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The 2020 Census is Pivotal for Adult Education

The 2020 Census is Pivotal for Adult Education

NCL has made the 2020 Census its priority issue for 2019-2020. Why? Because, as our members know, an accurate and fair count is essential for adult learners, the programs that serve them, and the communities where they live and work.

Census population counts determine how Congressional districts are drawn, and thus how populations are represented. Businesses use Census data to guide decisions about where to build facilities that can provide jobs. And, according to the Census Bureau, Census data “help determine how more than $675 billion in federal funding is distributed to states and communities every year.” That funding supports hospitals, housing programs, fire departments, food and nutrition programs, road construction … and adult education, through the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA, Title II of WIOA).

Why do adult learners need a particular focus?

NCL’s goal in focusing it work on the 2020 Census is to ensure as full a count as possible of adult learners and their families and codependents. Many of these residents fall into one or more of the groups that the Census Bureau has identified as “hard to count” (and therefore at risk of an undercount). “Hard to count” populations include low-income households, foreign-born persons, people of color, rural residents, and young children.

An undercount of these populations could result in reduced resource allocations and reduced political representation for their communities. By educating adult learners about the 2020 Census and encouraging them to complete it and to share information in their communities, adult education programs can support a full and fair count of the population groups their learners represent. In addition, as trusted institutions, adult education programs and libraries are well positioned to reach the communities they serve with accurate, timely information about the nature and significance of the Census and guidance that helps adults with limited literacy or English language skills avoid Census-related scams and fraud that may target them.

What are the challenges?

For 2020, the Census Bureau has made changes to its procedures for supporting Census completion. These changes are likely to have negative effects on response rates for adults with limited reading and digital literacy skills:

  • The Bureau is emphasizing online response. In most cases, the initial mailing will invite recipients to respond online. Those who lack online access or have limited digital skills will need support to follow up online, and guidance to understand that they can also respond on paper or by phone.
  • The Bureau will not provide instructional materials specifically for use in adult education programs. While the Bureau plans to release educational materials for K-12 students through its Statistics in Schools program, it has no plans to develop materials geared to adult learners as it did in 2000 and 2010. Adult educators will be on their own to adapt or create activities and materials that help their learners understand and respond to the Census and avoid potential Census-related fraud and scams.

In addition, because the Bureau does not yet have an established budget for fiscal 2020, it has had to limit its plans to provide face-to-face support for Census completion. In prior Census years, the Bureau provided for Questionnaire Assistance Centers at libraries and community centers. The American Library Association described the importance of QACs in a February 2019 letter to Bureau Director Steven Dillingham:

“Libraries hosted more than 6,000 Questionnaire Assistance Centers and Be Counted sites in the 2010 Census … Libraries offer ideal locations for Questionnaire Assistance Centers in many hard-to-count communities: 99% of Census tracts with the lowest self-response rates in 2010 are located within five miles of a public library. Furthermore, many residents with lower Internet connectivity or skills will turn to their local library to access the new Internet Self-Response option, and 98% of tracts with poor Internet access are located within five miles of a public library.”

However, for 2020 the Bureau may not be able to support QACs, given the current uncertainties about its funding for fiscal 2020. Because the Senate will not begin work on the 2020 budget until it reconvenes on September 10, passage of the final budget is not likely to happen before fiscal 2020 begins on October 1. As a result, Congress will need to pass a Continuing Resolution to keep the government open until a final budget is passed. The challenge this presents for the Census Bureau is outlined in a case memo developed by the Census Task Force:

“Most FY 2020 appropriations bills will not be finalized until later in the fall (at best), well after the October 1 start date to the fiscal year. … The Census Bureau needs to know at the start of the fiscal year how much money it will have for the entire year, so it knows what efforts it can afford to undertake. Without funding certainty at the start of the year, the Census Bureau could decide it must curtail certain important activities — from outreach and advertising to cyber-security steps to hiring a full complement of census field staff — to prevent a funding shortfall later in the fiscal year.”

The potential adverse effects of underfunding were demonstrated by the outcomes of the 2018 national census in New Zealand, where understaffing of in-person assistance, a focus on online completion, and insufficient support for paper-based responses resulted in a nearly 10 point drop in the response rate, particularly among minority populations: “one of the worst participation rates in decades, with one in seven people filing to complete it.”

What can I do? What can my program do?

You can act at both the individual and the programmatic level.

1. Advocate: Email or call your Senators and Representatives to promote inclusion in the Continuing Resolution of a full year funding anomaly for the 2020 Census of $7.5 billion, as part of Periodic Censuses and Programs account funding of $8.145 billion.

This is the stakeholder-recommended funding level that was included in the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill (H.R. 3055) that the House passed earlier this year. This funding anomaly, if passed, will allow the Census Bureau to plan for the full year of activities and carry out activities that ensure a fair and accurate count. For more information, read the case memo developed by the Leadership Conference’s Census Task Force and share it as part of your advocacy.

2. Participate: Become informed about how the Census is administered, who is counted, what questions are asked (and not asked), how the Census Bureau maintains information confidentiality, and more. Use Census Bureau fact sheets and infographics for information. Plan to complete the Census yourself. Here is the Census Bureau’s timeline for 2020:

3. Educate: Understand your adult learners’ concerns about the Census and preferred response method (online, paper, phone, in person). Use the NCL Census resource list to plan ways to incorporate relevant digital literacy skills and content-based instruction at individual class or wider programmatic levels. The NCL list contains links to teaching/learning materials and community outreach materials developed by a number of organizations, and is updated regularly. In addition, this fall NCL member organizations will be developing teaching materials and related activities specifically for use in ABE/ESL contexts.

4. Stay Up to Date: Throughout the 2019-2020 program year, NCL members will be providing topical webinars and conference presentations to address specific aspects of the Census process and share knowledge and resources designed for adult learners and adult education practitioners. Webinars and conference presentations will be listed here on the NCL website and announced through the NCL listserv with links to available slide decks and recordings.

As we look forward to Adult Education and Family Literacy Week later this month, please join the NCL in advocating and working for a fair and accurate count for #Census2020!

Learning from the Forgotten 90 Percent

Learning from the Forgotten 90 Percent

Why is it that only 10 percent of the adults in the United States who lack basic literacy and numeracy skills participate in adult education? Program capacity is certainly one reason. But what about the adults themselves? What is holding them back, and what changes could increase their levels of participation?

To find out, VALUEUSA and Research Allies for Lifelong Learning partnered to conduct a research study that asked adult nonparticipants for their perspectives. The Critiquing Adult Participation in Education (CAPE) research project sought to identify deterrents and discover ways to mitigate them in order to increase motivation to participate.

Researchers administered a survey to and conducted focus groups with 125 nonparticipating adults in five states. Study subjects included parents, seniors, homeless adults, formerly incarcerated adults, recovering addicts, adults with disabilities, and elder caregivers. The median age was 35 years, with a range from 18 to 75 years, and just over half (57 percent) were female. Annual personal income was at poverty levels, with 84 percent earning $0 to $18,000 annually. All of the study subjects had either left the education system without completing high school or had been educated outside the United States. None were currently enrolled in adult education, and 75 percent had never participated in it at all.

The CAPE project has now released three reports on its findings, summarized below.

 

Report 1: Deterrents and Solutions

by Margaret Becker Patterson and Wei Song

On the basis of the group interview responses, the researchers identified three categories of deterrents: situational, dispositional, and institutional.

  • Situational deterrents included transportation, family care needs, and finances. These deterrents were listed most often; the report notes that “many adults in CAPE interviews were literally fighting to survive financially and seemed on the brink of losing their few resources from threats such as a car breakdown, a family emergency, or a job loss.” Study subjects also listed other situational deterrents, including lack of a support system, anti-education sentiment in the community, unemployment, and work-related issues.
  • Dispositional deterrents included “influences from the past, health concerns or disabilities, struggles with behavior, lack of motivation, little time for themselves, anxiety or fear, [and lack] of confidence in themselves.”
  • Institutional deterrents “included requirements of education policies and procedures and ways in which adults perceived the helpfulness of adult educators. Some adults simply did not know adult education existed within reach.”

In addition to identifying deterrents, study participants outlined a number of actionable solutions. These included partnerships with faith-based and community-based organizations to establish ways of assisting adults with financial management and other situational deterrents; provision of counseling services at adult education sites to help adults manage dispositional deterrents such as anger and feelings of failure, develop self-efficacy, and persist in pursuing their educational goals; and use of both high-tech and low-tech means of distributing information about adult education opportunities more broadly.

 

Report 2: Motivation Around Adult Education

by Margaret Becker Patterson, Research Allies for Lifelong Learning

This report summarizes the attitudes that study participants expressed about adult education and their reasons for nonparticipation. For the most part, attitudes expressed in both surveys and group sessions were positive, although some differences of opinion became evident in the group sessions.

“At the group level,” the report notes, “male, employed, and low-income adults [identified] issues associated with the value of education somewhat more frequently than their counterparts.” Except for a small difference by gender (“a higher percentage of women placed value on education than did men”), the value placed on education did not vary by demographic group. “This finding is positive and important for those planning policy and programming, in that frequently held assumptions such as ‘older adults don’t care about adult education’ or ‘people in poverty don’t value adult education’ are not supported in this research,” according to the report.

Despite their positive attitudes toward adult education, most of the study participants had never participated in it. The reasons for a few were the cost of participating (including conflicts with other commitments and exhaustion, as well as actual financial cost) or a perception that further education was not something they needed. However, for most, the major deterrents were “past influences or traumatic experiences” associated with education, as also noted in the first report. “Adult education policies and outreach efforts need to assure adults that adult education will offer skills that will enable them to reach their goals,” the report concludes. “They need instructional services delivered in a welcoming social context and accepting learning environment.”

 

Report 3: Technology Use

by Margaret Becker Patterson, Research Allies for Lifelong Learning

As its title indicates, this report focuses on respondents’ experiences with technology in general (defined as getting online, pursuing online activities, and experiencing challenges that make online access more difficult) and their attitudes about using technology for learning (defined as employing learning software on standalone computers, participating in online learning, and using apps on a smartphone). The study found the following:

  • 62% of respondents are currently online
  • 24% have been online previously
  • 14% have never been online

Among those currently online, 9 out of 10 connect using smartphones. Four out of five stated that they could locate a website easily, and three out of four stated that they could find the information they needed. As the report notes, “the high rate of access to technology is encouraging and shows promise for engaging” adults who are not currently enrolled in adult education.

According to the report, technology use did not differ significantly by gender, but differences by age group were apparent. “Nearly all Millennials and two-thirds of Generation Xers used smartphones for online access at least sometimes, but 20 percent of Generation Xers and 29 percent of Baby Boomers reported never going online on a smartphone,” the report states. In addition, “Although [respondents] generally perceived high technology efficacy, efficacy rates were higher for Millennials and decreased significantly as age increased. Ease in finding a website and finding information within a website also decreased with rising age, and 10 percent of Generation Xers and 40 percent of Baby Boomers found it difficult to find websites.” However, most Baby Boomers did indicate the belief that they could learn to use technology with support.

Overall, respondents showed a preference for learning on their own rather than in groups, whether by using technology, by reading print materials, or with a tutor’s support. This preference was particularly clear with respect to using technology for learning. “Very few [respondents] preferred learning with others via technology, and stronger preferences were apparent by age. With the exception of Generation X, most indicated a preference to learn on their own rather than with others. … Two in five would use technology to learn along with other people or to solve problems with other people,” according to the report.

Respondents also reported a variety of challenges with using technology. The three challenges cited most often were difficulty concentrating, difficulty sitting for long periods of time, and eyes that tire easily. The report notes that “adults in all age groups reported comparable rates of challenges… The top three challenges were experienced at high rates by adults reporting ‘fair’ health.”

The report observes that the wide availability of access to technology and the overall positive attitude toward its use for learning bode well for initiatives that seek to expand participation in adult education through online offerings. However, it cautions that adult educators will need to respond to the learning preferences of adults who are not enrolled in adult education and work to mitigate the challenges that many of these adults face, if outreach to the forgotten 90 percent is to be successful.

 

The CAPE project was sponsored by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. For more information and full copies of the three reports, visit the VALUEUSA website at http://valueusa.org/projects/.

NCL/Adult Literacy Caucus Hill Briefing, Wednesday May 9

NCL/Adult Literacy Caucus Hill Briefing, Wednesday May 9

The NCL and the House Adult Literacy Caucus will sponsor a Congressional briefing on Outcomes and Significance of Federal Support for Adult Literacy on Wednesday, May 9, 2:30-3:30 pm in Room 340, Cannon House Office Building.

Congressman Phil Roe (TN) is scheduled to open the briefing. The briefing itself will focus on the power and potential of adult literacy education to transform lives. Speakers will include two adult education graduates, Dr Rachel DeVaughan from Mississippi and the Rev David Hendricks from Connecticut; a current program participant, Mr Abraham Castañeda from the Carlos Rosario Public Charter School in Washington, DC; and Dr Margaret Patterson, who will report on the findings of her current research with would-be adult learners on impediments to participation and suggestions for low-cost ways to increase access. NCL president Deborah Kennedy will provide framing comments regarding the federal role in adult education.

The briefing is designed to encourage Members of Congress to maintain a priority focus on adult literacy and adult education as they engage in the federal budget appropriations process for fiscal 2019 and beyond.

The briefing is free and open to the public, and all who wish to do so are most welcome to attend. Feel free also to forward the invitation flyer to colleagues and to the offices of your Members of Congress. We are conducting extensive outreach ourselves, but communications from constituents are often much more powerful.

We will post a summary of the briefing on the NCL website later in May.

National Coalition for Literacy Invitation