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Bipartisan Support for Adult Education Research

Bipartisan Support for Adult Education Research

On Wednesday afternoon (April 14), Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Senator Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the bipartisan Strengthening Research in Adult Education Act (S. 1126). According to Senator Reed’s introductory statement, the Act

will amend the Education Sciences Reform Act to require the Institute for Education Sciences and the National Center for Education Statistics to collect data and carry out research on: successful state and local adult education and literacy activities, the characteristics and academic achievement of adult learners, and access to and opportunity for adult education, including digital literacy skills development, in communities across the country. It will also ensure that the Institute of Education Sciences draws on the expertise of adult educators when developing policies and priorities. Finally, the legislation would require that at least one research center would focus on adult education.

You can read Senator Reed’s full introductory statement HERE. The full text of the Act itself is not yet available.

The Strengthening Research in Adult Education Act puts forward critical initiatives that will strengthen adult education greatly if the legislation is passed. The National Coalition for Literacy and its member organizations deeply appreciate the work that Senator Reed and Senator Young are doing to promote federal support for adult education.

Congratulations!

Congratulations!

Today the National Coalition for Literacy celebrates the inauguration of President Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. and Vice President Kamala Devi Harris! 

Throughout his career, President Biden has been a consistent advocate for adult education, most notably in his promotion of adult career pathways innovation in the White House report Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity that accompanied the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act authorization in 2014. In that report he spoke of adult education programs as “particularly important to those hardest hit by the twists and turns of global competition, technological changes, economic isolation, or inadequate education opportunities.”

As the Biden Administration begins to address the economic fallout of the global pandemic and the systemic inequities that it has both revealed and exacerbated, adult education will continue to play a pivotal role. Adult education programs seek to counteract systemic inequities in education that disproportionately affect Black, Brown, Indigenous, and immigrant/refugee community members by providing instruction in foundational literacy and numeracy skills, high school equivalency, and workforce/college readiness. As recent Survey of Adult Skills data shows, in the United States, 19 percent of adults are profoundly in need of literacy skills development and 29 percent lack critical numeracy skills. These adults are overrepresented in communities of color—the same communities that have been most adversely affected by the COVID-induced health and economic challenges that are rooted in systemic inequity.

Adult education in the United States has deep roots in social justice efforts that recognize and promote literacy and learning as central to access, voice, and action for all. The very first adult schools – Massachusetts in 1842; California in 1856 – were community-level efforts focused on immigrant integration through English language and civics instruction, and basic literacy for adults with limited formal education. During the civil rights protests of the 1960s, a federal investment in adult education was recommended as one strategy for mitigating the effects of structural and systemic racism. Over the decades since then, adult education has continued its mission of opening the doors to economic opportunity and full participation in society through education. While the recent Survey of Adult Skills data demonstrates the persistence of inequities, the power of adult education to address them and promote social justice is documented in studies such as The Case for Investment in Adult Education. As the Education Strategy Group has noted, “education holds the key to economic revitalization and must play a central role in addressing systemic inequities.”

During the months of the pandemic, adult education programs have turned to remote teaching to continue providing services. Yet this instruction has been inaccessible to many in adult education’s learner population due to limitations on digital access in rural and low-income areas of the country. Educational inclusion and digital inclusion now go hand in hand, and adult education’s ability to counter the effects of educational inequity and systemic racism increasingly depend on complementary investments in digital infrastructure and access to internet-enabled devices and digital skills instruction.

In states and communities across the country, adult education’s power lies in its ability to meet the moment and rise to the challenge. The National Coalition for Literacy welcomes President Biden and Vice President Harris and encourages them to build on the nation’s commitment to educational equity by recognizing adult education’s critical work, investing in it, and rewarding it.

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.” Broadband speed is also often a barrier to increasing digital capacity, but using a service like the dish network can help to speed up slow connections, getting more people online faster.
  • Individuals: Large disparities remain between those who are proficient in the use of technology and those who are not. Insufficient education is another major barrier, with many lacking the IT skills needed to complete basic computer tasks. 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.

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