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Volunteers filling the gap

"In a nation whose education system is among the most unequal in the industrialized world, where race and geography play an outsize role in determining one’s path to success, many Americans are being failed twice: first, by public schools that lack qualified teachers, resources for students with disabilities and adequate reading instruction; and next, by the backup system intended to catch those failed by the first."

In December 2022, ProPublica published an article about the ongoing literacy crisis in the United States. This blog post is the third in a series of reflections on that article.

More than 43 million adults in the United States can’t read, write, or do basic math above a third-grade level, and when you look at the equivalent of a sixth-grade level, that number balloons to a staggering 130 million

You’d hope that the majority of those folks could be in classes, catching up – but no. Only around 3% of adults who need literacy classes are actually getting them. 

There are many reasons for that – the ProPublica article that inspired this series of blog posts goes into some of them – but a crucial issue is the availability of classes. Whether a class has a cost; whether the location is convenient; whether a prospective student can fit the times into their already packed schedule – these are all factors, along with the availability of instructors.

"We found that in some states, programs keep adults on waitlists, unable to meet demand. Some students succeed in these programs, but many drop out within weeks or months, before they are able to make progress. Students often find themselves in overstuffed classes led by uncertified part-time or volunteer teachers... And most programs across the country lack the specialized staff to help adults with learning disabilities that public schools failed to have diagnosed."

For decades now, when professional instructors aren’t available (or are unaffordable), adult literacy programs have often turned to volunteers. Millions of American adults can read, write, and speak English because of the efforts and dedication of volunteers.

Volunteer support is a core activity for Literacy Texas. Regional symposia, our online resource library, on-demand training and professional development on our YouTube channel – these are investments in the quality of volunteer-led classes around the state.

Because if an adult student is going to organize their work schedule to get to class, and find childcare and the gas money to make it across town and be in their seat every Tuesday and Thursday evening – shouldn’t we offer them the highest quality lesson?

This blog post is a reflection on the ProPublica article, “A Fifth of American Adults Struggle to Read. Why Are We Failing to Teach Them?” Find previous installments here and here.

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