By Amber Harris, guest blogger
When it comes to literacy, it might seem to the casual observer that the United States as a whole is doing well, especially for people living in urban areas. The numbers, however, tell a different story: a story of a literacy crisis, even in big cities. New York City is home to 6.4 million working age adults, but 2.2 million of these adults do not have a high school diploma or English proficiency, reducing their ability to make a living wage and lead a fulfilling life in the United States. 50% of adults who do not have a high school diploma read at below a basic level, and 44 million American parents are not able to read their children a story.
Funding has been cut from many literacy programs, leaving millions of people in need without any means to improve their literacy. So how do we address this crisis? By getting innovative. Here are just a few ways to gain funding for literacy programs that may require a little creativity, but can help those struggling find new hope.
Just because public funding may be disappearing from many literacy programs, that doesn’t mean that citizens can’t direct their dollars toward literacy using digital crowdfunding. Though most commonly used to sell a product for profit, it can also be used for social programs like literacy efforts. In fact, about 10.7 million was raised for civic projects between 2010 and 2013. One example of this in action is the Alpha-Mania Storybooks crowdfunding campaign, which was created to fund both printed books and e-books for early childhood literacy skills. Supporters received copies of the books, and the intent was to eventually distribute materials digitally at a low cost, allowing more children and educators to benefit.
Many corporations are now beginning to add sponsorships for social programs into their business plans, and tend to support programs that their leaders feel strongly about, or issues that have close ties with the company’s mission. Barnes & Noble is one company that funds nonprofits promoting literacy, but there are other sponsorship opportunities available that can provide much-needed funding.
Money from grants has always been in high demand, but that doesn’t mean grants are not worth pursuing. The Department of Education offers millions in specialized grants, including funding for “Innovative Approaches to Literacy”, while many private organizations offer smaller grants and contests to help fund educational programs.
4. Digital Solutions
Struggling with a rampant literacy issue, Philadelphia met all the challenges head on—by harnessing the power of technology. Investing in digital solutions, the city government used data that detailed what was and wasn’t working to create a free, interactive learning system for adult literacy. In-person classes and small groups coached by volunteers resulted in over 3,000 adults completing their basic literacy training or earning their GEDs in 2015. It’s the creativity and hard work of many that leads to successful literacy programs like Philadelphia’s—and these programs show that innovation can make a big difference.
Check out the infographic below, created by the University of Cincinnati’s Online Master of Education program, which presents the literacy rates in the U.S. Click here to view the original inforgraphic along with additional information about literacy rates in the U.S.
Last month we asked you for ideas and suggestions on how you find and recruit new volunteers. Here are some of the suggestions we received. Please continue to let us know how you are doing in your efforts to recruit volunteers!
1. Donate adult books with a bookplate/inscription for the literacy program/volunteer, to the public library.
2. Place upcoming tutor trainings in the events column of your local newspapers.
3. Put up a display at the local farmers market.
4. Have “a general interest workshop” (i.e. birdhouse building) and recruit volunteers from among the participants.
5. Set up an information table at the mall.
6. Enlist the support of the mayor and council members.
7. Place a ‘Thank You” advertisement in the local newspaper’s volunteer section.
8. Rent a portable sign and have it placed on a major intersection.
9. Advertise in the newsletters of local retirement communities.
10. Place help wanted ads at the local community college.
11. Participate in college job fairs.
12. Blend traditional face-to-face workshops with online opportunities so that ongoing training is available to volunteers without overtaxing staff.
13. Distribute flyers at major bookstores.
14. Design a special tutor recruitment insert to be added to the city water bills one month.
15. Advertise in your city’s community calendar e-mails.
16. Partner with a 4-H group to provide literacy information and training to its members or with older Girl Scouts.
Sources: Florida Literacy Coalition, Community Literacy of Ontario, The ABCs of Volunteer Recruitment, ProLiteracy, Reducing Waiting Lists.
Our original blog post "How Do You Recruit Volunteers" also contains valuable suggestions on recruiting literacy volunteers. Re-read it here, and as always, feel free to contact us with comments.
By Dawn Schmidt, Coordinator, Huntington County Literacy Coalition
At last fall’s Indiana Literacy Association's annual meeting, many of us were interested in tutor training. So I’ll share what we have done at Huntington County Literacy Coalition. Please share your practices and ideas too!
We have around 35 tutors who meet with adults and children for individualized tutoring. Our volunteers are exceptionally caring citizens of Huntington County giving their time to help others learn. They epitomize our literacy’s tag line: “YOU CAN LEARN”.
Each fall, we have new tutor training one night a week, for two weeks. This was a
change from previous years of a four week training. We use the book, “Litstart,
Strategies for Adult Literacy and ESL Tutors” and have found it a good resource. It is available through New Readers Press. It does not address math or science.
With reducing the initial new tutor training to two weeks, we added a spring and fall continuing education on Saturday (9:00 a.m. -12:30 p.m.), for all tutors, where we have more time to address their topics and concerns. 2016 was our first go at it and it seemed to work well, so we’ll keep it for 2017….On February 18, 2017 we will have our school corporations’ (Huntington County Schools) psychologist and counselor speak on helping the students who deal with ADD and other attention deficit problems. Last August we had a recently retired teacher (and our board member) teach the basics for reading and also Huntington University’s Assistant Director of the TSOL Institute. Both were very helpful and appreciated by the tutors.
We have evening quarterly tutor meetings too, with the September meeting as our appreciation dinner. I usually use this time to share and instruct about anything that has come across my desk in the past three months that will help them, e.g. a new series of books. I may use something from a recent “Notebook” from the ProLiteracy publication or review a strategy out of the Litstart book. ProLiteracy’s website has tutor training videos too. Last December, we reviewed the resources on our library’s website, (could have made this a definite subject for a Saturday program). After conferences, I pick one or two workshops that I attended and discuss/teach and share any handouts. As an example, I went to Laura Smart’s workshop last year on “Creating Motivating Learning Environment” and we used her handouts. We adapted her classroom ideas to tutoring. The tutors were responsive and grateful for the information. I also showed a video on line multiplication with handouts.
Our quarterly meetings are a time to review and be reminded of general practices such as the monthly tutor report, the initial phone call(s) process with new students, and any situations that may need to be clarified. The two hours go quickly and the tutors are totally engaged. I ask for input for the effectiveness of our meetings (I should make up a 3 things sheet) and always invite them to give me ideas for upcoming meetings.
One last thing….have great snacks!
Literacy in Indiana
By Cynthia L. Cates, Executive Director, Kosciusko Literacy Services
Long before adults become casualties of illiteracy, they were children who could not read. The window of opportunity for literacy never fully closes, but learning to read becomes more difficult as one ages. The literacy and language centers of the brain develop rapidly during the first five years of life. Though any child may have reading difficulties, children living in low-income homes are more vulnerable to not developing reading skills.
The Indiana Literacy Association estimates that between 800,000 and 1,500,000 adults in Indiana read at basic or below basic levels of comprehension. These literacy skills are below the necessary level to function effectively in today’s society. In addition, 10% [349,000] of the working age population, 25 to 64, do not have a high school or equivalency diploma.
In recent years, Indiana has improved the graduation rate. From the 2008-09 to the 2012-13 school year, Indiana has increased the percent of students completing high school on time by 6%. The rate in the 2012-13 was 81% which ranked Indiana 29th of 50 states and the District of Columbia. Nebraska and Wisconsin topped the list with 93% of students completing high school on time.
[Indiana spent $11,093 per student in 2013. The Per-Pupil Educational Expenditures Adjusted for Regional Cost Differences placed Indiana 28th of the 51 reporting entities. Vermont and Alaska spent the most per student at $19,134 and $18,841 respectively. Arizona and Utah were the lowest at $7,733 and $7,084.]
In 2015, Indiana ranked the fourth best nationwide in the percent of children (25%) who tested below basic for fourth grade reading levels. Only Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont (18 %, 21%, 24% respectively) had lower percentages of children not passing the standardized tests. The national average was 32% of fourth graders failing the standardized tests. Though Indiana is better than the national average, one-fourth (approximately 22,000 children) of the fourth grade students have not mastered minimal reading skills. Fourth grade reading levels are a critical turning point because fourth grade students are no longer learning to read, they must read to learn.
Indiana Title I schools in 2015 had 67% of fourth graders score the below proficient reading level. A proficient student has mastered the reading skills for the grade level. Schools that did not have Title I funding had 50% of the children score below proficient. A four-year average places the Title I schools at 73.5% [76.5% nationally] of children not reading at the proficient level and non-Title I Schools at 53.5% [51.8% nationally] of children not reading at the proficient level. These figures mean that 60% (approximately 53,000) of Indiana’s fourth graders do not read at the proficient level.
In 2015, 72% of Indiana children on the Free and Reduced Lunch Program scored below proficient, while 50% of children not eligible for the program scored below proficient. The four-year averages were 76.8% [81.0% nationally] of the Free and Reduced Lunch Program children and 51.5% [51.0% nationally] of the paid lunch children scoring below proficient. Additionally, 86% of English Language Learners were below proficient compared to 58% of non-English Language Learners scoring below proficient.
Indiana had 49.1% of the total school enrollment on the Free and Reduced Lunch Program in 2015. This percentage breaks into 41.3% of the lunches were free and 7.8% were reduced prices. These percentages represent over a half million children who are vulnerable due to poverty to not reading on grade level.
Clearly, poverty plays a role in literacy. Students from low-income homes are more vulnerable to lacking literacy skills, but only 50% of children not in poverty are reading at the proficient level. Children who do not develop reading skills during the early years are prone to leaving school without a diploma, which leads to a myriad of social problems including a dependence on welfare, teen pregnancy, higher crime rates, and a perpetuation of the cycle of poverty and illiteracy.
The best way to improve adult literacy levels in the future is to improve literacy levels of children beginning before the children enter kindergarten. To make a lasting improvement in society, the cycle of poverty and illiteracy needs to be broken. Education is the best defense against poverty, and literacy is the foundation of all education.
[Sources: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/; http://www.stats.indiana.edu/]