DC’s Next Mayor Must Act on Adult Literacy

During the October 2 mayoral debate on WAMU, Tom Sherwood posed a question to the candidates:

“Sixty-thousand adults do not have a high school degree in this city, but only 1 in 8 gets help from the city for literacy for jobs. Do we need a radical make-over of the city’s Department of Employment Services?”

The ensuing conversation focused on the failures of the K-12 system, government contractors and the Department of Employment Services. We did not hear about how the candidates plan to enable residents with low literacy to attain basic skills, credentials and relevant job training.

The D.C. Adult and Family Literacy Coalition (DC AFLC) is a group of local organizations working to advance the cause of literacy, numeracy and technology skills for all adults in D.C. by advocating for policy that supports these goals, sharing best practices and raising public awareness of adult and family literacy. DC AFLC is asking the candidates to consider opportunities to help adults with low literacy increase their skills, income, and career prospects.

Economists project that in just 4 years, 72% of all jobs in D.C. will require some post-secondary education. Yet 1 in 3 adults in the District is not literate enough to complete a job application. Adults with low literacy skills are more likely to live in poverty and more likely to need social services. Yet, the employment demands of our region cannot be met by the current pipeline of children and youth – we must upskill adults.

Adults without a credential or strong English skills may be able to get a low-wage job that meets their immediate needs. However, resources and support to build their skills in reading, writing, math, English, and digital literacy will open new doors to them and foster long-term economic success for their families. Most local occupational training programs require skills at the 8th grade level or above, but according to testing data, 9 out of 10 learners in adult education programs had basic skills below the 9th grade level, and over half had basic skills below the 6th grade level. As the new federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is implemented with a focus on educational attainment and career pathways, the system will be poised for the “radical make-over” Mr. Sherwood suggested. This is the time for change.

DC AFLC encourages the candidates to consider these policy solutions:

  • Work with the Workforce Investment Council (WIC) and the recently-established cross-agency Taskforce to develop and implement a strategic plan for connecting basic skills programs to career pathways.
  • Coordinate efforts among different adult education, workforce development, and human service agencies to ensure that every adult learner has access to a career pathway by 2020.
  • Create an Innovation Fund to allow the Taskforce to pilot, evaluate, and expand proven career pathway approaches. Look to Maryland’s Employment Advancement Right Now (EARN) initiative as a model for the region.

DC Appleseed’s April 2014 report called “From Basic Skills to Good Jobs” outlines the current resources, gaps, barriers and opportunities in the District’s adult education and job training system. It is a good place to start for candidates and residents who want to learn more.

Adult literacy should be a priority issue in this campaign. It is not just an education problem, it is an economic security concern. The next mayor will face the challenges of readying a modern workforce, reducing unemployment, and narrowing the gap between rich and poor in D.C. To meet these challenges, it is essential that our candidates have a clear plan to implement a career pathways approach to adult education and training in the District.



 This week, members of the D.C. Adult and Family Literacy Coalition signed on to a letter to mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser, David Catania and Carol Schwartz asking for attention in their campaigns to adult literacy issues, including:

Lecester Johnson, Chief Executive Officer, Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School

Aimee Kelley, Digital Literacy Instructor, Briya Public Charter School

Allison Kokkoros, Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer, Carlos Rosario Adult Public Charter School

Benton Murphy, Senior Program Officer, The Community Foundation of the National Capital Region

Judy Berman, Deputy Director, DC Appleseed

Amber Rieke, Policy Analyst, DC Appleseed

Ed Lazere, Executive Director, DC Fiscal Policy Institute

Haley Wiggins, Executive Director, The Family Place

Julie Meyer, Executive Director, The Next Step Public Charter School

Samantha Davis, Advocacy Specialist, SOME (So Others Might Eat)

Dirk Keaton, Adult Basic Education Instructor, SOME (So Others Might Eat)

Valarie Ashley, Executive Director, Southeast Ministry

Shella E. Fon, Supervisory Vocational Development Specialist, Virginia Williams Family Resource Center

Terry Algire, Executive Director, Washington Literacy Center

Tamara Smith, Chief Executive Officer, YWCA National Capital Area

Jessica Wabler, Manager of Adult Literacy Programs, YWCA National Capital Area


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