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The Power of Partnership to Increase Basic Literacy Learning

March 20, 2024

As public funding for adult literacy and education has focused on career readiness courses through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title II, a conversation has bubbled up in the field about how this has shifted our focus away from serving basic education students who are at the lowest levels.

As part of this conversation, we’ve seen programs and coalitions start to think outside the box of how to reach these individuals. In New Jersey, the statewide adult literacy network has implemented a new Steps to Success program to reinvent its basic literacy population. Elsewhere, we’ve seen how atypical partnerships can successfully create learning opportunities for adults who read at low levels.

In the current issue of Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy, we’ve included a Forum titled “The Power of Partnership.” In it, three adult education networks share their experiences working with social service providers to create a community-based approach to literacy education.


Like in most of the country, the pandemic made the digital divide sorely obvious in Philadelphia. For adult literacy providers, learners’ inability to navigate computer-based tasks needed for remote learning added another layer to the problem. This jump started a coordinated effort to increase digital literacy that has only continued to grow post-pandemic with the Digital Equity Plan. The effort has both successfully created a coordinated system of digital literacy providers across the city and standardized digital literacy assessments and curricula for all learners, so everyone is gaining the same skills.

How? The Philadelphia Office of Children and Families, Adult Education (OCFAE) made the decision to absorb the cost of purchasing Northstar Digital Literacy subscriptions for both any adult literacy providers in the city as well as for the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation department, which could bring digital skills classes to older adult centers. This gave both the literacy programs and the adult centers the ability to educate those most in need of digital skills without having to take on the task of creating curriculum, materials, and lesson plans from scratch.

Read more about the digital literacy efforts in Philadelphia



In Houston, partnerships were built between large national service groups, financial institutions, global software developers, the faith-based community, health care systems, city government, and adult literacy providers to build an adult literacy ecosystem. The Houston Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy points out that despite the focus on workforce readiness, employment is not the only challenge for adults with low levels of literacy.

Recognizing this opens the dialogue to understanding that there’s a shared interest in improving adult literacy. These partnerships both educate the individual and solve some of the other challenges in their lives—because adult educators alone cannot solve the systematic challenges of low literacy.

Read more about the partnerships implemented in Houston



In Portland, OR, a partnership arose out of an idea from high school students in 1995 who wanted to improve English language instruction across the city. The students believed that instruction would improve with the participation of parents.

With help from The Leaders Round Table, a group of top educational and private sector leaders and elected officials, a partnership was built between Portland State University’s department of Applied Linguistics and the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods group to use English language teachers-in-training from the university to provide classes for parents at targeted schools.

The success of the program over 15 years led to the foundation of the Language Teaching Practicum. This program expands beyond schools to new settings to reach more adults in need of English language services, including affordable housing organizations.

Read more about how partnerships in Portland provided English instruction


You can read the entire Forum in the current issue of the Adult Literacy Education research journal

Read the Forum