Greetings from PIAAC-istan

I haven’t written much about PIAAC (the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies)—the latest international survey of adult basic skills—because I don’t have much to say about it, at least until the first set of survey data is released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tomorrow. (A U.S.-specific report that was due to be released by NCES tomorrow as well is apparently going to be delayed due to the government shutdown.) There is plenty of information out there about the study itself, so it really doesn’t make sense for me to try to summarize it. If you’re interested, a good place to start is the OECD PIAAC site. Another resource is the AIR PIAAC Gateway.

The last survey/estimate of adult skills in the U.S., the NAAL (National Assessment of Adult Literacy), didn’t do that much, in my opinion, to move federal adult literacy policy forward. Not that it wasn’t helpful: for better or for worse, the NAAL provided us with a commonly accepted figure for the estimated number of American adults who struggle, to some degree, with literacy (93 million)—a figure that we’ve been using for about a decade.

But there were critics of the NAAL methodology at the time, and some confusion in the field about what exactly it measured. (I think the fact sheet we put out at D.C. LEARNs about the NAAL was pretty good, but others, not so much.) In addition, some argued that the 93 million number was so huge that it proved too overwhelming for policymakers to wrap their heads around. With a few exceptions (like the Affordable Care Act), our political system hasn’t had a particularly good track record in recent years of addressing 93-million-people-sized problems. The release of the NAAL certainly didn’t persuade Congress to make a substantial new investment in adult education. In fact, 2003, the year the national NAAL data was released, marked the beginning of what has actually been a gradual decline (in real dollars) in federal adult education funding via Title II of the Workforce Investment Act, the largest source of federal funding for adult education. I’d argue that most of the public policy successes since the last survey have been on a small scale—usually at the state and local level—often involving the creation of new models of service delivery, such as integrated career pathway models.

We’ll get new national numbers from the PIAAC study—and we’ll be able to compare those numbers with other countries that participated in the study. The NAAL also gave us state estimates (eventually), which was unquestionably helpful for state and local advocates, and probably does more to get the attention of  members of Congress than the national numbers. (On domestic issues, members want to know what the issue looks like at the state or district level.) My understanding is that it is hoped that credible state estimates based on the PIAAC data will be produced at some point, but it’s not yet known whether or when that will happen. If we don’t get them, then we will be facing an unfortunate situation where advocates (and the media, surely) will continue to use the old 2003 state estimates when reporting on adult literacy locally, even thought we’ll have an updated national estimate. Which will likely result in more confusion, unless (and even if) states and localities perform their own estimates.

The government shutdown may slightly dull the excitement over the release of this data. As I mentioned above, the NCES First Look Report with specific results for the U.S. population has been delayed indefinitely. In fact, right now you can’t get any information at all from NCES—if go to, you’ll see that this page, like  most federal government Web sites, is down.

Thankfully, the OECD report—which will have some U.S. data—will be released and there are several events here in the U.S. where experts will discuss the findings, starting at 5:00AM EDT (!) when the OECD will officially release the PIAAC data in Brussels, along with two international PIAAC reports: OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills  and The Survey of Adult Skills: Reader’s Companion. A highlights report, Skilled for Life?, will also be available. These reports will be downloadable at The PIAAC Data Explorer and data files will be available at (I’m really pleased that you can access the raw data files—that should prove to be really useful.)

At 10:00AM EDT, a panel will discuss findings from PIAAC as part of the fourth annual NBC News Education Nation Summit. Panelists include Former Michigan Governor John Engler, (now President of the Business Roundtable); Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (and a cool guy); and Mary Isbister, President of GenMet Corporation and Vice Chair of the U.S. Manufacturing Council.  (NCES Commissioner Jack Buckley was also originally on the schedule, but he will not be attending, as he has been placed in cryogenic freeze due to the government shutdown, like most federal government employees.) Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be interviewed.

At 2:30 PM EDT, Andreas Schleicher, OECD Deputy Director for Education and Skills, will present results from the first round of PIAAC via webcast. You can register for the webcast at:

While the Obama administration’s response to PIAAC may be somewhat muted due to the shutdown, it will be worth watching how the findings are framed when administration folks do comment on it. Remember that they have several high-profile education priorities on the table right now—universal pre-K and a slew of higher education proposals. I suspect Secretary Duncan will want to use this opportunity to tie the PIAAC findings to these two administration priorities. What kind of message they will have about adult education and adult literacy (if any) remains to be seen.

New Migration Policy Institute Brief Offers Demographic, Socioeconomic Data on Unauthorized Immigrants in the U.S.

MPI BriefThe Migration Policy Institute (MPI) has just published a new brief, A Demographic, Socioeconomic, and Health Coverage Profile of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States, which provides all kinds of useful and interesting  data about unauthorized immigrants currently living in the U.S.

The final section of the brief lays out some of the policy implications of the data they have compiled, both in terms of immigration reform and implementation of the Affordable Care Act. For example, under the immigration reform bill that is currently under consideration in the Senate, unauthorized immigrants who are granted registered provisional status (which would permit them to reside and work here legally) would be ineligible for Medicaid or most other federal benefits. MPI’s data suggests that 71% of unauthorized immigrants (47% of children) are uninsured, and the vast majority of them have incomes that fall below the federal poverty level. So it appear that many RPI status holders would struggle to obtain medical insurance under the Senate bill.

Graduation Rates of Students With Learning Disabilities Stunningly Low in Some States

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) just released a report called report that has some pretty interesting statistics on the drop-out rates of students with learning disabilities, or SLDs. According to NCLD, nationwide, the current dropout rate for SLDs is 19%. But 22 states have dropout rates higher than the national average, led by South Carolina, where a startling 49% of their SLDs drop out of school before earning a diploma.

I haven’t looked into this a while, but for years I’ve been surprised/concerned that there isn’t a firm, widely agreed-upon estimate of the percentage of enrolled adult education students with learning disabilities. (If anyone can point me to this, please do.) But if the dropout numbers for SLDs are this high, it stands to reason that many of these folks find their way into adult education classrooms.

Via Education Week

Final Estimated Federal Funding for Adult Education for Fiscal Year 2013

(Updated Below)

On April 30th, the Department of Education released funding tables (by program and by state) for FY 2012 and FY 2013 appropriations, and FY 2014 estimates. As a result, we now know the final estimated total allocation for WIA Title II (or AEFLA) Adult Basic and Literacy Education State Grants for FY 2013: $563,954,515. This includes $70,811,239 for English Literacy and Civics Education State Grants. That’s a cut of about $31 million dollars of federal support for adult literacy in comparison with FY 2012. (But it’s worse than that when you adjust for inflation—see below.)

Fiscal years 2012 and 2013 are based on currently enacted appropriation bills, and the amounts listed for FY 2013 include the effect of the sequester and an across-the-board cut in the final appropriation. FY 14 estimates are based on the president’s proposed budget, and barring a miracle, those estimates are well over what we’ll actually see in the final FY 2014 appropriation.

These tables also include the estimated state allocations. I’ve pulled those out for you here:

State AEFLA Allocation rev05-13-13State Allocations: Adult Basic and Literacy Education State Grants: FY 2012 Appropriations, FY 2013 Appropriations, and FY 2014 estimates
State AEFLA ELCivics Allocation rev05-13-13State Allocations: English Literacy and Civics Education State Grants (Excluded from Adult Basic and Literacy Education State Grants): FY 2012 Appropriations, FY 2013 Appropriations, and FY 2014 estimates

These tables were updated yesterday, but no changes were made to the WIA Title II grants, at least as far as I can tell.

As I mentioned above, federal funding for adult education is even more grim once you adjust for inflation. Based on these figures, I took a stab at estimating the buying power of $563,954,515 in 2002 dollars. I used that figure because the last time I saw this calculated, 2002 was used as the baseline. I plan to follow up at some point with a longer post on calculating the effect of inflation, and the effect of using different baselines (and maybe even different methods, too) but for now this seemed like a good place to start. (For FY 2010, I did not include the one-time adjustment made by the Department of Education to make up for several years of underpayment to some states—that anomaly wasn’t carried over and shouldn’t be interpreted as growth, so I left it out.) (Note: this chart was updated 02/18/14.)

AEFLA Grants to States 2002-13 Graph

Using the most recent CPI (March), I calculate that $563,954,515 equals about $435,855,607 in 2002 dollars. Again, that’s a rough estimate, using the March CPI (for the other years I can use an annual average), but it’s close enough. The main takeaway here is that pre-sequestration the field was receiving somewhat stable, more-or-less flat, funding (that’s the blue line)—even, arguably, with the 2013 cut—but once you adjust for inflation (the red line)  you can see that the field has actually lost about 23% in real dollars in comparison with the appropriation of 2002.

Finally, don’t forget that other federal programs that are vital to adult education programs (Community Development Block Grants, CNCS/AmeriCorps, grants from USCIS, etc.) were also subject to sequestration cuts.

That’s a lot to chew on. Take a look and let me know if you have any comments or corrections.

UPDATE 2/18/14: This table has been updated to reflect the final 2013 CPI numbers.