Health and Skills: Making the Connection

Adults with low literacy skills are four times more likely to report poor to fair health than adults with higher skills. This is two times the international average according to recent data from the Survey of Adult Skills (October, 2013), which is part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

This correlation between skills and health presents great challenges to both the individual and his or her healthcare providers to communicate and address the prevention, management, and treatment of disease and healthy behaviors. Poor literacy, numeracy, and problem solving skills adversely affect health care, health information access, health outcomes, and appear to limit engagement in positive, preventative behaviors. At a time when the U.S. is spending more than $2 trillion a year on healthcare ($2.5 trillion in 2009, according to the Surgeon General’s National Prevention Strategy), even a fraction of improved outcomes could save millions of dollars. As a reference, the U.S. federal investment in the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA), which funds adult basic education and English proficiency classes, is $563 million.

U.S. adults ages 16-65 performed poorly on all measures of the Survey of Adult Skills, with average scores below international averages in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in a technology-rich environment. While there are high performers in each domain, the U.S. population has a greater proportion of adults of working age with low skills (defined as below Level 2 on a five level scale) than the comparison countries (see more about the findings here).

The relationship between skills and health provides a strong case for investing in upskilling adults. The economic returns to skill development are clearly demonstrated in the Survey through the correlation of skills to higher wages, more permanent employment, and greater use of skills on the job.  The returns to improved health are likely to be at least as important. A healthier workforce is more productive with fewer days lost to illness. The healthcare costs of poor health literacy is demonstrated through higher costs for service, more emergency room visits, and fewer preventative services accessed.

There is a great opportunity to think about addressing skills and health simultaneously in a more holistic approach, as called for in the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2010. Embedding opportunities for skill development and practice in community health efforts is an underutilized approach. While contextualizing literacy in the context of health has been a promising practice, see resources at the LINCS Health Literacy Collection, too little has been done to use community-based health interventions as the anchor for literacy and numeracy interventions.

Community health workers – whether in hospitals, health centers, private primary care practices or as part of home health care or visiting nurse services – can help low-skilled adults apply the skills they do have to the immediate situation. Health professionals can use plain language and teach back methods of communication, and work closely with local educational service providers to make referrals more seamless and less stigmatized. Similarly, adult education workers can assist individuals with accessing health care, finding insurance, following treatment instructions, applying literacy and numeracy skills to everyday practices, and providing navigation assistance to services that can enhance healthy behavior. Services could be co-located for greater coordination and impact. Cross-training or shared training and professional development within a community could strengthen relationships and referral networks.

The Survey of Adult Skills (OECD, 2013) is clear that skills and quality of life issues are deeply interrelated, especially in the United States. The findings echo a recent report from the Institute of Medicine, U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health. Communities need to address these challenges as related, not separate issues, and find the means to take a holistic view of the quality of life issues faced by low-skilled, low-income, and low-English proficient populations when proposing solutions. Conducting a local health needs assessment and asset map of existing challenges, resources, and future growth projections can be a way to engage the community. Prevention and health safety campaigns are ideal opportunities to involve the full range of family-serving organizations in a community.

In November 2013, the U.S. Department of Education launched a national engagement effort to explore ways to increase our national capacity to improve the foundation skills of adults in the United States. Regional events have been held through the winter and communities are being asked to provide input and feedback from their own locally-hosted roundtable discussions to inform a national action plan.

In order to assist communities in hosting roundtable discussions, the Department created a set of resources and an online submission form. See www.TimetoReskill.org for the following tools:

  • Consultation Paper, a 10-page paper that can be shared in advance of an event to provide background on the skills issue and the framework for the national action plan.
  • Toolkit, a step-by-step guide to running a local roundtable from types of people to invite to the questions to pose.
  • Online feedback form for submitting feedback. (Please submit comments by March 14 to be considered in the Plan.)

We hope community health partners will be part of the solution! Consider hosting a roundtable discussion in your area and contributing to the national action plan.

Johan Uvin is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education 

Silicon Valley Weighs in on Adult Education Challenges

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog.

If you want to engage the high-tech industry to help improve job readiness for the nation’s 36 million low-skilled adults, a good place to start is Silicon Valley.

That is just what the Wadhwani Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education did. In January, Wadhwani staff, led by Chief Executive Officer Ajay Kela, were joined by ED’s Brenda Dann-Messier, assistant secretary for career, technical, and adult education; Johan Uvin, deputy assistant secretary for policy and strategic initiatives; and Cheryl Keenan, director of the Adult Education and Literacy Division, for a listening-and-working session at Cañada College, in Redwood City, Calif.

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Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier (seated, second from left) and Wadhwani Foundation’s Gayatri Agnew (standing, left) are joined by colleagues at the adult reskilling session in Redwood City, Calif. (ED photo credit: Joe Barison)

This engagement event, “Time for the U.S. to Reskill,” brought more than 50 San Francisco Bay Area adult-education stakeholders together, with representation from local workforce, community, and advocacy organizations. The welcome by Wadhwani’s Kela, ED’s Dann-Messier, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Regional Administrator Robert Garcia described the magnitude of the low-skilled-adults challenge. The speakers emphasized how a worker’s low skill level directly affects life beyond employment, starting with a person’s health.

The format was “to put people in a room who may not typically come into a room together and convene unlikely stakeholders,” said Gayatri Agnew, Wadhwani’s program director for Race to a Job – USA.

The immediate goal, Dann-Messier said, “is a national plan to improve the foundation skills of the 36 million low-skilled adults in this country.” She explained her imperative to travel to California and to be in the room. “I need to hear what the folks are saying regionally, what the challenges are, what the solutions are, and it’s very important for me to hear all of that first-hand, and not have it filtered.”

Agnew moderated a panel comprised of adult-education stakeholders, followed by general discussion. The participants then dispersed to a half-dozen small rooms for a working lunch and creating the start of solutions. Later, during a break, participants talked about their reasons for attending the session and assessed how things were going.

“We’re trying to serve an issue here of equality, access issues, in both the field of Latinos moving up in the corporate world and in social equity,” said Luis Chavez, chairman of the board, Latino Institute on Corporate Inclusion, and a senior director for the Career Ladders Project.

Silicon Valley employers gave their perspectives as well. Kris Stadelman, director of the Nova Workforce Investment Board, said, “In education – I hear this from employers – your product is supposed to be a trained, ready, educated, prepared workforce.” In this light, she said, the day’s program was on the right track. “It was really good to start out with evidence, with the data, to really quantify what it is we’re talking about. I think the questions were all the right ones.”

This engagement session was one of five ED nationwide sessions, with others held in Philadelphia, Chicago, rural Cleveland, Miss., and the greater Boston, Mass. area. While each session is unique, Dann-Messier sees the Silicon Valley session as different from the rest. “If you’ve got 36 million folks – and federally we’re only serving two million – traditional means aren’t going to work,” she said. “We have to really make sure that we utilize technology-enabled solutions.”

Joe Barison is the director of communications and outreach for ED’s San Francisco Regional Office.

Parents: Tips To Help Your Child Complete the FAFSA

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog.

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If you’re a parent of a college bound child, the financial aid process can seem a bit overwhelming.  Who’s considered the parent? Who do you include in household size?  How do assets and tax filing fit into the process? Does this have to be done every year?  Here are some common questions that parents have when helping their children prepare for and pay for college or career school:

Why does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA?

While we provide over $150 billion in financial aid each year, the federal student aid programs are based on the assumption that it is primarily your and your child’s responsibility to pay for college.  If your child was born after January 1, 1991 then most likely he or she is considered a dependent student and you’ll need to include your information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM).

Who’s considered a parent when completing the FAFSA?

If you need to report parent information, here are some guidelines to help you:

  • If your legal parents (your biological and/or adoptive parents) are married to each other, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
  • If your legal parents are not married to each other and live together, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
  • If your parent is widowed or was never married, answer the questions about that parent.
  • If your parents are divorced or separated, follow these guidelines.

More information on who’s considered the parent can be found here:http://1.usa.gov/1fdcCy2

Who’s considered part of the household?

When completing your child’s FAFSA, you should include parents, any dependent student(s) and any other child who lives at home and receives more than half of their support from you in the household size.  Also include any people who are not your children but who live with you and for whom you provide more than half of their support.

Do I need to wait until I file my income taxes?

In some states there are deadlines for additional monies so you’ll want to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st.  You do not need to wait until you file your federal tax return.  If you haven’t done your taxes by the time you complete the FAFSA, you can estimate amounts based on the previous year if nothing has drastically changed.  After you file your taxes, you’ll need to log back in to the FAFSA and correct any estimated information.  If you’ve already filed your taxes, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically pull in your tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA.

Do I need to do this every year?

Yes, you and your child need to complete the FAFSA each year in order for your child to be considered for federal student aid.  The good news is that each subsequent year you can use the Renewal Application option so you only have to update information that has changed from the previous year!

What else do I need to know before I begin?

You’ll need to get a PIN and have all the necessary documents before you begin.  Here’s a handy checklist: http://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out

Susan Thares is Digital Engagement Lead at the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.

Addressing the Opportunity Gap: Reengaging Out-Of-School Youth

Last month, as a part of OVAE’s work with the Interagency Forum on Disconnected Youth, I had the opportunity to attend a national Reengagement Plus convening in Los Angeles, California. I return from that event renewed and inspired by the work going on across the country to reengage youth back into education and employment. In recent years, efforts to prevent students from dropping out have significantly improved graduation rates both nationally and locally. Unfortunately, there are still approximately 1.8 million young adults ages 16-21 that are not enrolled in school or have not finished their high school education. Research shows that many out-of-school youth want to return to school, but are uncertain how to do so and are fearful they will not succeed once they get there. Helping these young people find alternative pathways to graduation and meaningful employment opportunities is a critical challenge facing municipal leaders today.

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ED Launches Engagement Process Following Report on U.S. Adults’ Skills

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog.

Last month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the findings of the international Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The results showed that on the three domains (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in a technology-rich environment), the U.S. average performance is significantly lower than the international average and the U.S. has large percentages of low performers in each domain.

Statistics Graphic

Clearly, we need to be more strategic and systematic and create learning opportunities for all low-skilled adults, beyond the 2 million per year we can reach through the current adult education program.  To that end, the Department asked OECD to take a closer look at the backgrounds of the U.S. low-skilled population, identify policy implications, and offer a broad set of recommendations that could provide a framework to help this country build on our strengths and systemically address some of our skill weaknesses.

Today OECD released their reportTime for the U.S. to Reskill? What the Survey of Adult Skills Says. This report is the first report in a decade that quantifies the population of low-skilled adults and takes a closer look at who these low-skilled adults are. The findings are alarming and should concern us all.  They shine a spotlight on a part of our population that’s historically been overlooked and underserved—the large number of adults with very low basic skills.  OECD identified in this report that there are about 36 million adults ages 16-65 performing below Level 2.

If adults have trouble reading, doing math, solving problems and using technology, they will find the doors of the 21st century workforce closed to them.  And that will have severe consequences for all of us. That’s why all of us must find ways to help more adults upgrade their skills. Otherwise, no matter how hard they work, these Americans will fall short in the struggle to support themselves and their families, and contribute fully to our country.

PIAAC also identifies learning gaps among adults of different races and ethnicities; these indicate that the disadvantages and opportunity gaps of childhood often persist into adulthood. To combat and close these gaps, we must invest in our nation’s future workers from an early age. We must also do more to support today’s adults, who want and need to upgrade their skills to succeed.

The survey does affirm that the Obama administration’s overall reform priorities are the right ones— high-quality preschool for all children, college- and career-readiness standards, broadband access everywhere, high schools that engage students and introduce them to careers, commonsense immigration reform and affordable college degrees that lead to good jobs.

Another clear policy implication of these initial findings is that we must raise expectations for learners of all ages.

In short, the report provides ample evidence to support the Administration’s current reforms and investments, but calls for increased action in one area: significantly improving the preparedness of our low-skilled adult population, which has been overlooked and underserved for too long.

To better understand these challenges, inform the development of a national response, and gather input from a wide range of stakeholders, today I announced the launch of a national engagement process with the end goal of developing a national plan to improve the foundation skills of low-skilled adults in the United States. The Department wants feedback from individuals, state officials, education officials, businesses, industry, and labor leaders, researchers, data experts, education associations, philanthropies, policy leaders and others concerned with the health, well-being and democracy in America.

In particular, the Department wants the country’s best ideas and most creative thinking to addresses several key themes:

  • Expanding opportunities for adults to improve foundation skills by scaling up proven practices and using emerging technologies to personalize and accelerate learning for America’s low-skilled working population.
  • Building stronger partnerships among business, industry, labor, and state and local governments, and others, in order to sustain the nation’s workforce capacity, economic vitality, and democratic values.
  • Strengthening the connection between foundation skills and workforce readiness in ways that help adults gain basic skills, particularly in the STEM fields, and pursue specific occupations and credentials more rapidly.

Based on the results of PIAAC, it is clear that the U.S. needs a stronger, more comprehensive strategy to raise the skills of significant numbers of low-skilled adults.  This effort will require the sustained, systematic efforts – and the coordinated investments – of a wide range of partners from the public and private sectors, working at the national, state and local levels.

Our Department will use the feedback we receive to develop a national plan to improve the skills of low-skilled adults. And, we invite members of the general public to send their ideas and suggestions for the national plan that will be released this coming spring.  More information about the adult skills outreach initiative will be available on the Department’s website in the coming days.

Brenda Dann-Messier is the Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education.

Celebrating Connected Educator Month 2013

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

In support of President Obama’s ConnectED initiative, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology is proud to announce that October is Connected Educator Month. Throughout the month, educators will have opportunities to participate in online events, build personal learning networks, and earn digital badges by demonstrating technology skills.

Online communities help educators share effective strategies, reduce isolation, and provide “just in time” access to knowledge and expertise. However, many educators are not yet taking advantage of all the benefits of connected learning. Schools, districts, and states can dramatically enhance their professional development by integrating digital learning opportunities into their formal professional development and teacher quality efforts.

“One of the most important things we can do to support teachers and students is to put modern tools in their hands, and give them access to the limitless knowledge and connections that the Internet makes possible,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “That’s why President Obama has made a priority of getting our schools connected to high-speed broadband, and it’s also why I’m so enthusiastic about Connected Educator Month.”

Nearly 200 educational organizations are participating in Connected Educator Month. These organizations will provide a variety of interactive activities, such as webinars, live chats, open houses, contests, projects, and badges for connected educators to earn.

Activities and events will range from a design challenge, in which educators will develop strategies for helping kids develop creative confidence, to a webinar in which five U.S. organizations will team up with UNESCO to share insights about mobile learning around the globe. State and locally focused activities will also engage communities of educators across the nation.

“Connected Educator Month provides an opportunity for all educators across the country to join a vibrant community of teachers and leaders using technology to reimagine learning,” said Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Educational Technology.

Connected Educator Month events can be found at www.ConnectedEducators.org/events. The site will be updated continually to reflect new activities, as they are added throughout the month. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter using the #CE13 hashtag.

For more information about Connected Educator Month, visit http://www.ConnectedEducators.org.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Our Teams are Back

Hello! I just wanted to let you know that our teams are back at work in OVAE and stand ready to continue working with the field to provide high-quality services to youth and adults in our CTE, community college, adult education, and correctional education programs. Please reach out to us when you need us–we’re here to assist you.

Brenda Dann-Messier is the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education

OVAE Salutes the Spirit of the March on Washington

As you know, this is the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, a march which demanded Jobs and Freedom. We are more likely to remember it today for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s moving and profound “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. However, the retrospective coverage and personal stories being shared in advance of the commemorative activities reminds us that economic and social justice issues were the motivations that drew hundreds of thousands of people to Washington, D.C. that summer.

I often echo Secretary Duncan in saying that “education is the civil rights issue of our time.” Adult education and literacy have deep roots in social justice and civil rights movements. We are proud of those roots and the work that educators do to change lives and communities in this country and around the world.

Brenda Dann-Messier is the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education

Making College Affordable for Every American

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog.

I’m thrilled today that President Obama is moving forward with an ambitious new plan to make college more affordable for every American. We know that higher education is more important than ever, but we also know it’s never been more expensive. We have heard from students and families across the country who are worried about affording college, and we believe that higher education cannot be a luxury that only advantages the wealthy.

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College must remain an accessible and affordable opportunity that provides a good value for all Americans. We want college to be a secure investment for every student from every background who is willing to work hard, an investment that prepares our nation’s students for a good job and a bright future.

We believe the cost of college is a shared responsibility among the federal government, states, colleges and universities, and our students and families. Since 2009, the Obama Administration and Congress have worked together to make historic investments in higher education. We  raised the maximum Pell Grant grant award by more than $900, created the American Opportunity Tax Credit, now offer additional loan repayment programs that help students manage their debt, and enacted landmark federal student aid reforms that eliminated wasteful bank subsidies and increased by more than 50 percent the number of students attending college from low-income families.

There are remarkable examples of states and institutions across our nation who have taken innovative steps to help American families afford college. New York has committed to restraining tuition growth in its public community colleges and universities over five years, and the University of Maryland system, which operates an Effectiveness and Efficiency Initiative, has saved more than $356 million and helped stabilize tuition for four straight academic years.

But we need to see more innovation and initiative to ensure that college remains a good value for students and families, and that’s what the President’s announcement today is all about. Earlier today at the University at Buffalo, the President laid out a plan with three concise steps to make college affordable. The steps are outlined in this White House fact sheet, and include:

  • Linking federal financial aid to college performance, so colleges must demonstrate they provide good value for the investment students make in higher education
  • Sparking innovation and competition by shining a spotlight on college performance, highlighting colleges where innovations are enabling students to achieve good results, and offering colleges regulatory flexibility to innovate
  • And – because we know that too many students are struggling to repay their debt today – President Obama is committed to ensuring that students who need it can have access to the ‘Pay As You Earn’ plan that caps federal student loan payments at 10 percent of discretionary income, so students can better manage their debt

We need more colleges and universities to keep college affordable while delivering a high quality education, not only for students who are first in line, but for all, especially students who are first in their families to enter college, students from disadvantaged circumstances, students with disabilities and veterans who chose service before completing their education. We need states to increase higher education funding, with proven strategies for student access and success. And we need to make sure that our annual investment of over $150 billion in federal student aid is achieving all that it can to ensure the economic and social prosperity of our nation.

The Obama Administration is going to continue to do everything we can to make college more affordable, and ensure students and families get as much value possible from their investment of effort, time and money in higher education. We’re looking forward to seeing states and institutions do their part, as well.

Additional reading: President Obama Explains His Plan to Combat Rising College Costs.

Martha Kanter is the U.S. Under Secretary of Education 

How Effective is Correctional Education?

Did you catch the announcement by the RAND Corporation today of a major analysis of research to address the question: “How Effective is Correctional Education?”  Both Attorney General Holder and Secretary of Education Duncan commented on this seminal meta-analysis of research on correctional education in a press release out today.

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