Celebrate the Innovations! Adult Education & Family Literacy Week, September 22 -28, 2019

By Judy Mortrude

Federal adult education policy and I are both well into our 50s, so I’m entering Adult Education & Family Literacy Week this year in a reflective mood. 

You may not know, but adult education traces its roots to policy spurred by military preparedness, immigrant influxes, economic downturns, and historic inequities. Today’s context is no less complex, and the field of adult education is responding with innovation we can celebrate! 

Here are some of my favorite adult education highlights from the past year:


Competitions that award sizable cash prizes to stimulate innovation are popping up across the spectrum of education and training, and thankfully these prizes are now being awarded in adult education.

Adult Literacy XPRIZE

Thanks to the Adult Literacy XPRIZE competition, providers launched new mobile learning apps in the adult education field. Seeking to spur innovation and reach the millions of adults whom programs are not able to reach with current funding levels, the follow-on Adult Literacy XPRIZE Communities Competition also helped galvanize innovation in adult education. Initiatives like the EdTech Center @ World Education and DigitalUS owe some of their momentum to the Adult Literacy XPRIZE competition. The five-month Communities Competition ended on August 31, and the winning teams that helped the most adults download the smart phone apps will be announced at the Barbara Bush Foundation’s National Summit on Adult Literacy on November 13th. 

Minds that Move Us 

Johan Uvin’s Institute for Education Leadership had an exceptionally busy program development year, culminating last month with an Adult Career Pathway Festival featuring ten teams pitching their solutions to identified community needs. The teams didn’t define their value in terms of education level gain or even credential attainment, but instead focused on adult education as a solution to tangible community problems, e.g.: Latinx injuries and deaths on construction sites; aging community members in need of home care; and historic, systemic trauma affecting individuals and community systems. We can learn so much from this way of reframing adult education’s impact.

Pre-Apprenticeship Challenge

The federal Office of Career Technical and Adult Education is hopping on the competition band wagon. We’re hearing that OCTAE is about to launch a challenge competition around pre-apprenticeship programming.

Federal Policy

With increasing federal attention on supporting and developing new policy, we’re seeing positive changes for the adult education field.

Ability to Benefit

Ability to Benefit could make dual enrollment for adult learners a national strategy. In March 2019, the U.S. Department of Education once again worked to support the use of the Ability to Benefit provision of the Higher Education Act by bringing state leaders into a conversation on the policy’s opportunities and challenges. Since then, Education staff have been presenting at national conferences and will be hosting a webinar in October. At least three states have taken up the mantle to produce the first ‘state defined process,’ option available since 1991 but, as of yet, untried.

Perkins V

The Strengthening Career & Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (also known as Perkins V) has spurred state stakeholders to hold strategic conversations about how to comply with federal planning guidance as they develop their state plans, which are due in June 2020. One of the greatest sources of alignment with adult education comes in the inclusion of the same career pathway definition used in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)and the HEA’s Ability to Benefit. This should finally allow the conversation around programs of study and adult career pathways to move from “either/or” to “yes/and.”

WIOA State Plans

In 2020, states must update their WIOA plans. Adult education leaders should take the opportunity to promote the excellent work their communities have already done and the promising work ahead!


Adult educators are uniting around critical advocacy issues that impact our participants and communities.

2020 Census

The National Coalition for Literacy is the largest umbrella organization for national and regional organizations working on adult education. Always a united voice for adult education funding, NCL has made supporting the 2020 Census an organizational priority. Members have compiled resources and have been presenting on the critical importance of the census to a community’s resources and representation in Congress. NCL is also pointing out risks to the 2020 Census including its digital first strategy and the polarized nature of our civil discourse going into an election year. Finally, NCL is promoting the solutions being offered by adult educators and community organizations, like those of California Adult Education practitioners and partners. World Education’s Change Agent magazine is planning a campaign entitled Stand Up and Be Counted, which will be rolled out through an issue of classroom-ready materials and a website. Consider responding to the Change Agent’s Call for Articles, due Nov 1, 2019.

Protecting Immigrant Families

CLASP and the National Immigration Law Center developed the Protecting Immigrant Families, Advancing Our Future campaign, which has mobilized hundreds of organizations across the country, including adult education allies, to oppose the Trump Administration’s “public charge” regulation. As you may know, the new public charge rule, which takes effect on October 15 unless it’s stopped by the courts, will make it much harder for immigrants to enter the country or gain lawful permanent residence if they have used—or are likely to use—a much-expanded list of public benefits. PIF helps keep us informed of all the current and potential policies that impact immigrant families in our communities. It is critically important for adult educators to understand the Public Charge regulation to support our learners. 

We have much to celebrate this year during Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. Thanks for all you’re doing to support our learners—and our field!