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Adult Literacy: The Foundation for Progress
The economic and social progress of nations as well as individuals is strongly linked to the literacy level of their citizens. A democratic society needs literate individuals who as workers and citizens help maintain and strengthen its economy, government, and communities.

The demands of our contemporary high-tech world have served to rewrite the definition of essential skills and knowledge involved with literacy. A look back at our country's history reveals that the skills encompassed in the definition of literacy became more complex as our country moved from an agrarian to an industrial to an informational/technological society. Thus over the past two hundred years, the definition of literacy has expanded from the ability to write one's name, to being able to recite written passages, to the ability to comprehend what is read, to the current definition found in the National Literacy Act of 1991: "the ability to read, write and speak in English and compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job and in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential."

It is safe to predict that our standard for literacy will become even more complex in the future.

Elementary and secondary schooling has changed over time to try to meet workplace and other societal demands. As a result, on the whole, citizens are better educated today than ever before in our history. Consider, for example, our country's high school graduation rate. In 1945, only 25% of this country's adult population had a high school education. That figure increased to 55% in 1970 and to 81% in 1995.

While this historic increase in educational level is impressive, and positive, there is a down side too. Those adults who lack basic skills and who have not achieved a high school diploma or GED® will find themselves falling further and further behind. No longer the majority of Americans, they stand to become an isolated minority, disadvantaged by lack of skills and credentials. All of society suffers when a sizable number of its citizens lack the fundamental skills upon which a secure future can be built.

The Price of Undereducation
The Ohio Adult Literacy Survey conducted by Educational Testing Service (ETS) in 1993 assessed the literacy levels of a sample of Ohioans. Results of the survey revealed that between 16% and 18% of Ohio's adult population, or 1.3 million to 1.5 million individuals, scored in the lowest literacy level. While many of these individuals were able to sign their name or read a simple passage, they could not consistently perform tasks such as reading a bus schedule, locating an intersection on a map, or determining the difference in price between two items.

Too, nearly one-fourth of Ohio adults have not graduated from high school. This is a sobering statistic when considering that a high school diploma or GED® is increasingly deemed necessary to obtain all but the most low skill of jobs.

Undereducation takes its toll on individuals and their families and on society as a whole. It's effects are pervasive. Consider its impact in the following areas.

The Economy
United Way estimated that illiteracy costs business and tax payers $20 billion annually.

Business losses due to employees' basic skills deficiencies cost hundreds of million of dollars annually due to low productivity, errors, and accidents, according to Northeast-Midwest Institute and the Center for Regional Policy.

Thirty-eight percent of CEO's of Fortune 1000 companies questioned in an Opinion Research Corporation Survey acknowledged that low literacy skills of employees was a problem in their company.

The World Competitiveness Report reveals that the U.S. ranks 6th behind Singapore, Denmark, Germany, Japan and Norway on indicators of a qualified workforce.

The U. S. Department of Education indicates that 60% of unemployed individuals lack the basic skills to be trained for high tech jobs. According the U.S. Department of Labor, 40% of all existing jobs can be performed by individuals with limited skills. But only 27% of newly created jobs will fall into that category.

Earning Power
Grade school dropouts have one-half and high school dropouts have two-thirds the lifetime earning capacity of high school graduates according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The U.S. Labor Department reports that since the late 1970's, the average real earnings for men without a high school diploma fell by 26% and for women without a diploma by 9% .

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections reports that 75% of Ohio's incarcerated population lacks a high school diploma. Further, 36% of male inmates and 30% of female inmates function below a sixth grade level.

Health Care and Costs
A study of Medicaid patients reveals that those who read at the third grade level or lower have health costs approximately six times higher than individuals with better skills.

Three-fourths of Americans with chronic physical or mental health problems scored in the lowest two levels in the National Adult Literacy Survey conducted in 1993.

A study by UCLA and Emory University indicates that 51% of hospital patients could not understand a standard informed consent document and that 41.6% could not comprehend the written directions for taking their medication.

According to the American Council of Insurance, people with less than a sixth grade education are four times more likely to be receiving public assistance as their better educated peers.

Nearly 50% of welfare recipients have less than a high school diploma. Two-thirds of public assistance recipients on welfare for more than two years have not graduated from high school.

Family Life
Children who live in households with adults who are unemployed and who have dropped out of school are five times more likely to become dropouts themselves according to the Center of Family Literacy.

The U.S. Census indicates that 64% of female heads of household who are over 24 years old and who have not graduated from high school are living in poverty.

According to the National Center for Family Literacy, 25% of children who live in poverty will be retained in school at least once.

Meeting the Challenge
Adults lack literacy skills and a high school diploma for many reasons. Teenage pregnancy, delinquency, mental health problems, and learning difficulties are among the most frequent reasons that keep individuals from completing their high school education.

Every year, tens of thousands of these adults in Ohio alone realize that for them to advance economically and personally they need to take steps to become proficient in reading, writing and computation and to obtain a GED.

Luckily, a system is in place that gives these adults a second chance to secure a foundation upon which they can make positive changes in their lives. The system is composed of several components.

Local programs. In most communities in the state, programs are available that offer literacy and basic skills instruction and GED® preparation. About 170 of these programs receive funding through the Adult Basic and Literacy Education (ABLE) program administered by the Ohio Department of Education's Division of Vocational and Adult Education. In 1996, about 108,000 adult learners were enrolled in these programs. ABLE funds, which amounted to approximately $20 million in 1996. came from federal, state and local sources. The Adult Education Act reauthorized and amended by the 1991 National Literacy Act, authorized federal funds for adult basic and literacy education. In Ohio in 1996, federal funds accounted for 48% of ABLE dollars; state funds appropriated by the Ohio General Assembly accounted for 43% of ABLE dollars; and local sources account for the remaining 9% of funds. The Ohio Department of Education monitors these projects to ensure that they meet the standards established for such programs.

In addition to ABLE-funded programs smaller programs also provide literacy services. They operate with support from a variety of sources including libraries, religious institutions and the private sector.

All programs, at a minimum, offer instruction in literacy and basic skills. Most also provide instruction to help learners study for the GED® test. Other services offered by many ABLE programs include:

  • English as a second language— instruction to help new Americans acquire proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking English;
  • Workplace literacy— when programs partner with employers to provide employees an opportunity to improve their basic skills;
  • Family literacy— to help parents learn with their children and thereby break the cycle of undereducation evident in many families;
  • Life skills instruction— to help learners acquire skills in consumer and other everyday skills; and
  • Work readiness preparation —to assist learners in developing the work habits expected by employers.
  • Resource Centers
    A state and four regional resource centers are available to provide staff development and resource assistance to adult basic and literacy education professionals. The Centers are supported through federal and state funds.

    The Ohio Literacy Resource Center, housed at Kent State University, maintains and synthesizes information about research on topics such as effective teaching and administration methods; helps local programs with technology- related concerns; maintains a web site; and holds in-service sessions for adult basic and literacy professionals. The OLRC publishes a quarterly newsletter and operates a toll free number (800-765-2897).

    The four Regional Resource Centers (RRC) are located at Owens Community College, Euclid City Schools, Sinclair Community College, and Ohio University. The Regional Resource Centers provide extensive staff development opportunities for adult basic and literacy professionals within their regions.

    Two state level organizations- -the Ohio Association for Adult and Continuing Education (OAACE) and the Ohio Literacy Network (OLN) support adult basic and literacy professionals and programs through an array of activities.

    OAACE, the Ohio affiliate of the American Association of Adult and Continuing Education, annually holds a conference for professionals to provide information about effective practices; awards the Max Way scholarship to worthy adult learners; recognizes outstanding adult basic and literacy education professionals; and publishes a quarterly newsletter. The OAACE is supported financially through membership dues and proceeds from its annual conference.

    The OLN conducts public awareness initiatives; maintains a directory of adult basic and literacy education programs; operates an information and referral hotline for adult learners and volunteers (800-228-READ); supports a statewide network of adult learners--Adult Learners for the Future; publishes information about adult literacy issues, policies, needs and concerns in special publications and in its two newsletters--OLN Member News and The Literacy Communicator; operates a statewide VISTA literacy project; recognizes annually an outstanding adult literacy professional and an outstanding volunteer; and works with other groups to conduct special projects such as the Governor's Regional Literacy Summits, GED® on TV, and citizenship participation. The OLN is supported through public and private grants, donations, and membership dues.

    Adult Basic and Literacy Education: A Wise Investment
    Adult basic and literacy education is an investment in the future of individuals and society. Individuals benefit by increased earning power and a better quality of life for themselves and their families. But society benefits too. Individuals who possess the skills to earn a decent income are less likely to turn to crime, more likely to serve as positive educational role models for their children, less likely to need public assistance, and more likely to be able to adjust to changing skill demands at the workplace.

    Seventy-five percent of individuals who will be workers in the Year 2000 are already in the workforce. If Ohio is to develop a high performance workplace any time in the near future, it cannot rely solely on the K-12 educational system. To develop a strong, competitive workforce and move people from welfare to work, the door to literacy and basic skills education must remain open to all adult learners.

    Besides all of the above benefits, adult basic and literacy education is a good buy. The average cost for these programs is $187.31 per learner. For every one dollar that is spent on adult basic and literacy education programs, four and one half dollars are returned to the economy in the form of savings from public assistance and new or increased income to participants.

    75% of Year 2000 workers are already in the workplace. If Ohio is to enter the 21th century with a high performance workforce, it cannot rely solely on the K-12 educational system.

    Adult basic and literacy education programs are in the business of helping adults to develop the basic skills, thinking skills, and personal qualities they need to succeed as workers, parents, and citizens.

    By providing these foundation skills, ABLE programs play an ever increasing role in:

  • moving individuals from welfare to work and from dead-end to decent paying jobs;
  • equipping adults to benefit from occupational training opportunities;
  • strengthening families and breaking the cycle of undereducation; and
  • helping adults build a more secure future for themselves and their families.

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