Not a Branch, But the Root

It’s Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, the one week in the year that celebrates the impact that adult education has on children and families. Adult educators are accustomed to feeling like they work in a forgotten branch of education. To many “education” is something that happens when you’re younger. Say “education” and many people implicitly think of primary and secondary education (K-12) or maybe higher education (college and post graduate). Rarely does adult education (high school equivalency, English for Speakers of Other Languages, vocational training) come to mind.

But the truth is that adult education is deeply interconnected with the other levels of education, and is in fact essential. This is, in part, because parents are their children’s first teachers.

Studies show that children’s reading scores improve dramatically when a parent is involved in helping them learn to read. According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, “Public schools need parents with the educational foundation and basic skills to provide economic stability for their families and raise the educational aspirations of their children.”

However, many parents lack the basic literacy skills to feel self-confident enough to advocate on their behalf of their children, to read to them, and help them with their homework. Nationally, approximately 36 million adults have reading, math, and/or English language deficiencies. In Massachusetts, the most recent data shows that children in 264,000 families have parents who can read at a basic level but have difficulty helping their children with homework, and children in 114,000 families have a parent who cannot read aloud to them at all.

And if children don’t have the support at home to succeed in primary and secondary education, the risk is very real that they’ll become the next generation of adults who are working in low-wage jobs or dependent on public assistance to make ends meet.

According to the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy, in 2013 the median weekly earnings for high school dropouts were $454 compared to $626 for graduates, and the unemployment rate for high school dropouts was almost 150% of that of high school graduates at 14.6%. The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University states that $180,000 is the lifetime benefit to government for each high school graduate compared to a $275,000 lifetime cost to government for each high school dropout.

This doesn’t just impact individuals; it impacts entire communities and the larger state and national economies. According to MassINC report ‘New Skills for a New Economy’, more than 1.1 million of the state’s 3.2 million workers do not have the skills required to perform in Massachusetts’ rapidly changing economy and need literacy classes and services. Of these workers, 667,000 have a high school credential but still lack basic math, literacy, language, and analytic skills to perform in the typical 21st century workplace; 280,000 are high school drop-outs; and 195,000 are adult immigrants who need to improve their English language skills.

Adult education is essential. Both to children just starting their education, and to adults who were failed by our education system or have come to new country and are starting over.

Family Literacy is a child’s first literacy. If an individuals’s education is a tree, adult education is at the root.

Please join First Literacy in our work to support adults who have returned to the classroom to make a better lives for themselves and their families through education. Our society is stronger when everyone is educated.