By Liza McFadden
My great-grandparents emigrated from Westport, Ireland and I’ve traveled to see the home they left. In the summer it’s a charming, whitewashed building with a picturesque view of the harbor that belies the hunger and hardship that motivated its residents to seek a better life across the ocean.
I’m reminded of this image daily in my work as a literacy advocate. Not too long ago, myself and Doro Bush Koch, Honorary Chair of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, visited families in our Rockville, Maryland program, most of whom had come to America seeking relief from dire poverty in Guatemala. One mother cried when sharing with us that due to funding constraints, she would have to leave the program when her son turned four and went to preschool.
Despite our knowledge that a mother’s educational level is the number one determinant of a child’s likelihood to graduate from high school, we’re going backwards. Enrollment in adult literacy and English Language Learning programs has declined by 27% since 2001. The recession steamrolled dreams: in Los Angeles alone there was a decline of over 800,000 students served from 2008 to 2013, and local adult literacy waiting lists are in the thousands.
I believe in order to address these problems, it is time to consider all options that increase access and opportunity. Why aren’t innovative education reform models found in the K-12 system more prevalent in adult education? I believe we could benefit from studying both successful and emerging implementations of these models. For example:
- Sonia Gutierrez,who is considered both a Hispanic rights activist and literacy leader, championed the rights of adult literacy students, and in 1998 the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School was awarded the first adult charter school in Washington, D.C.
- Briya Public Charter School in