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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.

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.

Literacy to Leadership

Literacy to Leadership

Literacy to Leadership: Policies That Promote Adult Student Success was the focus of a Congressional briefing presented by NCL, VALUEUSA, and ProLiteracy on April 14, 2021. The briefing illustrated the power of adult education to transform lives and build the strength and resilience of communities.

The briefing opened with introductory remarks from three Congressional champions of adult education:

Briefing panelists included adults who have taken alternative education paths and are now leaders in the field, as well as practitioners with extensive knowledge of the role of policy in promoting high-quality adult education programs. 

  • Kim R. Ford, President and CEO, Martha’s Table, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education
  • Rachel DeVaughan, Ph.D., Deputy Executive Director, Programs at Mississippi Community College Board
  • Carlos Vasquez, Instructor, Catholic Charities of New Mexico
  • HollyAnn Fresa-Moore, Principal, Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School
  • Marty Finsterbusch, Executive Director, VALUEUSA

Recordings of the full briefing and the individual panelists’ presentations are available through the links below.

Full Briefing


Kim R. Ford


Rachel DeVaughan


Carlos Vasquez


HollyAnn Freso-Moore


Marty Finsterbusch

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.

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