Your pathway to free and open content to serve adult students and those who serve them!

Thomas Sticht Articles on Adult Education


Enjoy the thoughts posted by Thomas Sticht, retired International Consultant in Adult Education and longtime supporter of adult learners all over the world

11/14/2017 - Extract from Functional Context Education: Workshop Resource Notebook, 1987, pages

In the 1970s colleagues and I developed reading programs for the U.S. Army in which we taught students to read and draw pictures of what they read; or read and make a table of what they read; or read and make a flow chart of what they read. We found that these kinds of tasks were best taught in small groups because they required careful study and analysis of the materials. This intense study was necessary because we used job-related materials the content of which was at times, if misunderstood,  life-threatening, to either the student or to someone with whom the student was working in their jobs after they left the literacy program.

We referred to these process activities as the Retran (Representation Transformation) activities. We also developed standardized  tests for assessing progress in learning in these Retran activities. 

I described some of this work in book chapters (Sticht, 1977; 1978; 1979) and in a notebook that I used in a series of workshops (Sticht, 1987) as interest in workplace literacy programs emerged. The workshop notebook is available online using a google search.  I have attached a brief extract from the notebook that gives you a better idea of what the Retran concept is about.  Download PDF

Tom Sticht


Sticht, T.G. Comprehending reading at work. In: M. Just and P. Carpenter (Eds.) Cognitive Processes in Comprehension. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, 1977.

Sticht, T.G. The acquisition of literacy by children and adults. In: F. Murray and J. Pikulski (Eds.) The Acquisition of Reading. Baltimore, MD.: University Park Press.1978.

Sticht, T.G. Applications of the AUDREAD Model to Reading Evaluation and Instruction. In: L.Resnick and P.Weaver (Eds.), Theory and Practice in Early Reading: Vol. 1, Hillsdale, N.J., Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates, 1979.

Sticht, T.G. Functional Context Education: Workshop Resource Notebook. San Diego, CA: Applied Behavioral & Cognitive Sciences, Inc., March 1987.

9/26/2017 - Adult Education and Family Literacy Week

Greetings Adult Education Advocates! 

During September 24-30, 2017 we celebrate Adult Education & Family Literacy Week. For some, particularly those new to adult education, it may not be clear just how adult education for adults may enhance the literacy development of their children. 

For this reason I have compiled a 28 page anthology of 13 brief notes of mine with 11 illustrations and references for the professional development use of adult educators who would like to further explore the role of adult education in family literacy. 

These notes address topics such as the transfer of knowledge and language usage from oracy to literacy; the intergenerational transfer of this competence from adults to their children; how oracy creates a “reading potential” for children and whether adults with low literacy typically possess much “reading potential”; how “fluid” abilities and “crystalized” knowledge may influence the assessment of adult literacy in different ways and lead to different conclusions about adult literacy abilities; and arguments against the views of some critics who attribute low literacy to low intelligence and do not think adult literacy education can accomplish very much to improve the abilities of these adults. 

I have listed the contents of the report below. You may request a copy of the articles using the email below or CLICK HERE to access the PDF with all "Notes."

Tom Sticht ( Email: tgsticht@gmail.com)

From Oracy to Literacy and Back Again: Investing in the Education of Adults, To Improve the Educability of Children! 

[Introductory note: The term “oracy” referring to listening and speaking was coined by Andrew Wilkinson of the United Kingdom in the 1960s. The word “auding” as a parallel term to reading was coined by a blind student, D. P. Brown, in 1954 while working on his Ph.D at Stanford University. He drew the parallel as: hearing, listening, auding in relation to seeing, looking, reading. Both auding and reading involve the use of language in addition to the specific modality factors. All auding includes listening and hearing while languaging. All reading includes looking and seeing while languaging. Languaging refers to the processes involved in producing language representations of knowledge.] 


1. Oracy, Adult Literacy Research, and The Fourth-Grade Plunge 

2. The “Reading Potential” Concept: From Vienna’s Rathaus to the Common Core State Standards 

3. Oracy: The Bridge to Literacy From Parents to Their Progeny 

4. New Report Confirms a Hundred Years of Professional Wisdom About Parent’s Role in Developing Children’s Literacy Skills 

5. Mind the 30 Million Word Gap! 

6. Black-White Differences in Oracy and Literacy: A Needed Conversation 

7. The Plight of Those With Oracy Difficulties in America 

8. Oracy as a Predictor of Workforce Success 

9. Some Misunderstandings About Reading 

10. Critiquing Constructs of Intelligence and Literacy 

11. The "Skills" Versus "Knowledge" Debate and Adult Literacy Education 

12. Confusing Ignorance With Illiteracy 

13. Theoretically You Can’t Teach Adults to Read and Write: But Just Keep On Doing It 


New Evidence for the “Triple Helix” of Literacy Development

In 1962, James Watson and Francis Crick received the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the “double helix” genetic basis for life, a physical arrangement of two separate strands of genetic matter.

In 1994, Sticht & Armstrong produced a Compendium of quantitative data from assessments of adult literacy in 1937, 1973, and 1986 which suggested what they metaphorically called the "triple helix" of literacy development: skill, practice, and education. A salient finding across the 50 years of those assessments was that people with higher levels of education have higher levels of literacy proficiency (skill) and they engage in higher levels of literacy practices, i.e., they read books, magazines and newspapers more frequently than do the less educated and less skilled.

As people read more and more widely, they develop higher levels of information processing skills involved in recognizing printed words and other features of the written language, they learn the meanings of more and more words, and they develop more and more conceptual knowledge, i.e., they develop more extensive bodies of knowledge. This in turn helps them do well in school, so they pursue further education. This guides them to engage in additional reading practices, this helps them develop more efficient reading skills and acquire more knowledge, etc., etc. as the “triple helix” of skill, practice, and education transforms people into highly literate adults.

Sticht & Armstrong (1994) noted that achieving high levels of literacy requires the development of large bodies of knowledge and highly efficient processing skills. They said, “An important implication for adult literacy programs is that efforts should be made to get adults to engage in larger amounts of reading in various types of literacy practices both inside and outside of programs. Extensive free-reading practice may be as important as direct instruction in producing higher levels of literacy (p. xii). To do this, programs must either retain adults for long periods of time, or stimulate adults to engage in extensive reading and writing outside of programs, or do both (p. xi).”

In another section of the Compendium, Sticht & Armstrong (1994) introduced an intergenerational factor in the development of literacy as another salient finding across adult literacy surveys: “ People with more highly educated parents are, themselves, likely to become the more highly educated, more extensively read, and highly skilled of the next generation….The data on the intergenerational transfer of literacy from parents to their children has provided a large part of the evidence to argue for "intergenerational literacy" or "family literacy" adult education programs (p. 127).”

Update and Extension of the “Triple Helix” in Literacy and Numeracy Development

Two decades following the formulation of the “triple helix” concept of literacy development, it has been supported for reading, writing, and numeracy across several nations by Grotluschen, et al. (2016). In analyses of adult reading skills in The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) they reported that: “From this data we learn that large numbers of low-proficiency adults have limited engagement with reading, writing, and numeracy practices. … As literacy and numeracy proficiency levels rise, average levels of engagement in reading, writing and numeracy practices increase steadily. In addition to proficiency, educational attainment and demographic characteristics systematically shape individuals’ engagements with reading, writing and numeracy practices…. in both the low-proficiency and the broader adult populations.” As in the Compendium, the report goes on to recommend that adult literacy programs should strive to encourage adults to engage in more reading practices at home, work and outside of work.

Consistent with the Compendium findings on the intergenerational transfer of literacy from parents to their children, the Grotluschen, et al. (2016) PIAAC report states: “The data reveal a strong link between parental education and proficiency and also show that adults at or below Level 1 are more likely to have children and when they have them, to have more than those who achieved higher scores. This suggests that a key element of a country’s policy response to PIAAC should include an increased focus on the family. Family literacy and numeracy programs focus on developing parents’ ability to support the literacy and numeracy development of their children, by increasing their understanding of what their children are learning in school and improving their own skills, and those of their children….Family learning programs may also bring about positive changes in the home learning environment, increasing the chances of sustainability of any gains made within the programs (p 145).”

In both the Compendium and the PIAAC reports the effects of the “triple helix” of skill (proficiency), practice, and education are moderated by other factors, such as ethnicity, economic status and other demographic factors. Still, the effects of skill, practice, and education work together to produce more highly literate and numerate adults. In turn, adults may then transfer their higher levels of literacy to their children, first by means of the oral language through conversation, show and tell, and reading to them, and then by literacy as children learn decoding, practice reading, and obtain higher levels of education.

The evidence is abundant and quite clear: the “triple helix” of literacy operates across multiple life cycles, from parents to their children. This means that investments in the education of low-skilled adults can return “double duty dollars”: we can elevate the literacy of adults, and improve the educability of their children. A good return on educational investments




February is Black History Month: Ambrose Caliver and Freedom’s People

In 1957, I walked into a department store in downtown Wichita Falls, Texas and saw that it offered a choice of water fountains: one for “White” and another for “Colored” people. At the time, I was an enlisted man in the U.S. Air Force stationed at Shepard Air Force Base, right outside of Wichita Falls. At age 21, I had never seen these sorts of indicators of what I later learned were “Jim Crow” laws permitting, often requiring, separate eating, drinking, schooling, etc., facilities for White and “Colored” people.

A decade later, in 1967, I had left the U.S. Air Force, attended the University of Arizona, received a Ph. D degree in Experimental Psychology, and was working as a Research Scientist for the Human Resources Research Office (HumRRO) of the George Washington University’s field unit in Monterey, California. Much of my research and development was concerned with the education of lower aptitude, low literate U.S. Army recruits in a special program called Project 100,000, over 36 percent of whom were young Black men (Sticht, et. al., 1987, Table 10, p. 42).

In the decade between 1957 and 1967 major changes occurred in the Nation’s treatment of African Americans. Gone were many of the old Jim Crow laws and practices as the 1964 Civil Rights, the 1965 Voting Rights, and the 1966 Adult Education acts were passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. But these laws did not come easy, they were fought for by many outstanding women and men of both races.

Ambrose Caliver and Freedom’s People

One African American who fought the Jim Crow laws and sought decent education and further civil rights for African Americans was Dr. Ambrose Caliver (B1894-D1962), who “… changed the face of black education on a national scale. Dr. Caliver devoted much of his professional life to adult literacy, although he also took an active role in such matters as displaced persons, human rights, public affairs, aging, and professional development of adult educators” (Wikipedia, 2017).

Caliver began his federal work on behalf of African American education when he was appointed by President Herbert Hoover as Senior Specialist for Negro Education in the United States Office of Education (USOE). He worked in that position under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was a member of Roosevelt’s so-called “Black cabinet”. It was while he worked in this position that Caliver took advantage of the technology of radio to raise awareness of the differences in educational opportunities and resources between Whites and Blacks. Under his direction, a nine-part radio program called “Freedom’s People” was produced and broadcast during 1941-1942.

An online program by American Radio Works (2017) indicates that the first program in Freedom’s People started on Sunday afternoon, September 21st, 1941. It started with the Announcer speaking about immigrants to America:

“From the old world they came. High with hopes and strong. To America they brought this hope and strength, and founded a nation of splendid freedoms. But this is not their story. No, this is the story of those who did not come but were taken. The story of those who lost freedom when they came upon our shores. And for years they tilled our soil, gathered our crops, and made the land good. Some won liberty. Others waited. Then freedom came to all, a liberty well deserved, a liberty triumphant. Yes, this is the story of the American Negro, 13 million citizens of the United States. And now the National Broadcasting Company in cooperation with the United States Office of Education in the Federal Security Agency brings you this program dedicated to and conceived by the American Negro, truly Freedom's People!

According to the American Radio Works, “Freedom's People reached millions of Americans, and study guides about African American history were printed for school and community groups to use. The show tried to humanize blacks in the eyes of their fellow Americans by cataloging black accomplishments and qualities.”

During and following World War II, Caliver continued his work on adult literacy and the education of African Americans. I first encountered his work while reading Wanda Cook’s slender volume on the history of adult literacy education in the United States. She cites a 1946 paper by Caliver entitled “Adult Education of Negroes” which discusses the Project for Adult Education of Negroes, a major effort to “raise the educational level of a large number of Negroes whom the Selective Service and the 1940 census described as functionally illiterate.” Clark goes on to say, “ Directing the project was Ambrose Cavalier (sic) the USOE specialist for higher education of Negroes” and reports that during the project “Nearly 1,000 teachers of adults were exposed to new methods and techniques during the project ” (Clark, 1977, pp. 57-58).

There can be no doubt that Caliver’s work in the struggle against the Jim Crow laws following the Civil War and his advancement of African American history, literacy, and education was a cornerstone in the foundation on which the Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws of the 1960s were constructed. Unfortunately, he did not live to see these laws passed and enacted. He was elected President of the Adult Education Association of the United States of America in 1961, but died the next year while still in office.

Yesterday, when I went into my neighborhood Walmart store, I saw just one drinking fountain….for everyone!

Postscript: In 1949, the Dean of the Harvard Law School wrote to Caliver at his U.S. Government office and asked for advice on how to attract, support, and educate more African American lawyers who could provide legal support to their communities. A half century later, in 1991, a young African American man graduated from Harvard Law School and some 20 years later Barack Hussein Obama became the first African American President of the United States of America. He was one of Freedom’s People.




A 50 Year Retrospective on Listening and Reading Processes in Low Literate Adults

During 1963-1969, President Lyndon Johnson’s Years in Office

I graduated from the University of Arizona in 1965 with a Ph. D in Experimental Psychology and got a job teaching sensory processes (vision, audition, touch) for psychology and medical students at the University of Louisville. I also collaborated with Dr. Emerson Foulke, a blind psychologist, on research using the technology of time compressed speech as a communication device for blind college students who were “reading by listening”. This included the use of time-compressed, accelerated recordings of spoken messages to find out how well blind students could comprehend fast rates of speech. We found that for a number of students, comprehension was good up to about 300 plus or minus 50 words a minute, about the rate of silent reading for typical college level students, suggesting an internal rather than peripheral limit on the speed of both listening and reading of language. (Foulke & Sticht, 1969). This was the beginning of a long undertaking to better understand listening and reading processes of adults, particularly those with special needs, such as blindness, illiteracy, or low literacy.

During 1969-1974, President Richard Nixon’s Years in Office

During this time I studied listening as a substitute for reading with U.S. Army personnel having very low reading abilities. Several studies with Army personnel indicated that: (a) as literacy ability decreases more low literate adults would prefer to learn prose material by listening rather than by reading; (b) low literate adults learned equally well, or poorly, by listening as by reading across informational material at the 6th, 7th and 14th grade levels; and (c) less literate adults tended to rely more on listening than on reading for obtaining job-related information (Sticht, 1972).

Given the strong relationships between listening and reading colleagues and I formulated a developmental model of listening (auding) and reading. The model started in infanthood, with the development of pre-linguistic knowledge, and then linguistic knowledge developed through listening and speaking and then people learned how to draw on that language and the knowledge it represented via the written language when the latter developed as a second signaling system to listening and speaking (Sticht, Beck, Hauke, & Kleiman, 1974).

During 1974-1977, President Gerald Ford’s Years in Office

Regarding the developmental model we outlined, Blanton & McNinch (1975) wrote: “There are a variety of theoretical positions which explicitly or implicitly deal with the relationship between reading and listening. Moreover, cluttered as the literature is with research on the topic, one might hope, that research and theory would have been pulled together into some understandable framework. This has not been the case. Sticht et al. (1974), however, met this need. Their review of selected theory and research on language, reading, and development is, in our opinion, the most significant contribution made on reading and listening in recent years. Indeed, it is a reference shelf item (pp. 20-21).

During 1977-1981, President Jimmy Carter’s Years in Office

In speeches at the annual meetings of the Association of American Publishers (Sticht, 1979) and the National Academy of Education (Sticht, 1980/1983) I advocated for adult literacy education for workers because it would not only help make them more employable and productive, it could also help them develop knowledge and oral language of their children by reading and discussing books with them and their children would likely do better in school and achieve higher levels of literacy. Evidence for this intergenerational oracy-to-literacy transfer of knowledge and vocabulary was based on the 1974 developmental model discussed in Sticht et al. (1974).
During 1981-1989, President Ronald Reagan’s years in office

Sticht & James (1984) considered that listening ability may indicate the “reading potential” of children with data showing that it may take children up to seven or eight years of school to be able to listen and read with equal facility and comprehension. In research with some 2000 adults reading from the 2nd to the 14th grade levels it was found that their listening and reading abilities were about equal, indicating little “reading potential” across the full range of reading abilities (Sticht, 1982).

The idea that through adult education we might improve their children’s oral language thereby raising their “reading potential” (Sticht, 1983, above) was noted by Kozol (1985). He said, “It could be,” writes Thomas Sticht, “that if we had put the billions of dollars we’ve spent on pre-school children” into literacy programs for their parents, we might have gotten at “the real source” of illiteracy” (Kozol, 1985, p.60). Both Kozol and I testified at 1985 congressional hearings about the importance of educating illiterate or low literate adults as a way to improve children’s literacy. These hearings supported passage of the Even Start family literacy legislation.

During 1989-1993, President George H. W. Bush’s years in office

In 1989, First Lady Barbara Bush started the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy stressing the importance of educating adults and their children to break cycles of intergenerational illiteracy or low literacy. Sticht & McDonald (1990) discussed how educating women could improve the education of their children, partly through the oracy-to-literacy transfer effect discussed above. Two volumes of books on the intergenerational transfer of language, literacy, and other cognitive processes were published (Sticht, Beeler, & McDonald, 1992a,b). Albert Shanker, then president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), published in his New York Times column a piece about research by Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) (Van Fossen & Sticht, 1991) on the transfer of literacy from mothers to their children. Shanker commented that the research indicated that: "If giving mothers some extra schooling means that their attitudes towards their children's schooling becomes more positive and the child is more likely to learn, we are helping two for the price of one. This is a good use of money in hard times. (And if the extra schooling helps the mother get a job, it's triply good)".

During 1993-2001, President William Clinton’s years in office

Hirsch (1996) took notice of relationships of listening and reading in the developmental model of literacy discussed above and wrote: “I have not yet mentioned reading and writing. That is because speaking and listening competencies are primary. There is a linguistic law that deserves to be called “Sticht’s Law,” having been disclosed by some excellent research by Thomas Sticht. He found that reading ability in non-deaf children cannot exceed their listening ability. …Sticht showed that, for most children, by seventh grade the ability to read with speed and comprehension and the ability to listen had become identical” (pp. 146-147).

Based on correlations of listening with reading, colleagues and I developed a method of estimating adult literacy ability via telephone (Sticht, 1996; Hofstetter, Sticht, & Hofstetter, 1999). We found high correlations between listening and reading, and significant relationships between listening ability and education, occupation, income and other factors. This relatively inexpensive technique for assessing knowledge by listening and estimating adult literacy was disseminated by the U.S. government (Sticht, 1999).

During 2001-2008, President George W. Bush’s term of office

Citing the developmental model discussed by Sticht, et al. (1974), Hirsch (2003) offered an approach to building children's comprehension ability in a section called, Build Oral Comprehension and Background Knowledge. He says, "Thomas Sticht has shown that oral comprehension typically places an upper limit on reading comprehension; if you don't recognise and understand the word when you hear it, you also won't be able to comprehend it when reading. This tells us something very important: oral comprehension generally needs to be developed in our youngest readers if we want them to be good readers."

Elsewhere Hirsch (2006) stated, “…we have known since 1974 (thanks to the work of Thomas Sticht) that listening ability in grade two reliably forecasts reading ability in grade five. This empirical work confirms that reading skill is correlated with listening skill—or to put the case more accurately, proficient reading and proficient listening both depend on an ability to comprehend language, quite apart from whether the language is expressed orally or in writing (pp.28-29).

During 2008-2017, President Barack Obama’s term of office

The idea that “reading potential” could be raised by listening as outlined above (Sticht & James, 1984; Sticht, et al., 1974) appeared in important reports. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English language arts (2015), said, “Oral language development precedes and is the foundation for written language development; in other words, oral language is primary and written language builds on it. …Sticht and James (1984) found evidence strongly suggesting that children’s listening comprehension outpaces reading comprehension until the middle school years (grades 6–8) (p. 26).” …, it is particularly important that students in the earliest grades build knowledge through being read to as well as through reading, with the balance gradually shifting to reading independently (p. 27).”

Finally, referring to Sticht (2011), Adams (2014) brought attention to adult literacy education and said, “…differences in children’s language and literacy levels at school entry are huge and tend to persist and even to grow across the school years. Moreover, as Thomas Sticht has pointed out children actually spend very little of their time at school; … Whether gauged by their impact on children or parents, and whether measured in terms of cognitive or noncognitive skills, the recurrent finding is that the most effective early childhood education programs are coordinated with early parenthood education.”

As Al Shanker said, investing in the literacy education of adults may pay off with triple duty dollars: we can raise adults out of poverty, reduce economic inequality, while also improving the literacy and educational achievement of their children! We need to get people listening and reading about this!




A 50 Year Retrospective on FCE, Contextualized, Integrated Education & Training (IET) in Adult Education

Fifty years ago this year I started research and development aimed at helping less literate military personnel succeed in job training and performance. This work led to the development of an adult literacy program that integrated the teaching of reading with the teaching of occupational knowledge using actual job written materials. Research showed that the program made three to four times the gain in job-related reading made by a general literacy program while, to the surprise of some, the job-related program made equal gains on a standardized general literacy test as those made by the general literacy program (Sticht, 1975b, pp. 135-136). According to various scholars (see Addendum following references below) this work brought about significant changes in adult literacy education.

Functional Context Education (FCE) and Workplace Literacy

During 1981-1989, President Ronald Reagan’s years in office, national attention focused on international competitiveness and workforce development. In 1983-87 I directed a team to study how the armed services had gone about educating and training undereducated young adults since WW II. This work was reported in a book which discussed Functional Context Education (FCE) principles for designing programs for undereducated youth and adults. One of the FCE principles stated that adult educators should “Integrate instruction in basic reading, writing, and arithmetic into the technical or academic content so that students are better able to negotiate the requirements for the program at hand and build competency to transfer basic skills to other settings.” Another principle was, “Use the contexts, tasks, materials and procedures of the real-life setting that the training and education address” (Sticht, Armstrong, Hickey, & Caylor, 1987, pp. 164-165).

In 1988, a U. S. government report stated “…education and training programs are moving more toward using the functional contexts of adult workers to teach these skills as opposed to using a more school-based approach” (U.S. Government, 1988, p. 13). That same year, the U.S. Congress set aside funds creating a National Workplace Literacy Program (NLWP) in a supplemental funding bill for fiscal year 1988 (U.S. Government, 1992, p. 9).

FCE and Contextualized, Integrated Education & Training (IET)

During 1989-1993, President George H. W. Bush’s years in office, “America 2000: An Education Strategy” outlined national education goals. One goal stated that by the year 2000, “Every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.” In furtherance of these goal, I served during 1992-1999 as a member of the Resource Group for National Education Goal Number 6: Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning, National Governor's Association and in 1990-91 I served on the Secretary of Labor's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) and spoke about FCE at the opening meeting of the SCANS commission. After the Commission consulted with number of other cognitive scientists, I was pleased to find that in agreement with FCE principles the SCANS commission called for teaching "in context" in both K-12 and adult education.

In 1992, a U.S. Department of Education report drew upon the work of the SCANS and stated, “ As the report by the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) states: "The most effective way of learning skills is 'in context’ …. To be effective, instruction and curriculums must be designed around active information-seeking and processing using job-related basic skills in tasks such as locating information in job manuals, and manipulating information to solve job-related problems” (U.S. Government, 1992).

During 1993-2001, President William Clinton’s time in office, much attention focused on helping welfare recipients gain access to education and training that would help them get jobs to work themselves out of poverty and off welfare. I delivered numerous workshops on FCE during this time, including one in 1997 at Seattle University in Seattle, Washington, in which I discussed as experimental community college program colleagues and I developed integrating basic skills with technical training in electronics assembly (Sticht, 1997). In 2004, the Washington state community college system started work on the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program that integrated basic skills and occupational skills training as called for by the FCE principles. I-BEST now serves as a national model for training for low-skilled youth and adults.

Goal of Adult Literacy Education Changes from High School Completion to Postsecondary Education and Training

During 2001-2008, President George W. Bush’s term of office, many programs were initiated that followed the SCANS call for contextualized teaching and Reder’s (2000) call to create pathways from secondary to postsecondary education and career training for adults seeking paths out of poverty and welfare. A report from the Women Employed Institute (WEI) (2005) discussed a number of “pathway” or “bridge” programs for helping low-skilled adults move from adult basic or English language programs into postsecondary or career technical programs. Quoting Sticht (1995) and others the WEI report stated, “In bridge programs, the teaching of basic skills is integrated with instruction in job skills or exploration of college and careers.” (p.39).

During 2008-2017, President Barack Obama’s term of office, the U.S. Department of Education (2012) released a report stating, “Research studies from the military, cognitive and behavioral sciences, as well as adult workforce education workforce programs show that contextualized teaching and learning is very effective, especially for adults. To gain an understanding of contextualized learning, first read Tom Sticht’s The Theory Behind Content-Based Instruction” (P. 5). (See Sticht, 1997, December).

In 2014, the U.S. Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in which Title 2: The Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA) offers funding for adult education and literacy activities contextualized and integrated within a specific occupation for the purpose of educational and career advancement. WIOA, Title 2 also offers funding for workplace literacy programs.

Can’t Trump FCE

In 1987, the Boston Globe (Ribadeneria, 1987) interviewed me about the military R & D colleagues and I did in the 1960-70s. It reported that, “People are sent into basic skills programs to improve reading skills for job training, when, in fact, the reading skills should be integrated in job training, Sticht said.”

Some thirty years later, the WIOA Title 2 again calls for integrated basic skills and job training, as well as workplace literacy education. And once again the Boston Globe has written an article about workplace education programs, this time teaching English language and literacy for immigrant adults (Pfeiffer, 2017).

For adult educators, it is difficult to trump FCE for helping low-skilled adults get the education and job training needed to escape poverty and reduce income inequality.



A number of scholars have reported that the R & D colleagues and I started in 1967 on job-related basic skills programs was foundational in getting the NWLP law enacted and advanced the move to contextualized and integrated basic skills and occupational education. Here is a sample of some of those reports.