by Jane Schierloh
Laubach Literary Action (LLA) and Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA), the two major volunteer literacy organizations, have made the least literate of Americans their priority. Yet few studies have been conducted of their operations. Consequently, the U.S. Department of Education commissioned a study by the Westat Corporation to provide a descriptive profile of LLA and LVA.
The study, released in 1991, raises more questions than it answers. Its most important contributions may be that it points out the many gaps in existing information and suggests questions that need to be answered.
The following review includes a brief description and critique of the design of the study, some highlights of its findings, and a research agenda drawn from the information needs detailed in the report.
DESIGN OF THE STUDY
The study used three sources of information:
Unfortunately, the study did not include visits to representative local organizations. The authors state that the three LVA sites and three LLA sites researchers visited were selected by LVA and LLA national organizations because they were exemplary local programs noted "for maintaining systematic data, having a sizeable number of tutor/learner matches in operation, and possessing a breadth of activities in recruiting, training, and supporting their volunteers" (p. 4). From the standpoint of good research design, visits to six local organizations could not be expected to give an adequate picture of the operations of 434 LVA affiliates and 1,023 local LLA councils.
The study gathered the following types of data:
SOME INTERESTING FINDINGS
Developments in Last Decade
Both volunteer literacy organizations grew dramatically in the 1980's. For example, the number of learners in LVA programs increased from 19,079 in 1986 to 52,338 in 1991. LLA has similarly reported a jump from 50,000 learners in 1983 to 147,087 in 1990.
New sources of funding such as the Adult Education Act and United Way have increased the ability of volunteer organizations to reach more learners.
These new sources of funding have brought with them demands for accountability, e.g., improved data collection procedures and efforts to improve and increase tutor training.
At local, state, and national levels, there is considerable collaboration between LLA and LVA. Collaboration with local adult basic education programs has also increased.
Some Key Problems
Some Key Strengths
THE STUDY'S RECOMMENDATIONS
The report points out that volunteer literacy organizations that receive or seek federal funds will need to do the following:
1. Asses student progress
The report recommends that LLA and LVA national and state leadership disseminate information on effectiveness indicators and assessment tools and "conduct a program of education in this area" (p. Xvii).
2. Maintain program information systems
3. Demonstrate greater expertise in the training and supervision of their volunteer tutoring staff
The report recommends that "the National Institute for Literacy, the National Center on Adult Literacy(a federally funded research center), and the State Literacy Resource Centers offers opportunities for research projects that can develop or identify, validate, and disseminate information on promising practices and state-of-the-art volunteer training methods. LLA and LVA national offices can provide leadership in promoting such activities" (p.xviii).
4. Increase coordination with other educational institutions, employment/training providers, and social service providers.
The report recommends that State Literacy Resource Centers "serve as both a catalyst and resource for technical assistance in building community partnerships among adult education and literacy providers and other agencies" (xviii).
A RESEARCH AGENDA
This report thoroughly documents the need for more information on various aspects of the operations of volunteer literacy organizations. The following questions are based on information needs identified in the report:
Tutor qualifications and training:
Those committed to the work of volunteer adult literacy organizations and to increasing their effectiveness will want to think about, discuss, and work on this research agenda. The Ohio Literacy Resource Center staff can provide technical assistance to individuals and organizations who want to find answers to these important questions.
The complete report "The Major National Adult Literacy Volunteer Organizations" is available free from the Clearinghouse Division of Adult Education and Literacy, U.S. Dept. Of Education, Washington, D.C. 20202-7240. FAX 202-205-8973. Telephone 202-205-9996.