Check out the full report: "Reach Higher, America: Overcoming Crisis in the U.S. Workforce".
Friday, June 27, 2008
By Anya Sostek, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The United States needs a major overhaul in adult education and work force training if it hopes to reverse a decline in adult literacy, said a report released yesterday by the National Commission on Adult Literacy.
The report -- the product of two years of research and hearings -- calls for new federal legislation and funding to serve 20 million people by 2020.
"This is of monumental importance to our country and it's urgent," said Cheryl King, study director and former commissioner of adult education and work force development in Kentucky. "This is not an issue that can wait another 10 years for resolution."
The United States is unique among the world's most developed nations in actually losing educational momentum, said the report. Among the 30 countries that are members of the Organization for Cooperation and Development, the United States is the only country where the younger generation (adults 25 to 34) has a lower percentage of high school diplomas than the older generation (ages 45 to 54).
"Countries other than the U.S. do a lot better job with adult literacy than we do," said Don Block, executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. "They don't seem to draw this line at age 18 or high school completion."
Out of an adult population of about 222 million, the 2005 National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that 30 million Americans scored "below basic" on a literacy test, and another 63 million did not have adequate literacy to enroll in postsecondary education.
"This is a staggering problem, and it is growing," Ms. King said.
The federal government currently spends about $4 billion to serve 3 million people, she said.
The report calls for a "Marshall Plan" in the form of an Adult Education and Economic Growth Act that would ramp up spending to $20 billion by the year 2020 to serve 20 million adults.
The new system would coordinate and renovate the array of disparate federal literacy programs under the Department of Education and Department of Labor that currently have different standards for eligibility and reporting systems.
The report divided those in need of adult education into several different categories: the unemployed; low-skilled incumbent workers; immigrants with no or limited English; parents or caregivers; incarcerated adults; high school dropouts; and high school graduates unprepared for college.
Each group should have specific recommendations written into the new law, advised the report, so that each gets the necessary attention.
Mr. Block, who attended the presentation of the report yesterday in Washington, D.C., cautioned that literacy should not just be seen as a means to workforce development.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 people use the Literacy Council's services every year, he said, many seeking further education in order to help their children with their schoolwork.
"The reasons are quite broad," he said. "They have to do with family, parenting, citizenship, and also employment, but it's broader than just jobs."