Adult Literacy in African-American Communities Thesis

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Adult Literacy in African-American Communities


The modern definition of literacy extends beyond reading and writing. The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 defines it as "an individual's ability to read, write, speak in English, compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family... And in society." The ability of adult education to "mold a world" has been questioned in the light of complex and current social and economic realities. Sharp decline in employment in major urban centers, poorly performing schools and low educational levels among African-Americans and other people of color are among these.

Surveys show that African-Americans and Hispanics combined account for more than half of all the participants in federally funded adult literacy education programs. African-Americans use their own African-American vernacular English or AAVE as the indigenous expression of their imagination and reality. But American school administrators use it as a criterion for establishing literacy levels and an achievement gap (Ruiz, 2006).

Problem Statement

This study will seek to determine the status of adult literacy in African-American communities and endeavor to answer these questions:

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What is the current status of adult literacy and adult education systems in the United States?

What is the status of adult literacy among African-Americans?

What are the obstacles to the low literacy levels among African-American adults?

How have adult literacy programs tackled the problem?

Literature Review

Wagner, Daniel a Toward the Goal of Adult Literacy. National Center on Adult

Literacy: American Psychological Association, 2009. Retrieved on February 24, 2009 from

TOPIC: Thesis on Adult Literacy in African-American Communities Assignment

The author takes off from American governors' national educational goals for 2000, specifically the lifelong education of adults. Goal 6 was to make every adult American literate by the year 2000. It explained literacy to mean the possession of knowledge and skills needed "to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship." All the goals had in a vocational direction. Specific objectives were to strengthen the link between education and work, enhance worker training, improve mid-career training, promote community colleges, teach critical thinking skills among college graduates, and increase school-based program for parent education. But the focus was fixed on Goal 6.

Wagner notes that, in the 60s, the United Nations listed the United States as one of the most literate countries in the world with an almost 99% literacy rate, compared with that of many developing countries at 50% or lower. The first report drawn from the federally funded 1993 National Adult Literacy Survey showed that close to 95% of adult Americans could read at fourth-grade level or better. But it also said that nearly half of all of them scored way below the level needed by American workers to be globally competitive. The survey found that almost 25% of America's adults with an average of 10 years formal schooling had only fourth-grade literacy skills or lower. This resulted from low school achievement, early dropout, and increased flow of poorly educated immigrants. The study viewed low literacy as a chronic feature of contemporary America. This was related to increased school failures, lower worker productivity, crime and welfare.

A status report on adult literacy in the mid-90s said that gains in basic skills, such as reading, were fairly small. Performance was low because of the limited time spent by the average adult in instruction. A recent national survey on adult mathematical literacy, or numeracy, found that more than 80% of adult students received math-related instruction. But less than 5% of their teachers were certified to teach it or had pre-service training in math. Major reforms have been undertaken to promote K-12 mathematics education but strategies, teaching methods and assessment of adult numeracy have been neglected. Furthermore, literacy problems also plague the workplace. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development listed workplace skills and worker training as major priorities in industrialized countries. Although resources from taxpayers, businesses and unions have increased, literacy education service has been available to only a few of those who need it. The service also requires hundreds of hours and typical classes are short and do not connect to opportunities. The need for English as a Second Language literacy service is also large and constitutes about half of the present provision for adult literacy education in the U.S.

Family and intergenerational literacy programs have been increasing in the past decades. The most popular ones are the Kenan Trust Family Literacy Project, the Missouri Parents as Teachers Program, and Parents as Partners in Reading. These programs' major features are provision for education in infancy; language development and interactive play, books, print materials and lessons; medical, social, and educational services; and creation of self-efficacy in parents and children for successful collaboration. These programs have remained limited despite their growing popularity and increased legislative funding. They offer some hope in low-income communities of African-American and other families of color in overcoming many and chronic socio-economic problems. But research also showed that the desired change in these communities would not come easily or quickly. Rather, it large depended on their abilities to accept and assimilate these programs as their own. The programs also needed the support mechanisms that would make these work for the families.

Wagner perceived the success of adult literacy as largely determined by the motivation of the individuals to learn. Specialized training methodologies for family instructors need to be taught and learned for instructing both young children and adults and for the interaction activities, which must go with the instruction. The reported increase in participation in adult literacy was that of those seeking postsecondary training and not the disadvantaged, who were the appropriate recipients.

Powell, Angiline and Anderson, Celia Rousseau. Numeracy strategies for African-American Students: Successful Partnerships. Childhood Education: Childhood Education

International, 2008. Retrieved on February 24, 2009 at

The authors trace the impressive improvement in literacy among African-Americans in the last century. Pre-Civil War laws prohibited the teaching of reading to them, yet illiteracy among them went down from 80% to only 6% in the last century, according to the National Center for Education Statistics in 1993. The same institution reported that between 1991 and 1999, home reading had gone up to 71%, storytelling to 45% and library visitations to 35%. The increases have been attributed to African-American parents' cooperation in pushing their children's level of literacy upward.

Literacy is now understood to mean more than the basic ability to read and write. The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 defines it as "an individual's ability to read, write, speak in English, compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family... And in society." This new definition puts much weight on mathematical literacy, also known as numeracy, in everyday living. Civil rights leader Robert Parris Moses argued that it is a new civil right of equal importance to reading. The National Assessment of Education Progress, the nation's so-called report card, said that 40% of African-Americans - as compared with 32% of Hispanics, 10% of white, 32% of American Indians and 10% of Asians - scored below the basic level in the fourth grade math.

Guy, Talmadge C. The Adult Literacy Education Systems in the United States. Literacy for Life. Education for All Global Monitoring Report, 2006. Retrieved on February 24, 2009 at

Drawing from Sparks and Peterson (2000), Guy points to "adult basic education" as consisting of any fundamental set of skills needed to function as an adult. The skills include reading writing, and operating a computer. The three views or models of adult literacy are school-based, functional and socio cultural or ideological.

School-Based Literacy. This model assumes that skills and competencies learned and assessed in the classroom are directly applicable to other contexts. Reading and writing are considered "autonomous" phenomena, independent of contexts and subjective to the reader or individual. This model or view, then, assumes that literacy skills learned in the classroom can be applied at home, in the workplace or any other public or private setting.

Competency-Based or Functionalist Literacy. The Adult Performance Level study of the 1970s attempted to define and assess literacy competency for the proper adult functioning in society. The California Assessment of Student Achievement System evaluated the knowledge needed to properly function in given life situations. These efforts won wide attention and asserted substantial impact on the way literacy was viewed. People began to see and understand literacy as content-dependent. Neither system, however, still needed to be universally adopted. This model interprets literacy as the ability to comprehend, interpret, analyze, respond and interact within a wide range of varied situations encountered by the adult. School, work, military, civil and family contexts require different kinds of literacy competencies. The model refers to the possession of, or access to, the competencies and information needed to perform activities, which require reading and writing. Simply put, it refers to the purpose of performing some accepted social role. Likewise, literacy skills are not automatically transferred from one context to another.

Socio-Cultural or Ideological Literacy.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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