial Credit. Private businesses around the city are helping by hiring the graduates. More than 180 students are enrolled in the courses, which are held in the downtown YMCA. Another program, aimed at school dropouts aged 16 to 19, also is being started.
Mayor William Donald Schaefer is high in his praise of the project; after visiting an early experimental program teaching inner-city high school students, he said, "I saw how interested the kids there were.And when kids are that interested in something, the mayor has to take some notice." Perhaps Washington's mayor-elect should, too.