NCL Blog

Don’t Miss This Opportunity to Build Digital Capacity

Don’t Miss This Opportunity to Build Digital Capacity

By Deborah Kennedy, president, National Coalition for Literacy

Adult education and family literacy providers throughout the country are well aware of the effects of gaps in digital capability on both their programs and their program participants. These gaps are evident at multiple levels:

  • Infrastructure: Availability of broadband has increased over time, but differences persist. The Pew Research Center notes that, in general, “roughly three-quarters of American adults have broadband internet service at home,” but “adoption gaps remain based on factors such as age, income, education and community type. …Home broadband adoption varies across demographic groups. Racial minorities, older adults, rural residents, and those with lower levels of education and income are less likely to have broadband service at home.”
  • Individuals: Large disparities remain between those who are proficient in the use of technology and those who are not. A recent release from the National Skills Coalition connects this disparity with larger inequities. “Digital literacy includes both the capacity to use technology and the cognitive skills necessary to navigate it successfully. But a startling one-third of American workers lack these vital digital skills. …Due to longstanding inequities, workers of color are over-represented among those with limited or no digital skills. For example, Black workers comprise 12 percent of overall workers, but represent 15 percent of the subset of workers who have no digital skills and 21 percent of those with limited skills. Latino workers (who may be of any race) are 14 percent of overall workers, but represent a full 35 percent of workers with no digital skills, and 20 percent of those with limited skills.”
  • Programs: Programs vary widely in their approaches to providing digital skills training, to using distance learning to increase their reach, and to providing professional development in technology-mediated approaches to instruction for adult education practitioners. These variations stem from different states’ policies on distance learning and professional development, as well as from differences in the financial and infrastructure capacities of different program contexts (for example, community college based versus CBO based).

These disparities have gained new prominence in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the nation’s workforce. As a recent paper on digital fluency from the National Skills Coalition notes,

Many laid-off workers are scrambling to identify how they can regroup and re-engage in a labor market that has shifted overnight, and one in which the traditional solution of “going back to school” for additional training has been complicated by a rapid shift to online-only learning. Many training providers are ill-equipped to match demand for remote learning, and many are not ready at all to shift to online or technology-enabled programs. Even more critically, the rapid shift to online or technology-enabled learning means that workers with no or few digital skills — already at a disadvantage in the labor market — may not be able to effectively participate in training and earn the credentials they need to reconnect to work. Similarly, those workers still employed are facing significant new demands to build technology-related skills — across all industries and sectors — as digital tools enabling remote work are the single thread tethering them to continued employment.

Notably, with the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, the adult education field gained an opportunity to begin to address these challenges. The CARES Act includes nearly $3 billion for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEERF), a formula grant program that allows governors to provide emergency support to any education-related entity within the state that the governor deems essential for carrying out emergency education services to students. Activities conducted under the umbrella of the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, including technology integration activities, are specifically included in the allowable uses.

The Department of Education has made the funds available to governors as of April 14, so adult education practitioners should act now to ensure that adult learners and adult education programs are included in their governor’s funding priorities, with a particular focus on building technology capacity. Here’s what to do:

  • Understand that the funds will be available through your state’s governor’s office, not directly from the Department of Education.
  • Governors are likely to appoint a committee or task force to establish priorities and processes for allocating funding. Contact your governor’s office to advocate for inclusion of a representative of the adult education community on that task force or committee. Reference the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund specifically.
  • Remind the governor and other decisionmakers that integration of technology is a key aspect of WIOA and that digital literacy is called out as an essential element of workforce preparation. Use OCTAE’s Integrating Technology in WIOA guidance to stress this.
  • Note that both Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai are strongly promoting the use of GEER funding for technology-related purposes.
  • Develop a set of priorities and plans that would work best in your context, with related cost projections. Include everything you can think of that would make technology-enabled instruction more available and accessible to your adult learners. Here are a few possibilities:
    • Internet access points such as wifi hotspots in parking lots that adult learners can use from their cars to maintain social distancing
    • Provision of electronic devices (tablets, laptops) with relevant software already loaded
    • Acquisition of software/platform licenses
    • Professional development for teachers and staff
    • Staff time for online materials and activities development
    • Teacher/staff compensation for one-on-one phone tutoring with adult learners

You want to be ready when the governor’s office invites you to submit a request!


Resources

Applying a racial equity lens to digital literacy: How workers of color are affected by digital skill gaps. National Skills Coalition, March 20, 2020.

Broadband and student performance gaps. Policy Brief 01-20. Quello Center at Michigan State University, March 23, 2020.

Mary Freeman and Vickie Choitz. Why adult foundational skills matter now more than ever. Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, April 27, 2020.

Integrating technology in WIOA. OCTAE, March 24, 2015.

Leticia Lewis and Molly Bashay. Digital fluency for a resilient economy. National Skills Coalition, April 21, 2020.

Judy Mortrude. Is your state planning for an equitable digital future? EdTech Center at World Education, February 13, 2020.

Census 2020: Current Response Rates and the Risk of an Undercount

Census 2020: Current Response Rates and the Risk of an Undercount

By Deborah Kennedy, president, National Coalition for Literacy, and
Mary Margaret Kraut, affiliated faculty, Union Institute and University

Here’s the good news: As of yesterday morning, the national self-response rate for the Census was 53.4 percent. According to the Census Bureau’s Self-Response Rankings website, the rate is above 60 percent in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. Los Alamos County in New Mexico has the highest rate of response by county at 73.8 percent, and North River, North Dakota has the highest rate of response by city at 100 percent.

These numbers are encouraging, but the data also shows some troubling trends. Table 1 provides comparative data on total response rates, including online, by phone, and on paper, for the Census tracts with the highest (top 20%) and lowest (bottom 20%) rates of self-response. [Note that the table specifies “population” or “household” to reflect the way the Census Bureau reports the data.] As the table indicates, the tracts in the bottom 20% contain substantially higher proportions of hard-to-count populations, including minorities, non-native English speakers, those living below the federal poverty line, and those with no household internet access, than the tracts with the highest response rates. The risk of an undercount for these populations is evident in the data.

The data in Table 1 represents the majority (95.45%) of households: those that have received Internet First and Internet Choice mailings. These two contact strategies take place where mail is delivered to the physical location of the housing unit.

  • In the Internet First contact strategy, a household receives a letter asking the respondent to go online to complete the Census.
  • In the Internet Choice strategy, a household receives a paper questionnaire along with the invitation letter; the Census Bureau uses this strategy in areas that it considers less likely to respond online.
  • In tracts where the Bureau recognizes at least 20% of households as needing “Spanish assistance,” Internet First and Internet Choice mailings are bilingual (Spanish and English).

To date, response rates for Internet Choice tracts are not as robust as those for Internet First tracts. As of April 23, the average response rate for Internet First tracts was about 4 points above the overall national rate, whereas the average response rate for Internet Choice tracts was about 6 points below the overall national rate. Table 2 provides a demographic comparison of the two types of tracts. The comparison shows the relatively higher proportion of hard-to-count populations in the Internet Choice tracts and demonstrates the risk of an undercount for these populations.

To gather information from households that have not responded, the Census Bureau conducts the Non-Response Follow-Up Operation (NRFU), in which Census enumerators visit households in person. Census Outreach [https://www.censusoutreach.org/census-timeline] summarizes the NRFU process this way:

  • If no one answers when an enumerator visits a household, a “Notice of Visit” will be left at the door. This notice will include an online response code to encourage households to self-respond.
  • After one unsuccessful attempt to contact a household, the Census Bureau will determine if the household can be counted using high quality federal administrative records. Households that do not meet this standard will receive additional visits from enumerators.
  • After the 3rd unsuccessful attempt, enumerators can ask nearby reliable “proxy” (for example, a landlord, neighbor, caregiver, letter carrier, or on-site utility worker) for details about the household. If there is no proxy available, enumerators will continue to visit the household up to 6 times.
  • After the 6th unsuccessful attempt, some special case households will still be eligible for additional visits through the end of October.

The 2020 Census Self-Response Operation will continue until October 31, 2020, and the Census Bureau now plans to conduct NRFU from August 11 through October 31 (these dates have been recently adjusted, and may change again depending on COVID-19 developments). The uncertainties associated with face-to-face interviews, particularly in the context of COVID-19 concerns and restrictions, make self-response a far more reliable way to ensure that all people are counted.

The hard-to-count populations that are at risk of being omitted from the Census count have substantial overlap with those who participate in, or could benefit from, adult education. These adults need to recognize the relationship between their participation in the 2020 Census and the availability of equitable federal funding for schools, roads, public assistance, and health services for themselves and their children. Such funding can give adult learners the opportunity for literacy instruction, classes to obtain a high school equivalency or diploma, English for non-native speaker classes, or community college courses to obtain a certificate required for employment. The commonality across all of these programs is for the community to receive its fair share of federal funds.

Adult education practitioners are well connected with the communities where hard-to-count populations reside, and as trusted community resources they can be influential. The challenge for them is to reach out actively to their adult learners in all Census tracts and use that influence to ensure that every individual is included in the 2020 Census count. 

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Resources:

To see current response rates and rankings, see the Rankings Dashboard

To see current response rates by state, county, and Census tract, see the Response Rates Map and the Census 2020 Hard to Count Map

For information on Internet First and Internet Choice contact strategies by state and Census tract, see the Census Bureau’s Mail Contact Strategies Viewer

How does the Census affect health care for adult learners?

How does the Census affect health care for adult learners?

By Cynthia Macleay Campbell, Ed.D.

Why should adult learners complete the Census? Because their health may depend on it!

People who work with adult learners are all too aware of the health challenges that adult learners face. Typical examples include the need for

  • Health screenings and preventive care
  • Eyeglasses
  • Diabetes medication and education
  • Addiction treatment
  • Mental health care
  • Dental care
  • Help with quitting smoking or fighting obesity

These and other health challenges often affect adult learners’ ability to attend and persist in education programs – and research has shown that persistence for 100 hours or more is the key to achievement of educational and career goals such as high school completion and upskilling.

Adult learners are also among the people with the most difficulty in accessing health care and health information. They may encounter practitioners who are not sensitive to their culture or able to speak their language. In short, they are on the wrong side of the health disparities in the United States, where certain groups have worse health outcomes than others.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) funds multiple public health programs that bridge these disparities. They include

  • Grants to help people from minority groups and disadvantaged communities train to be health workers in their communities. This helps increase the numbers of practitioners who can relate to patients in culturally appropriate ways.
  • Medicaid and Medicare.
  • Block grants for Community Mental Health Services
  • Block Grants for the Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse
  • Health Center Programs (Community Health Centers, Migrant Health Centers, Health Care for the Homeless, and Public Housing Primary Care)
  • Telehealth services, where people can call in for health information.
  • Training in General, Pediatric, and Public Health Dentistry
  • Development and Coordination of Rural Health Services

What does the Census have to do with these health equity and public health efforts? The funding that comes to each local community to support them is determined by the Census count for that community. Without an accurate count, adult learners may have further struggles to obtain the health services and supports they need to flourish.

For further reading:

Census 2020 Schedule Changes Due to COVID-19

Census 2020 Schedule Changes Due to COVID-19

On Friday March 20, the Census Bureau announced adjustments to the operations schedule for collecting 2020 Census responses. Here are several that are important for adult learners and their communities.

The best approach for everyone is to complete the Census as soon as possible, either online, on the phone, or by mail. People who have not received a Census ID number in the mail can complete the form online using their home address.

  • Self-response phase: The end date for self-response is extended to August 14. The original end date was July 31.
  • Update Leave: This refers to 5 million households where Census workers will drop off paper invitations at the front door. This was scheduled to begin on March 15. It has been delayed and will now take place March 29-May 1.
  • Mobile Questionnaire Assistance: In this activity, Census workers with tablets will be stationed in public places (grocery stores, community centers) to help people complete the Census. This activity was originally scheduled for March 30 – July 31. It will now take place April 13 – August 14.
  • Non-response Followup: These in-person visits to households that have not responded online, by phone, or by mail were originally scheduled for May 13 – July 31. The new dates are May 28 – August 14.

Group quarters enumeration, service-based numeration, and the count of people experiencing homelessness outdoors have also been delayed. Read the Census Bureau’s revised schedule for more information.

The Census Task Force of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has expressed support for these schedule adjustments, noting that “this extension gives the Census Bureau and advocates the flexibility we need to expand and modify outreach.” The National Coalition for Literacy is a Census Task Force partner. Read the Task Force’s full statement.

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