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Year in Review 2021

Year in Review 2021

As the new year begins, the NCL Board is looking back over the successes of 2021 and considering how to build on them for the important advocacy and awareness work that lies ahead. Here are some highlights of our advocacy initiatives from the past year.

Accomplishments in 2021

Hill Briefing

In April, NCL partnered with VALUEUSA and ProLiteracy to provide a virtual Hill briefing entitled Literacy to Leadership: Policies That Promote Adult Student Success. Introductory remarks were provided by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI); Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), Chairman, Committee on Education and Labor; and Congressman John Yarmuth (D-KY-03), Co-Chair, House Adult Literacy Caucus. The briefing speakers, including Kim Ford (CEO, Martha’s Table), Rachel DeVaughan (Deputy Executive Director, Mississippi Community College Board), Carlos Vasquez (Adult Education Instructor, Catholic Charities NM), and HollyAnn Fresa-Moore (Principal, Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School), stressed the many ways that policy decisions can make a transformative difference in the lives of adult learners. The briefing elicited a lively chat exchange among the 200+ attendees; a video recording is available at https://youtu.be/L-jBquG17VI.

Senate HELP Committee and WIOA Reauthorization

In April, NCL submitted a memo to Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) in response to the HELP Committee’s request for comments on workforce development and WIOA programs. NCL’s memo contained six recommendations:

  • Recognize the centrality of adult basic education to the success of workforce training and economic recovery efforts
  • Recognize that full and effective participation in the workforce requires the application of broader life skills
  • Amend deficit-based language that leads to deficit-based programming
  • Reorient adult basic education accountability and outcomes reporting toward a competency-based approach
  • Provide support for remote instruction models and the use of technology in adult education
  • Invest in research on evidence-based AEFLA program models

In providing these recommendations, NCL noted that they were designed to “improve the legislation so that it more fully realizes its essential purpose of ensuring equitable access to quality education and training for all adults.” NCL has continued to promote these recommendations throughout 2021 in its work with Senator Reed’s office on revised language for the WIOA legislation.

Digital Equity Act

In June, NCL endorsed the bipartisan Digital Equity Act of 2021, which was introduced by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rob Portman (R-OH). The Act, which provides for a five-year federal investment in digital equity, was passed as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was enacted by the 117th Congress and signed into law by the President on November 15. NCL had previously endorsed the Act in 2020 and has worked actively in support of its passage since then.

OCTAE and Department of Education Interactions

NCL participated in a series of invitation-only information-gathering sessions with OCTAE staff throughout the year. These sessions allowed NCL and other participants to update OCTAE on developments and activities in the field; the final session of the year was a face-to-face one-on-one meeting with Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal.

National Reporting System

In November 2020, NCL submitted comments on proposed changes to the National Reporting System. Our comments, which stressed the need to allow adult education programs to report outcomes for all learners across all types of measurable skill gains, aligned with those expressed by a number of our colleague organizations. OCTAE responded positively to these concerns, and in early 2021 issued a program memo providing revised guidance on outcome reporting in the pandemic environment.

Naturalization Civics Test

In December 2020, NCL submitted a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to express concerns about the development process, administration procedures, and preparation requirements for the revised naturalization civics test that USCIS released in November 2020. Similar concerns were expressed by many of our colleague organizations. USCIS responded positively, and in early 2021 announced that it would continue to use the prior version of the civics test.

Civil Rights

Throughout the year, NCL continued its collaboration with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights as the Hub for adult education, addressing concerns related to finalization of data from the 2020 Decennial Census and signing on to several other civil rights and human rights related communications throughout the year.

Conference Presentations

NCL Board members provided advocacy-related presentations at major conferences throughout the year, including the annual conventions of TESOL International, COABE, AAACE, and the National Literacy Summit hosted by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy in October.

Adult Education and Family Literacy Week

NCL’s 2021 National AEFL Week activities in September focused on the foundational role of adult education in solutions to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting recession and unemployment. In 2022, National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week will be observed from September 18 to September 24.

Organizational Growth

NCL completed its first full year with an Executive Director supporting the Board in its leadership role.

Plans for 2022

Every year, NCL actively pursues opportunities to promote adult education in policy-related matters. In 2022, we will

  • Improve adult education’s visibility and messaging as a key influencer to ensure our purpose and contributions to the U.S. education system are understood by policy makers, stakeholders, and the field
  • Increase awareness of the role adult education plays in digital equity, inclusive economic recovery, counteracting systemic racism, and social justice
  • Promote broadening of the options for accountability in adult education
  • Continue to work on organizational sustainability by increasing NCL’s membership base and securing external funding for our work

As always, we will conduct national public policy advocacy with Congress and keep our members connected with developments on Capitol Hill. NCL member organizations and individual friends will have opportunities to be involved in the national conversation on public policy through NCL’s semi-annual meetings, monthly public policy calls, conference panel discussions, and task groups.

An AEFL Week Opportunity

An AEFL Week Opportunity

National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week has begun!

How will you take advantage of this opportunity?

AEFL Week raises public awareness about the need for and value of adult education and family literacy. Its goal is to increase financial and societal support for access to basic education programs for U.S. adults with low literacy, numeracy, and digital skills. Advocates across the country use this opportunity to elevate adult education and family literacy nationwide with policymakers, the media, and the community.

What are some ways to participate this week?

  • Start with toolkits and other resources for planning advocacy around AEFL week
  • Customize and share NCL’s AEFL Week social media messaging for direct service providers, policy makers, and donors
  • Host an online event to raise awareness of adult education and family literacy

What about next week, next month, next spring?

AEFL Week is also a great opportunity to plan out your advocacy strategy for the next 6 months or more.

  • Who are your federal and state legislators? What are their positions on adult education, family literacy, digital equity? Plan out a schedule for when you will contact them over the next few months and what you will say.
  • What information about literacy and numeracy levels in your specific community or locale can you obtain from the PIAAC Skills Map? How can you use that information to explain the importance of adult education?
  • What information about digital access in your community can you obtain from the National Broadband Map? How can you use that information to support your points about digital literacy and digital inclusion?
  • What are some of the strengths and successes of your program and your adult learners? How can you use those to illustrate the value (and return on investment) of adult education?

This AEFL Week, take the opportunity to become a more informed, more creative, and more persistent advocate. And let us know how we can help!

National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week was established when the National Coalition for Literacy worked with Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Lamar Alexander (R-PA) and then-Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) to create a Congressionally-recognized designation that would draw attention to the importance of adult education and family literacy. Since then, NCL has sponsored AEFL Week in September each year on behalf of its members and the field as a whole, and has worked with Members of Congress to have the week recognized through resolutions in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

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, the homeless and young children. Getting these groups to fill out the census questionnaire presents challenges – they may have no address to send it to, they may not trust the state or they may be physically/mentally unable. It is vital that these groups are counted, however, so that the issues facing them can be addressed. It is not possible, for example, to improve adult literacy if we don’t know how many adults can’t read or write. Similarly, we can’t end homelessness if we don’t know how many homeless people they are. That is why the census is so important.

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!

Adult Education and Family Literacy Week: Care to Join Us?

Adult Education and Family Literacy Week: Care to Join Us?

Jennifer Leach, Assistant Director at the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education, which received a 2016 Literacy Leadership Award from the National Coalition for Literacy last night, published this blog post on the FTC’s site on Monday:

The FTC has a consumer protection website with plain and simple advice on dealing with everything from making a budget to rebuilding your credit to avoiding job scams. Consumer.gov and Consumidor.gov were designed for anyone who’s short on time and needs just the facts; people with limited reading ability; and educators who want their students to have financial literacy and life skills, like how to buy a used car, for example. Buying a car isn’t as easy as one would think. You don’t simply hand over cash to someone and take a car in return. When buying a car, fuel needs to be considered as does insurance costs, mileage count, and many other factors. Luckily, finding insurance is simple as you can just click here for quotes, but that’s only one element on the buying process. These sites can help with the other elements of the process and make sure that a car is being purchased correctly and for a fair amount based on its condition. Car insurance also isn’t just about accepting the cheapest policy, it’s about using resources like this state farm review to find the policy that will protect the car the most. it’s all well and good paying £200 less for insurance but if it doesn’t cover your $500 repair then you’re losing out. There are many ways in which you can become financially literate. If you are unaware of how you can obtain credit cards without ssn, there’s a good chance that you are not as financially literate as you should be. Learning these crucial skills are hugely important to help you succeed when it comes to your finances.

Educators tell us their students need these skills but the teachers could use more help getting the information across. So we created a series of lesson plans to help adult education and English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers use Consumer.gov’s resources in the classroom. You can get them converted into your desired file format using online software (ones similar to sodapdf.com/pdf-to-docx) and print them out at your leisure.

Every day, we work to make sure the site is useful to anyone who uses it. There are videos, an audio read-along of all the text on the site, worksheets and presentations, and everything is available toorder free in print.

This year, the National Coalition for Literacy (NCL) has given the FTC one of its 2016 Literacy Leadership Awards for its commitment to serving and guiding adults with limited reading ability, and for its outreach to those working with them, particularly teachers in adult basic education and ESL programs. It’s an exciting honor, and one we’ll celebrate by doubling down on our efforts to tell people about fraud, and how to report it. Care to join us?

Congratulations to Jennifer and her colleagues and all her fellow honorees. And thank you, Jennifer, for this call to action.

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