Friday, June 23, 2006

Thomas G. Sticht Explores the Effectiveness of the Division of Adult Education and Literacy. A Librarian at the Kitchen Table. No. 373.

Has the U. S. Division of Adult Education and Literacy (DAEL)Improved Program Quality and Capacity in the Adult Education and Literacy System of the United States?

Tom Sticht.International Consultant in Adult Education.

The Division of Adult Education and Literacy (DAEL) is located in the
Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) in the U. S. Department of Education USED. The DAEL administers the state grants that are funded under Title 2: The Adult Education and Family Literacy Act of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and its revisions. The 3,000 or so programs funded under the WIA/Title 2 make up the Adult Education and Literacy System (AELS) of the United States. Speaking of the programs in this system, the DAEL web site states, "The Division provides assistance to states to improve program quality and capacity."

But how effective has this assistance been? Regarding the improvement of program "capacity," the DAEL has responsibility for advising the Bush administration, through the Secretary of Education’s offices and chain of command, on policies for the AELS, including funding levels for the WIA state grants. Significantly, since the beginning of the Bush administration, the President has never requested an increase in the state grant funding over what was in the previous year. Further, for fiscal year
2006 the administration requested a $375 million cut in the $575 million budget (using approximate numbers here) for the state grants, a two-thirds cut. Fortunately, adult literacy advocates mobilized and convinced the U.S. Congress to restore the funding to its previous year’s level. After that, the administration again asked for no more funding for the state grants for fiscal year 2007, and has sought to zero out the Even Start family literacy program. How does that improve the "capacity" of the AELS to serve what the administration says is the 90 million or so adults whose literacy skills are inadequate for our global competitiveness?

To meet accountability requirements of the WIA of 1998 the DAEL implemented the National Reporting System (NRS). Following the initiation of this information management system, enrollments in the AELS fell by some 1,000,000 students over the next six years. This is not indicative of improved capacity for the AELS.

Despite its national leadership role at the federal level, the DAEL has not defined what it means by program "quality" so it is not possible to make any determination as to whether or not the DAEL has made progress in improving program "quality". In this regard, the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has dropped the earlier ERIC system that provided educators access to thousands of reports that may have included valuable ideas to improve the "quality" of adult literacy education. Instead, in 2002 the IES implemented the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) "to provide educators, policymakers, researchers, and the public with a central and trusted source of scientific evidence of what works in education."

For the first three years of its existence the WWC promised that a report on what works in adult literacy education was forthcoming. But the report never appeared and the promise of a forthcoming report has been removed from the site. Apparently, then, the Department of Education’s own WWC has been unable to obtain information from DAEL to indicate that the DAEL has improved the "quality" of AELS programs to the point that convincing evidence for "what works" can be reported.

For the last five years the DAEL has operated a National Reporting System (NRS) to obtain data from the 50 states and U. S. territories on the performance of the 3,000 or so programs that comprise the AELS. Recently the DAEL web site ( posted a report called, "Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, Report to Congress on State Performance, Program Year 2003-2004".

Despite the fact that the NRS uses a true hodge-podge of standardized tests across the states and territories to measure learning gains in the AELS programs, the Program Year 2003-2004 report nonetheless averages data across the states and territories to show how learning gains have improved over the first four years that the DAEL has operated the NRS. Unfortunately, the data show little gain in the first two years and no improvement in the last two years. Indeed, in some states, such as
California, the largest state in the AELS, over the last three years cited in the DAEL/NRS report learning gains in adult basic education and adult secondary education combined actually went down, though there was a very small (2 percentage points) gain in learning in English as a second language.

In summary, though "The Division [DAEL] provides assistance to states to improve program quality and capacity" the existing data indicate that enrollments are down by over 25 percent, in inflation adjusted dollars per enrollment funding is down by some 30 percent since 1966 when the Adult Education Act was passed, the What Works Clearinghouse has found nothing to report about what works in adult literacy education from the DAEL, and the National Reporting System has reported little or no improvements in learning gains in the first four years that DAEL has reported on the
performance of the AELS to the Congress.

( I reported that as of 2006 the U.S. government’s national research centers funded since 1990 to improve adult literacy education have presented no evidence indicating that they had actually improved adult literacy education in the United States. I also reported that the federal National Institute for Literacy has reported little evidence of any progress in the last decade and a half in its efforts to "strengthen and expand adult
literacy services" as tasked by the U. S. Congress (

Now, examination of the work of the Division of Adult Education and Literacy (DAEL) in the U. S. Department of Education suggests that it joins the national R & D centers and the National Institute for Literacy as federal initiatives that have been funded to improve the Adult Education and Literacy System (AELS) of the United States and have failed to provide substantial evidence that they have made significant progress toward or have actually accomplished this important mission.

The combined findings of this survey of failed federal efforts to improve the Adult Education and Literacy System suggests the need for a major, substantial review of the field of adult education and literacy and to understand what efforts are needed to better serve the needs of the millions of adults who each year seek to improve their education and literacy abilities through the services of the Adult Education and Literacy System of the United States.

Thomas G. Sticht
International Consultant in Adult Education
2062 Valley View Blvd.
El Cajon, CA 92019-2059
Tel/fax: (619) 444-9133
Email: Tsticht at

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