Adult Education & Family Literacy Week 2019

Celebrate the Innovations!

Federal adult education policy and I are both well into our 50s.  Perhaps that’s why I’m entering 2019 Adult Education & Family Literacy Week in a reflective mood.  Adult education’s history reveals 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 a few 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 now also in adult education.

Adult Literacy XPRIZE

New mobile learning apps  were launched into the adult education atmosphere via the Adult Literacy XPRIZE competition.  Seeking to spur innovation and to 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 the field of adult education as a participant in innovation. Over 40 teams from across the US. signed up for the Communities Competition. One of them is Team WorldEd that developed many resources to support adult educators and learners in using the apps. The five-month Communities Competition ended on August 31 and the winning teams that helped the most adults download the apps on their smart phones will be announced later this fall. 

Minds that Move Us 

Johan Uvin’s Institute for Education Leadership delivered a rapid year of program development culminating in an August 2019 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 put the focus 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; historic, systemic trauma impacting individuals and community systems. There is so much to be learned 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 band wagon and they are about to launch a challenge competition around pre-apprenticeship programming, managed by Luminary Labs.


Federal attention to supporting and developing new policy have led to 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 (aka Perkins V) has state stakeholders in strategic conversations to develop their state plans in compliance with federal planning guidance, due in June 2020.  One of the greatest sources of alignment with adult education comes in the inclusion of the same career pathway definition as found in WIOA and HEA ATB. This should finally allow the conversation to move from either/or to yes/and around programs of study and adult career pathways.


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

Census 2020 

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

Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF)

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. 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 that will take effect October 15th in order to support our learners. 

In 2020, WIOA state plans will be updated.  Adult education leaders should take the opportunity to promote the excellent work done and the excellent work ahead for our communities!

Published by

Judy Mortrude

Judy Mortrude

Judy is Senior Technical Advisor and has more than 30 years’ experience developing, delivering, and evaluating workforce education aimed at low-literacy and high-barrier adults. She has been a classroom teacher, school administrator, and state agency staff. Her most recent job was as Senior Policy Analyst and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). Prior to that, Judy co-designed and directed the Minnesota FastTRAC integrated education and training program for the Minnesota Department of Education and Economic Development.