Adult Literacy

Adult Literacy

Some 40 million American adults read below the sixth-grade level, making it tough for them to do everyday tasks ranging from writing a letter to filling out a job application. A Wallace initiative sought to find out how public libraries could help.
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Adult Literacy – Wallace Initiative, 1992 to 2002

The Issue

Some 40 million American adults read below the sixth-grade level, making it tough for them to do everyday tasks ranging from writing a letter to filling out a job application. This limits their ability to work, engage in civic life and fully help their children.

The Response

In 1992, The Wallace Foundation began an $18 million effort centering on adult literacy programs, especially those in public libraries. The Literacy in Libraries Across America initiative set out to accomplish three goals: lift the programs’ quality; strengthen the programs’ ability to show results for those enrolled; and help the programs better reach the millions of adults not currently enrolled.

The Results

The Adult Literacy initiative reached 50,000 adult learners.

  • More than 20 public libraries in eight states established high-quality literacy programs by using technology, recruiting and training tutors, and finding ways to retain adult learners.
  • Literacy Partners, Inc., a consortium of 12 leading literacy programs, formed the “What Works Literacy Partnership” to improve program quality through evaluations and practices to produce stronger learning gains for students.
  • With the Ford Foundation, Wallace supported the Adult Literacy Media Alliance to develop TV411, a multi-media learning program for adults and their families.
  • Four research reports were generated. They identified student lack of persistence in programs as a major barrier to progress, and suggested solutions including assigning students to individual sponsors and offering them referrals to social service agencies.

Research That Emerged From This Work

So I Made Up My Mind: Introducing a Study of Adult Learner Persistence in Library Literacy Programs 

I Did It for Myself: Studying Efforts to Increase Adult Student Persistence in Library Literacy Programs

As Long As It Takes: Responding to the Challenges of Adult Student Persistence in Library Literacy Programs

One Day I Will Make It: A Study of Adult Student Persistence in Library Literacy Programs

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