Powering families out of poverty through family literacy

Two-generation family literacy has the power to lift families out of poverty and toward self-sufficiency. That’s the message the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) brought to federal legislators in Washington, D.C. on June 21, 2017. NCFL was joined by Dr. Carol Clymer with the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy, Arlise Ford with Educational Alliance, Inc., (EA), Robert Chiappetta with Toyota, and Norma Aguilar, an adult learner in Toyota Family Learning in a panel discussion attended by government and business leadership.

View the full length briefing here.

Research shows the NCFL model of family learning – which is currently in 256 sites and more than 100 cities across the country – helps parents build and grow workforce skills that lead to employment or better employment, as well as greater family and community engagement.

“Toyota has invested in family literacy for more than two decades,” said Robert Chiappetta, director of government affairs for Toyota Motor North America, Inc. “We do this because education is at the core of a strong workforce pipeline.”

Sharon Darling, president and founder of NCFL
Sharon Darling, president and founder of NCFL


“The secret sauce to family literacy is parents and children working and learning together,” said Sharon Darling, NCFL president and founder. “When this happens, the two generations of a family are impacted as well as future generations and we start to see a systemic change.”

Studies indicate the mother’s education level is the biggest predictor of a child’s academic success. Family literacy programs, such as the NCFL model, provide opportunities for parents to lift themselves up through academics, language, and workforce-skills building, while also teaching them how to better support and engage in their children’s education which leads to better academic outcomes.

Darling – who pioneered family literacy 30 years ago – has seen some 4 million parents and children participating in NCFL programs across the country achieve academic success, as well as economic and civic vitality. The NCFL model is intense: parents and children participate in classes multiple times a week for many months. It includes Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®, during which parents and children learn and work together on a variety of things such as homework, Family Service Learning projects, and technology.

Norma Aguilar, student of Toyota Family Learning
Norma Aguilar, student of Toyota Family Learning

Norma Aguilar is one of those parents. She attends Toyota Family Learning in Plano, Texas – an NCFL model program – with her young son and daughter. Aguilar, who participated on the panel, said she learned the importance of reading with her children to increase their vocabulary and reading comprehension, as well as gained confidence in herself by learning English. Now she plans to find a job and work on an associate’s degree.

“Learning English gives me the freedom to achieve my goals and to have more experiences with my children,” said Aguilar. “It is the key to knowledge, power, and freedom in my life.”

Aguilar’s not alone in her success; results of an independent evaluation from Penn State University of participants graduating from NCFL Family Learning in 2016 show 94 percent became a better parent. Additional results included:

  • 79 percent improved their English skills
  • 47 percent upgraded skills to keep current job
  • 40 percent got a better job
  • 28 percent obtained the knowledge necessary to pass the U.S. citizenship test
  • 29 percent earned a GED certificate or high school equivalency

Parents participating in the NCFL model family learning programs also become empowered to lead grassroots efforts to impact their neighborhood through Family Service Learning projects. “Programs that provide children and families a future at a full-balanced healthy life are able to impact our communities at-large,” said Arlise Ford, director of social services, EA Early Childhood and Youth Services division, based in Lower Manhattan. “Our two-generation program is built around four primary and integrated components – education, economic supports, social capital, and health and well-being – all of which we believe are critical to creating opportunities for intergenerational success.”

Despite positive results across the country, Dr. Carol Clymer, co-director, Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy and the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy said there is great need to expand programming. “With an ever-widening achievement gap, it has never been more critical to fund family literacy programs that serve both parents and children to ensure that neither generation is left behind.”

Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN)
Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN)

Congressional Adult Literacy Caucus co-chairs Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) joined the discussion and both iterated the importance of family literacy programs across the country to help people succeed in life. “One of the reasons I have a passion for this is that reading and education changed my life,” Rep. Roe said.

Rep. Yarmuth called for continued funding for family literacy programming. “I fully understand how important this is in the lives of our young people and, as well as in our adults who are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

As funding for education and family literacy initiatives is under threat of being eliminated, it is so important for educators, program staff, and practitioners to continue to share with your legislators the difference family literacy is making in your community. Find contact information for your legislators by visiting USA.gov.