additional searches of quantitative and qualitative research. We include English language learners and adults with disabilities in describing the population of adults with literacy development needs but discuss the research on instruction with these populations in subsequent chapters. The chapter concludes with a summary of the extent of current knowledge of effective practices in adult literacy instruction and directions for future research.


There are many reasons why individuals seek to develop their literacy skills as adults. Some study to obtain a high school equivalency diploma; others seek to help their children and families with education, health, and other practical life matters; and others seek to learn English or enhance skills for new job responsibilities. Others may have a higher level of literacy but have not yet developed the reading and writing skills needed in college. Adults who wish to develop their literacy receive instruction in two main types of settings: adult education programs and developmental courses in college, especially in community colleges. Two types of adult education are found in college settings: (1) adult literacy programs for individuals who wish to complete their secondary education and (2) developmental education1 for students formally enrolled in college programs.

Adult Education Programs

The U.S. Department of Education reports that nearly 2.6 million adults enrolled in federally supported adult education programs during the 2006-2007 fiscal year, the most recent year for which complete data are available. Adult education programs are largely supported by federal and state funding, which together provides about two-thirds of the funding for adult literacy programs, according to a national survey of adult education programs (Tamassia et al., 2007). Other sources of funding are local governments, private donations, and, to a small degree, fees and tuition paid by the participants. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education administers the federal funds, which are appropriated to designated state agencies in a competitive granting process, consistent with the Workforce Investment Act, Title II, Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA). Each state must provide matching funds to qualify for this allocation.

The Adult Education Program Survey (AEPS; Tamassia et al., 2007) provides information on a nationally representative sample of adult edu-


1 We use the term developmental education (also called remedial instruction) to refer to the broad array of services and specific courses provided to college students with weak skills.

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