By Andrew Roberts – Interim President and CEO of the Barbara Bush Foundation
With the first month of 2024 in the books and the new year now in full swing, it’s a busy and exciting time to be engaged in the family and adult literacy space. Here is a quick roundup of the topics and conversations that our team at the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy is looking forward to tracking throughout the upcoming year.
1. The Science of Reading: Shifting approaches to K – Adult reading instruction methods
Ongoing conversations about the most effective way to teach children to read are likely to intensify this year, as several states—including New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts—consider or implement plans to align reading instruction with evidence-based practices. This trend has been top of mind for our team in recent years, as we’ve worked with experts to ensure that all materials for our programs for young readers are informed by the science of reading.
EdWeek recently published a special report, Reading to Understand: Unlocking the Elements of Comprehension, which provides a deep dive into this evolving conversation. The topic is also central to the 2023 documentary film The Right to Read, which the Barbara Bush Foundation was proud to help premiere in Washington, D.C., last year. If you haven’t seen it yet, we encourage you to put it on your “to-watch” list for 2024.
2. Home Libraries: How books in the home impact literacy achievement
Research shows that home libraries are a critical component of literacy skill building. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and declining literacy scores, educators and literacy advocates are reemphasizing the value of books in the home, particularly for students who are at risk of falling behind in reading. Scholastic’s recent report, Home Libraries, documents the link between home libraries and academic achievement, calling them, “one of schools’ and communities’ best tools to combat learning loss,” and providing practical suggestions to help build literacy-rich environments for young readers.
Building home libraries is a key component of the Barbara Bush Foundation’s reading mentoring programs for students in grades 1-3, ReadSquad and Book Explorers. In addition to meeting weekly with a dedicated reading mentor, each participating child receives high-interest fiction and non-fiction take-home books (print or digital, depending on the program), as well as book-specific Parent Guides that provide at-home activities to promote literacy skill building, shared reading, and family conversations.
We routinely receive positive feedback on this facet of the program, with 89% of ReadSquad parents/caregivers reporting that they read the books with their child at least once per week. Since 2002, ReadSquad has added more than 626,000 books to participating students’ home libraries. Students participating in Book Explorers, which launched in 2021, have read more than 7,800 books with their mentors and more than 650 parents/caregivers have received access to the program’s digital collection of 56 books and accompanying parent guides.
3. 2024 PIAAC Data: How the pandemic affected adult learning
The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)—an international survey of adult skills in literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving—is a key resource for adult literacy practitioners, policymakers, and advocates. In December 2024, the OECD will release the results of the PIAAC II, which began data collection in 2022. In addition to providing a much-needed, more current snapshot of adult literacy in America and beyond, the survey will include first-of-its-kind information about how foundational skills translate to financial literacy.
Since this data was collected during the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will likely provide insights into how the pandemic impacted adult skills nationwide. We look forward to diving into this wealth of new data and using it to better our understanding of adult learners’ skills and needs.
4. Edtech: New ways to broaden access to literacy assessment and instruction
We are excited to see how advancements in edtech may continue to broaden access to high-quality, personalized literacy assessments and resources for learners of all ages. We recently partnered with Dr. Stephanie Moore and researchers from the University of New Mexico to release a new report, Learning Technologies for Adult Literacy: State of the Research and Opportunities, on the use of technology for addressing adult learner needs. The report highlighted the need for technologies that: 1) are authentically used in adult learners’ day-to-day lives (e.g., delivered by mobile phone), 2) afford flexibility and autonomy for adult learners, 3) are integrated with—rather than replace—in-person learning, and 4) are designed to feature practice and feedback, situated learning, and direct instruction.
Technologies such as artificial intelligence and mixed reality show promise to increase access to literacy assessment and instruction. For example, the Barbara Bush Foundation recently partnered with SphereGen, Microsoft, and T-Mobile to pilot test a combination of eye tracking software and wearable mixed reality aimed to help educators quickly and easily assess learner needs to create individual learning plans. And companies like Microsoft and Amira Learning are enhancing and expanding access to AI-driven, personalized reading coaches for K-12 learners. We’ll continue to watch and evaluate how these technologies can help fill gaps and expand access.
5. Literacy as a Bipartisan Issue: Driving equity and economic recovery
Barbara Bush once said, “Literacy is everyone’s business. Period.” And she was right. Solving our nation’s literacy challenge is a truly bipartisan objective – one that has the potential to generate an additional $2.4 trillion in GDP each year. We hope to see candidates and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, at all levels, highlight the issue as a key component of efforts to drive equity and economic recovery.
We’ll also be closely following the work of the Senate Caucus on Adult Literacy—which we partnered with the Adult Literacy and Learning Impact Network to launch in 2023—to elevate and address this issue at the national level.
What’s on your radar?
We at the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy would love to hear your thoughts on key literacy topics and trends for 2024. Which conversations are you following, and what are your hopes for the year?