Why 36 million American adults can't read enough to work — and how to help them

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In the U.S., 36 million adults lack the basic literacy skills needed to sustain employment -- yet education programs for this group serve only about 1.5 million, and funding continues to be cut at state and federal levels. Meanwhile, stigma can keep adults from reconnecting with the classroom. Kavitha Cardoza reports from Maine, whose governor has pledged to increase funding for adult education.

Grant Opportunities

The U.S. Department of Education is offering two grant programs with July 2019 application deadlines. Please click the links below to learn more about how these grant programs can support your local program.

The Project Prevent grant program provides grants to local educational agencies (LEAs) to increase their capacity to help schools in communities with pervasive violence to better address the needs of affected students and to break the cycle of violence in those communities. The application deadline is July 15, 2019 .

The School Climate Transformation Grant Program--Local Educational Agency Grants (SCTG-LEA) provides competitive grants to LEAs to develop, enhance, or expand systems of support for, and technical assistance to, schools implementing a multi-tiered system of support, for improving school climate. The SCTG-LEA deadline is July 22, 2019.

If you have questions about the grant programs please contact Project.Prevent@ed.gov or LEA.SCTG19@ed.gov.

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Research to Practice: Learning Difficulties, June 2019

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Join us for free webinars on the topic of learning difficulties.



Are you teaching your students to think about their thinking? Are you giving them opportunities to build their critical thinking skills to problem solve? Let’s have fun together discovering metacognition activities, strategies, and lessons to build important thinking skills for success in class and in life. Teaching critical thinking is good for ALL students and especially important in reaching those with learning difficulties.

Adult Education Ambassadors Share Heartfelt Stories with Legislators

Adult learners from left to right: Dylan Redmon, Natasa Paunovic, Samantha Vega, and MAACCE MD state association president, Melanie Chapman

Adult learners from left to right: Dylan Redmon, Natasa Paunovic, Samantha Vega, and MAACCE MD state association president, Melanie Chapman

Natasa Paunovic immigrated to the U.S. in 1995 with her husband, a baby, and another on the way. She had a good education in Serbia, but knew no English. She lost her unborn baby and nearly lost her own life due to language barriers. Her young family relocated to Cumberland. Many obstacles stood in her way of success: isolation from anyone she knew, limited transportation, and cultural and language differences. She was determined to assimilate to the culture and be successful in society.

Natasa sought out opportunities to improve her language skills and her fluency. She initially studied an English dictionary and found informal conversational English learning groups. Her saving grace was meeting a retired school teacher who volunteered to tutor her. A formal solution came when her tutor recommended enrolling in an External High School Diploma Program provided by the Basic Adult Education Center of Allegany College of Maryland. In 1998, 3 years after arriving in the United States, she graduated with a U.S. High School Diploma. In 2004 she enrolled at Frostburg State University and became a social work major. She attended school full-time and continued to work part-time while still raising a young family.

She graduated in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in social work. Afterwards, she worked at Shepherd Pratt Health System serving children with multiple challenges. After seven years, she became a family investment specialist for the Department of Social Services. She works with families who are in need, including immigrants and refugees. She is an outstanding example of an adult learner who continues to learn and serve her community. Do you have an adult learner success story to share? You can submit your story HERE

Congratulations to Dave Christopher at AMPED, winner of $1,000!

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COABE and Google are partnering to deliver Applied Digital Skills Bootcamps in all 50 states over the next year. The Bootcamps will be held in partnership with COABE's large group members, which are primarily state associations. Check the schedule here to find out when your state is hosting a boot camp and to save your seat today!

COABE will continue to award $1,000 each month for the next 11 months, so if you have begun using the curriculum in your classroom, be sure to share your success story with us here.

David's testimonial: Our program is a multi-generational program with a particular focus on African American low income families. Most of our parents have little or no college education but possess a high school diploma or equivalent  

In West Louisville there is, what we refer to, as a Digital Divide. African Americans make up 27% of Louisville's total population, with 85% of those African Americans living in West Louisville. The median income for residents in West Louisville neighborhoods is $8,000 to $14,000 annually, which puts those families at or below the poverty line. Many are the hard-working, working poor.  

As an African American male in technology for over 30 years, I am fully aware of the underrepresentation of African Americans in technology. Technology is 68.5% White and a staggering 7.8% Black. Entry level jobs in technology begin at a living wage of $40,000 annually.  

With the Digital Divide taking place in predominantly poor and African American communities, there is a fear of technology as well as a shortage of access to and education about technology. We discovered through a partnership with the National Center for Families Learning, a partner of COABE, that we could close the Digital Divide and simultaneously tackle the issue of concentrated poverty in our African American communities.  

Google Applied Digital Skills was the perfect entry point for our participants. It gives them the level of comfort with its project-based approach to learning. Once students have completed the Google Applied Digital Skills they go on to the Google IT Help Desk Training.  

We have been able to create partnerships with three major corporations that offer jobs in technology. Employees that are responsible for hiring from Humana, Best Buy, and Nuestar meet with our parents weekly to educate them on how to be prepared for careers in technology. These companies review resumes at the beginning and midpoint of the twelve week program and just prior their graduation. They also conduct interviews with our graduates with the intent of hiring them.   

Thank you Google and COABE for this awesome opportunity! 

The COABE Journal - Featuring Judy Mortrude and Authors Michelle Candy and Rosie Spann-Johnson

COABE has published a journal for more than 40 years. As a member of COABE, we invite you to access our special Prison Literacy edition which features articles by the very best researchers, practitioners, and leaders in the field of adult education.

The next COABE Journal will focus on the topic of leadership. We hope to feature the excellent leadership that is taking place in our field. We will be accepting manuscripts that focus on leadership at all levels including, but not limited to, student leadership, leadership in the classroom, teacher leadership, administrative leadership, leadership in giving, leadership in advocacy and public policy, community leadership, and more!

Click below to submit your manuscript. The deadline for submission is June 30, 2019. Contact journal@coabe.org with questions.

Judy Mortrude
COABE Journal/Managing Editor

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It is my great pleasure to act as managing editor to this edition of the COABE Journal.In practice, that meant I had the privilege of being in conversation with many talented educators from across the country, providing feedback as they scoped ideas and drafted articles.

Of the many contexts in which adult education occurs, correctional education settings are certainly among the most challenging. Correctional educators willingly put themselves behind locked doors to do their work. They navigate educational and correctional bureaucracies. They educate and motivate and heal students who find themselves at perhaps their lowest point in life.

Correctional educators' passion was evident in the response to this editions' call for articles. A record 44 submissions came in and the Journal Advisory Committee had to make hard choices to select only these articles to publish. They represent a diversity of perspectives in prison literacy, and we hope you will find practical ideas and inspirational ideals among them. I certainly did.


Judy Mortrude
COABE Journal Managing Editor

In the coming weeks, COABE will feature the authors and articles that comprise this special prison literacy edition of the COABE Journal. It is our hope to highlight this important aspect of adult education.

Michelle Candy
Teacher, North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation


When her husband took a job in North Dakota in 2015, Michelle Candy started teaching ABE courses for the ND Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) in the minimum-security facility. During this time, she became involved with statewide training within the DOCR education department, including writing twice-monthly newsletters on TESL topics, leading out in best practices workshops, mentoring new teachers, and serving on a committee to introduce principles of andragogy to DOCR teachers. She has also been involved with the ND DOCR's mission of humanity in corrections, including planning off-property field trips for education students, working with Job Services to plan a Second-Chance Job Fair, helping to get family events started in the penitentiary, and inviting civic leaders to be speakers at GED® graduation ceremonies.

"Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset in Correctional Adult Education Setting"

Abstract: Many adult students in corrections and other adult learning centers have a fixed mindset. Helping students to learn about a growth mindset can help them to be successful in studying for the GEDⓇ exam as well as in other areas of their lives.

Dr. Rosie Spann-Johnson
Lead GED® and Mathematics Instructor
Campbell County Public Schools

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Dr. Rosie Spann-Johnson received a Bachelor of Science in mathematics from Alcorn State University in 1989 and a Master of Science in administration & supervision from the University of Virginia in December 2004. She did further studies at Mary Baldwin College and Lynchburg College. Reverend Dr. Spann-Johnson received her Doctor of Ministry degree in May 2017 from Virginia University of Lynchburg. Dr. Spann-Johnson is the lead GED® and mathematics instructor for Campbell County Public Schools and also provides GED® instruction to inmates within the Blue Ridge Regional Jail system. She serves as an Associate Minister of Spring Hill Baptist Church in Brookneal, Virginia.

"Training Parishioners to Minister More Effectively to Ex-Offenders"

Introduction: The content of this chapter describes the training provided to parishioners of Spring Hill Baptist Church to help them minister to ex-offenders. The objective was to expose parishioners to training from facilitators who were experts in their fields. The facilitators were to share their knowledge and experience.

FREE Google Applied Digital Skills Webinar Series and $500 Winner Announced


Marilyn Burdolf of VCSC, winner of a $500 certificate to attend COABE 2020 in Baltimore, MD! Marilyn was one of more than 500 COABE members that completed the Google Adult Education Survey. For details visit educateandelevate/google.

Google Applied Digital Skills Boot Camps
Are you interested in attending a COABE sponsored Google Boot Camp in your state?
Check the list of scheduled Boot Camps >

Success Stories = $1,000 Opportunity

Have you submitted your success story for the chance to win $1,000? One winner will be selected and announced each month.
Submit your Google Applied Digital Literacy Skills Success Story >

 Five High Quality Webinars
500 Seats/Max Capacity

Session 1: "What is Digital Literacy, G Suite and Google's Applied Digital Skills?"
Date: Thursday, May 23, 2019
Time: 2:00-3:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Presented by: Tara Reifsteck
Register for Session 1 >

Session 2: "Google's Applied Digital Skills: Get Started with Lessons"
Date: Thursday, May 30, 2019
Time: 2:00-3:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Presented by: Tara Reifsteck 
Register for Session 2 >

Session 3: "Google's Applied Digital Skills: Beginner Lessons"
Date: Thursday, June 6, 2019
Time: 2:00-3:00 p.m. EST
Presented by: Shahla Naimi 
Register for Session 3 >

Session 4: "Google's Applied Digital Skills: Digital Skills for the Office"
Date: Thursday, June 13, 2019
Time: 2:00-3:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Presented by: Janet Maragioglio 
Register for Session 4 >

Session 5: "Google's Applied Digital Skills: Support Resources, Certification and Next Steps"
Date: Thursday, June 20, 2019
Time: 2:00-3:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Presented by: Shahla Naimi
Register for Session 5 >

Each webinar is limited to 500 registrants, and is available on a first come, first served basis . Sign up for the sessions today by clicking on the registration button below.  You will need your membership ID to register for this webinar. Please contact coordinator@coabe.org if you have any questions. 

Please Note: Certificates are automatically emailed 24 hours after the webinar has ended.


About Our Presenters


Shahla Naimi is a Program Manager for Google’s Applied Digital Skills program. Applied Digital Skills (g.co/applieddigitalskills/coabe) is Google’s free digital literacy curriculum. It is an online resource of lessons that you can use to teach adults everything from basic digital skills (like sending an email or writing in a document) to more advanced digital skills (like project management or personal budget tracking). Applied Digital Skills is a Grow with Google program, and is dedicated to bringing digital literacy to everyone. 

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Tara Reifsteck is a Program Manager for Google’s Applied Digital Skills program. Applied Digital Skills (g.co/applieddigitalskills/coabe) is Google’s free digital literacy curriculum. It is an online resource of lessons that you can use to teach adults everything from basic digital skills (like sending an email or writing in a document) to more advanced digital skills (like project management or personal budget tracking). Applied Digital Skills is a Grow with Google program, and is dedicated to bringing digital literacy to everyone.

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Janet Maragioglio works on the Google Applied Digital Skills curriculum team creating video-based lessons that equip students with future-ready skills for education, work, and life. She has 20+ years experience writing and designing educational materials and is passionate about equity and access in technology education.  

Your Voice Made the Difference! New Level of Funding on the Horizon...


Your emails and phone calls make a difference!

·    7,000+ grassroots connections this week

·    79 face to face meetings

COABE advocates descended on Capitol Hill for the sixth COABE led Capitol Hill Day and made 79 face to face visits with legislators and their staff! We brought 5 adult learners with us to share their remarkable stories, as well as all new state and national data sheets (click on your state to view your state's data). 

There was a lot of positive discussion with legislators, and we appreciated that so many of our members took action while we were on the Hill by making more than 7,000 legislative connections this week alone. We believe that together, we really are making a difference, and our voice is being heard in the halls of Congress! Please see the official legislative update from Capitol Hill Partners below. 


On Wednesday, the House Appropriations held a six hour markup, approving its FY 20 Labor-HHS bill on a party line vote. 

The next step of the process will be consideration on the House floor next month. Appropriations insiders indicate to us that the Labor-HHS will be brought to the floor in tandem with the Defense Appropriations bill, which will help secure additional votes in support of the overall package, as the Defense bill is viewed as a “must pass” piece of legislation by both parties. 

We also expect the Senate to hold its markup of the Labor-HHS bill the first week of June, but with no timetable for floor consideration. 

As you know, the FY 20 House Labor-HHS Committee has included a $23 million increase to provide the “authorized” funding total for Adult Education of $678 million ($665 million for Adult State grants and $13.7 million for National Leadership Activities) plus an additional $7 million. The total for adult education is $685,000,000 in the House. The breakdown is below. 

Adult Basic and Literacy Education State Grants

The Committee recommends $678,000,000 for Adult Basic and Literacy Education State Grants, which is $30,045,000 more than the fiscal year 2019 enacted level and $192,151,000 above the fiscal year 2020 budget request. State formula-grants, authorized under the AEFLA, support programs to enable all adults to acquire basic literacy skills, to enable those who so desire to complete secondary education, and to make available to adults the means to become more employable, productive, and responsible citizens. 

Adult Education National Leadership Activities

The Committee recommends $13,712,000 for National Leadership Activities, which is the same as the fiscal year 2019 enacted level and $60,000,000 below the fiscal year 2020 budget request. This program supports applied research, development, dissemination, evaluation, and program improvement efforts to strengthen the quality of adult education services. The Committee recommendation does not include language or funding, as requested in the budget request, to support a new pre-apprenticeship grants initiative. It is unclear whether these programs would articulate to registered apprenticeship programs or another untested, low-quality apprenticeship model. 

It should also be noted that after last week’s House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee markup of its FY 20 funding bill, Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) still had $103 million available for allocation out of her Subcommittee’s $188 billion in total funding. 

As a result, she offered an amendment to Wednesday's full Appropriations Committee markup of the Labor-HHS bill allotting the remaining $103 million across a number of priority programs. We are pleased to report after consulting with the Committee that Adult Education State Grants then received an additional $7 million of this funding! This $7 million is in addition to the $665 million DeLauro had previously provided for Adult Education State Grants and $13 million for National Leadership Activities, resulting in $678 million, the “authorized” funding level for Adult Education for the first time. The total for Adult Education has now reached $685 million in the House. A vote on the House floor on the entire Labor-HHS bill is expected next month. 

This was an extraordinary statement by Chairwoman DeLauro of her support for Adult Education. She could have chosen any of the five hundred programs in the bill to disburse this funding and she chose Adult Education as one of just fourteen programs to receive additional funds. 

The state and national information provided by COABE and NASDAE highlighting the tremendous number of adults eligible for Adult Education services in comparison with our limited ability to provide them due to a lack of funding was a critical difference maker, allowing us to describe with precision the need for increased funding. 

While this is only the first step of the funding process, with the Senate appropriations process still to come - we encourage your members to send a thank you note to Chairwoman DeLauro for her tremendous support for Adult Education. 

COABE Journal–Call for Articles

Call for Articles
Leadership Edition of the COABE Journal


The COABE Journal seeks to be the resource that adult educators turn to for learning and inspiration. Since the COABE Journal started using a theme format - first with Career Pathways and most recently with Prison Literacy - we have seen a tremendous response. Nearly 12,000 readers now download and use the Journal. We hope you will consider sharing your expertise as we begin planning for the October 2019 issue.

The next edition of the COABE Journal will focus on leadership. We will be accepting manuscripts that focus on leadership at all levels including, but not limited to, student leadership, leadership in the classroom, teacher leadership, administrative leadership, leadership in giving, leadership in advocacy and public policy, community leadership, and more!

Click below to submit your manuscript. The deadline for submission is June 30, 2019. Contact journal@coabe.org with questions.

For Immediate Release: COABE Appoints New CEO


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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE), the nation’s leading advocate for the adult education field, has appointed as its first CEO Sharon Bonney, who has raised the organization’s profile and grown its membership to nearly 18 times what it was in 2009.

Bonney will assume the new position July 1, transitioning from the executive director role she has held with the organization since July 2015. In the new position, she will be responsible for growing and diversifying COABE’s funding sources and sponsors, while enhancing its relationships with longstanding supporters. She also will focus on establishing adult education as a gateway to higher education and employment, working to shift the perception that adult education leads only to a high school equivalency.

“Sharon has a long-standing history with COABE, and as a forward-thinking leader has been very instrumental in taking the organization to a new level,” said Kaye Sharbono, COABE president. “She not only has extensive knowledge of adult education issues, but she has a tremendous passion for ensuring adult education providers are equipped with the best practices and tools they need to deliver services on a broader scale and that America has the capacity to meet the needs of every citizen who needs a hand up and out of poverty.”

The timing is right in the field of adult education – and in the life of COABE – to appoint a chief executive officer, Sharbono said. Adult education is coming of age with new approaches to delivering services; increasing exposure of the brand and best practices; building new relationships and engaging other communities into the field.

“I am honored to be appointed the first-ever CEO for an organization and a cause I love,” Bonney said. “COABE has made great strides in bringing awareness to adult education and how important it is to families and entire communities. Much work lies ahead to raise still more awareness and increase funding to ensure more people have access to quality programs. I look forward to working with the Board, our members, and our partners on those efforts.”

We’re in D.C. Talking with Legislators about Adult Education


Will you support our efforts with 3 quick clicks?

There are more than 100 new legislators in the House of Representatives alone who need to know that adult education is important. Now is our time to raise our visibility with them.

Today the COABE team is in Washington D.C. for Capitol Hill Day! Contact your legislators to tell them how important it is to fund adult education at the WIOA authorized level. It's so simple, three quick clicks and five minutes of your time is all it takes!

You can also use social media to highlight the need for funding and get others involved #coabehq #adultedu #capitolhillday19

Watch Our Video

Adult Education Fact Sheet–United States

Reporting Period: July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018

Adult education programs in all 50 states and seven territories assist adults in building skills and earning credentials that lead to postsecondary education, sustainable employment, and economic self-sufficiency.

By 2020, 65% of all jobs in the United States will require some form of postsecondary education. It is projected by the American Action Forum that, by 2020, the United States will be short an estimated 7.5 million private sector workers across all skill levels.

Discover all of the adult education innovations & successes taking place across the nation Click on the button below to find information on your state or select from the dropdown.

Workforce Education Initiative Reports Amazing ROI


Tyson Foods is the largest protein company in the U.S., employing more than 122,000 people, most of whom are front-line workers in their plants, with more than 40 different countries typically represented at each plant location.

Language and cultural barriers, along with varying levels of education and limited access to social resources, have created challenges at home and at work for some of Tyson's team members. Things many of us take for granted, like opening a bank account or filling out a form, can be daunting obstacles.

To address these challenges, in 2016 Tyson partnered with adult education providers and nonprofits to launch a workplace education pilot which offered front line team members free access to classes in English, high school equivalency, U.S. citizenship, and training on other life skills. The results were amazing! Read the full story that was featured in Forbes HERE.  

Tyson and COABE are partners on the Adult Learning XPrize communities competition.

FY 2020 House Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill Moves Forward


On Tuesday, the House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee approved its FY 2020 funding bill along party lines. Amendments to the bill were held until full Committee markup, which is expected to be held on Wednesday, May 8th.

The bill provides $11.7 billion over FY 2019 levels, a 6.2% overall increase and is in marked contrast to the Administration’s budget proposal that would have cut 10% from current funding levels. Big winners in the bill are the National Institutes of Health, which received a $2 billion increase, as well as a $4 billion increase for early childhood programming. Within the Department of Education, over $4 billion in additional funding was provided for K-12 and postsecondary education. Overall funding for the Department increased by six percent.

Key Republicans on the Subcommittee expressed their concern that $11.7 in new spending would not be supported by the Administration and they highlighted the need for an overall budget agreement between the House and Senate, for which only initial discussions have begun, to avoid a potential government shutdown later this year.

While some individual program spending lines can be found in the legislative text, as well as the Subcommittee’s summary document, the exact funding for adult education and many other programs will be unveiled when the Committee Report is released on May 7th, in advance of full Committee markup on May 8th. Hill insiders indicate that the prospects appear strong for adult education to receive a modest increase in the House Labor-HHS bill, and we will report to you next week on the actual funding level that is included.

Once full Committee markup has been completed, the House leadership plans to attach the Labor-HHS bill to the Defense Appropriations bill and bring it to the House floor for a vote before June 30th.

The Senate does not yet have a timetable for its FY 2020 appropriations markups, but Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) indicated he would not mark up any bills until negotiations on a top line budget agreement are completed.

It is expected that the House Labor-HHS bill will have more funding available than its Senate counterpart bill (whenever it moves forward), and we will need your help to make the case for adult education funding through each stage of the appropriations process.

COABE XPRIZE Pilots Can Win $1,000 Prize for Enrollments


If you signed up for a Learning Upgrade pilot with the COABE XPRIZE Team Code 1177, your program could win a $1,000 award! The program with the highest number of new learners enrolled and active each month will win the prize.

The key to winning is to start onboarding your learners and motivate them to complete lessons. Here are some tips and best practices:

  1. Read this post with instructions, videos, and flyers to help you onboard your learners

  2. Watch the COABE XPRIZE Webinar

  3. Schedule “onboarding parties” to enroll your learners. Make sure they install the Learning Upgrade app on their phone before the party.

  4. At the party, hand out your printed flyer with the 7-digit class code, and have each learner go through the self-enrollment steps.

  5. Have each learner complete 1 lesson at the onboarding party so they feel comfortable with the program and count towards your active learners for the monthly prize.

  6. Sign in to your teacher account to track progress with the Student Monitor.

  7. Follow up with students who are not completing lessons and motivate them to start.

The prize will be awarded monthly to the program with the highest number of new learners who have completed lessons. Awards run through Aug 31, 2019.

If you need assistance getting started, you can reach out to Learning Upgrade at info@learningupgrade.com or (800) 998-8864.