How low adult literacy disadvantages American children
By British A. Robinson, President and CEO, Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy
This week, the Department of Education released the results of the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as The Nation’s Report Card. The results, to my and our nation’s dismay, were dismal.
The report, which assesses students’ reading and math scores, found declines and stagnation in student learning across the country with a staggering two out of three children not meeting the standards for reading proficiency, as reported by The New York Times.
As disheartening as the results are, unfortunately, they reflect a critical multi-generational issue the literacy community knows far too well, which is that poor academic performance and lower literacy rates in children are inextricably correlated to the silent crisis of adult and parent literacy rates—or lack thereof.
Today, an incredible 36 million adults in America cannot read, write or comprehend words at a basic level, according to PIAAC data. That prevents them from fully engaging in our society as parents, workers and citizens.
Just think about that number. It still stops me in my tracks. That means each day, nearly one in five American adults is unable to help their children succeed in school.
And yet, despite the vast number of Americans in need, adult literacy remains largely ignored and stigmatized. That unfortunate reality is ever-more troubling given the grim results of this year’s report.
According to a National Institutes for Health study, a mother’s education level is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors including family income.
I often reflect on a quote from Mrs. Bush. “The home is the child’s first school, the parent is the child’s first teacher, and reading is the child’s first subject” she said. If parents don’t have the skills necessary to fulfill their role as their child’s first teacher, their children are at a serious disadvantage.
Unmet adult literacy needs, if unaddressed, will continue to be a multi-generational issue in the future. The struggling readers of today will not only continue to face some of the negative outcomes of low literacy like poor health, unemployment, poverty and incarceration — but they will repeat the cycle when they have children.
All parents want the best for their children. Families should be reading and interacting with books all day long, not just at bedtime. This is why we exist, why family literacy matters and why we say read “with” your child.
We’re proud to note that Washington, D.C., the home to our new headquarters, is one of a few significant exceptions and was the fastest improving state and urban district in the nation over time from the 2019 NAEP assessment. Achievements like this give us hope and are why we continue to work to be part of the solution
by fostering innovation, expanding access to services, increasing public awareness and implementing evidence-based practices across the country.
We hope that cities, school districts, and community organizations nationwide will reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to join the fight for family literacy.
National Summit on Adult Literacy-Washington DC
November 13, 2019
Sponsored: Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy
A. THE DATA
Hard Truth! 36 million Americans have low literacy skills. Nationally, 1.3 million people drop out of school every year. We measure what we care about most.
What do we do?
- Get rid of the silos
- Innovate & incubate resources
- More rigor
Hard truth! What happened to public awareness of these literacy statistics over the past? Lots of money was provided, but there was no infrastructure that would lead to sustainability. There were part-time employees, not much research to back up claims of low literacy, no documentation of successes, and needed hard data of accomplishments! We have the research to prove the numbers above, but the funding has dried up and the need is now in a crisis mode! Direct, immediate action is needed to avert a deepening trend.
What are some motivators for adults with low literacy?
1. They need to ‘see’ results. They need to know what the results are or going to be. 2. Need to see other successes-referrals from others who have succeeded in the program. 3. Work-to get a ‘better’ job-not necessarily more money, but also more chance to move upward. 4. Family literacy-wants to do something for their children, so their children can have a ‘better’ life.
**It has been completely documented and researched that inter generational programs work, and yet no money comes to them in a consistent and regulated manner!**
Need to de-stigmatize the world of Adult Education!
Hard Truth! Adult Education programs only get about 4200-$800 per student per year (nationally, the actual funding depends on the state) VS $10,000 per early childhood student.
FACT: Return on investment (ROI) after and adult obtains a high school credential is over $6000 per year in taxes.
The question is what we know why people come to Adult Education, but we don’t know why people choose not to come to Adult Education?
B. ECONOMICS OF LITERACY: Literacy Gap Map: shows the percentage of low literacy is county wide throughout the country. http://map.barbarabush.org/overview/#intro
A major component of economics is human capital, which are all the qualities workers have to add to
the economy (or Gross National Product – GNP). Literacy is the major component of the GNP process.
The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC report –
https://www.oecd.org/skills/piaac/_Technical%20Report_17OCT13.pdf comes into play in the economics of literacy. Out of the 29 countries that have taken this assessment, those countries that have the most literacy have the best economy and economic development. Level 6 is the highest level on this report.
In the U.S.:
Hard Truth! Half the population (50%) – are at a level 2 or below on the PIAAC report
.4% are at a level 0
13% are at a level 1
Less than 1% is at a level 5 or above
60% of teens are under a level 3
The U.S. is rated 21st on the PIAAC report.
FACT: If we could increase the 0 level to level 1, we would add $4.2 thousand per person to the GNP
If we could increase level 1 to level 2, we would add $3.6 thousand per person to the GNP
IN THE PERFECT WORLD: if we could eradicate illiteracy nationally, we could add $4 trillion to the GNP!
Hard Truth! We all need to work together, but the negative stigma of Adult Education, but the
stigmatization is so ingrained, it must be changed for us to move the needle forward! For others
(employers, government, potential students, communities) to help this, we need to answer this
question, what is in it for them? A personal connection. We need multi-faceted data to show ROI!
Example: how can Adult Education help? Number 1 question for people coming into a library is asking a librarian to read a doctor’s note to them. Need to take the ‘shame’ out of low literacy for people (including financial shame).
C. Digital Literacy
Digital literacy definition: using the computer for life, work, school, pleasure and to solve problems.
Need access and/or digital inclusion. Need to know how to use the computer. Need to know how to use the Internet (looking for jobs and applying).
FACT: World average: people use a digital device every 8 seconds every day.
Hard Truth! Digital literacy is now a necessity, not optional any longer. Now, people need to do their own ‘everything’. They need to know how to manage their own life. No longer paying for service, you can do it on your own and it’s expected that you do it, even if you don’t want to.
There are inflection points in life – or when a person starts/wants to know about financial literacy
- Loan for a car
- Loan for a house
- College loans
- Get fired from a job/need a job
- Major medical Low literacy can stop a person in their tracks with this! Economic success and hope starts here. Financial literacy is an essential part of life!
Adult Education can use these inflection points as an access point! The paycheck is the perfect place to start talking to adults about financial literacy!!!
D. URGENCY IN ADULT EDUCATION
There is a ‘sense’ of urgency in adult education nationally. Funding keeps drying up! Why? It’s due to cycles, point of views, changes. But 80% of what makes a person healthy takes place outside a doctor’s office – (housing, employment, food, and education). All these help create a healthy life. The question is that these needs need education to be met. There needs to be an elimination of the stigma of low literacy (students in Adult Education), incarceration, and veteran status, etc. What needs to be done? We need to be able to engage the people who are closest to the issues. They may have the answers to the problem. Increase education = increase in career and life self-sufficiency!
E. Adult Brain and learning
FACT: The brain doesn’t see content as real knowledge. It cannot be one size fits all education process. Think of the brain as a hierarchy landscape (tents). All the content is there, but need to move the tent poles to process or obtain the correct knowledge needed in that moment.
Knowledge needs to be organized to make sense.
Misconceptions to adult brain learning process:
1. Working knowledge – adult brain has 8-9 compartments only. (for example: can keep knowledge of a phone number, dial it and then the phone number leaves the compartment). We cannot have more than those compartments. Children only have 2 compartments, so they have to keep it small and simple. This is how children learn to decode.
Hard Truth! Every time we throw all the content at adults, they can keep it in the working memory, but it may become mush if the hierarchy isn’t there to begin with.
Need to build on the strengths, prior knowledge, and life experiences for success with adults.
2. Knowledge is information. How does this effect, affect and motivate? Need a reward? What drives adults to learn?
Process of the brain: It predicts an outcome ———- the event happens ———– the brain compares the prediction with the outcome.
If the event and prediction agree, it’s not interesting enough to be motivating (or interesting to pursue).
If the event and prediction don’t agree, the process becomes interesting (motivating) enough to pursue further. This becomes an internalized goal. We ask ourselves, how do I make that happen again? The word interesting here means to make it happen again. If the event is not interesting, three things have happened:
a. Have master it
b. Already did it
FACT: Humans are wired to speak, it’s natural. However, we are not wired to write or read, it is unnatural. This also will effect motivation to learn. Reading and writing are not natural!
Hard Truth! Great example of an undesired consequence in learning. Company/Teacher makes a math game. The student needs to solve a math problem to get to the treasure in the game. What this proves to the adult is:
1. Doesn’t make math an essential part of life (it’s a game). 2. Math is an obstacle to doing what I really want to do, which is get to the treasure in the game.
FACT: We choose what we learn!
Hard Truth! May need to first deal with all the negative connotations a student has with reading or math
before learning can occur!
FACT: Anxiety runs in families and culture norms are in families!
Adult Education learning is most successful when student goals are met, not program goals! The perfect world application is that there is a lot of variability in learning with adults. If Adult Education can match instruction to each person’s need, would mean we were working with the brain system and not against it. In other words, instruction for adults needs to be one-on-one. This will break down, by just adding one more student to the class.
Hard Truth! We know what to do, but can’t scale it to work with humans/programs.
INSIGHT: Technology may help with this issue. Can create adaptive curriculum to work for Adult
Education students (one-on-one) BUT what happens if the student has low digital literacy skills!
How to help Adult Education students become increase (better) learners:
1. Flipped classroom – lectures are online – and students come in and teacher helps them
individually with their specific challenges/questions (like a learning lab environment)
2. Competency based learning – no matter how long it takes, a person needs to keep working on it
(small rewards (certificates).
FACT: Math anxiety is a ‘real’ thing. This issue can create a temporary learning disability. Stress causes adverse working memory. Memories are ‘tagged’ with emotions associated with good and bad! These can over time create triggers, which have nothing to do with the actual memory or event (like PTSD). The triggers grow and just walking into a math lab can create this anxiety to activate. It has nothing to do with the fact that at one point in your life, you didn’t understand something the math instructor was talking about.