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Commission Hosts Regional Engagement Session with OVAE

10 December 2013
Commission in the News

The Mayor’s Commission on Literacy and U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Vocational & Adult Education hosted regional engagement session on education

Local, regional and national leaders gathered at Community College of Philadelphia to inform the creation of a national action plan to improve the skills of U.S. adults

PHILADELPHIA, PA – On December 10, 2013, nearly 50 leaders in literacy, workforce development, research, postsecondary education, employment, and philanthropy braved a snow storm to engage in advising on national policy to address the country’s considerable need to raise the skills and knowledge of its workforce. Results from the latest international study of adult skills, Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), show that U.S. workers trail many other developed nations in foundational skills essential for both individuals and the nation to thrive.

Presently, federal, state and local funding support education services (defined as one class per person) for only 3% per annum of the 36 million low-skilled adults in our country in need of these services. In order for the U.S. Department of Education to (1) better understand the challenges involved in improving these skills; (2) gather input from a wide range of stakeholders; and (3) inform development of a national response, the Secretary of Education has launched a national engagement process with a goal of developing an action plan by April, 2014, that will enable those overlooked by the current educational system to improve their workforce competencies and fully participate in our economy.

The Mayor’s Commission on Literacy (The Commission) was asked to co-sponsor the first of five regional engagement sessions. With a 27% poverty rate, nearly double the national average, Philadelphia faces an adult literacy crisis. Research suggests that 550,000 adults in Philadelphia, nearly one in two, lack the basic literacy skills required of family-sustaining employment and post-secondary education. The Commission, however, is developing groundbreaking initiatives that will address this issue at scale.

In January, 2014, The Commission will launch the Philadelphia Literacy and Adult Career Education, or myPLACE campuses where low-literate job seekers will receive on the ground educational services and support from career coaches, teachers, tutors, and assessment professionals; and in the cloud from facilitators in online courses. Because over 80% of job seekers in Philadelphia test at the low intermediate level, the equivalent of 4th-6th grades, The Commission will focus online offerings for adults on low-intermediate level classes on reading, writing, mathematics, problem solving, critical thinking, and digital skills; making it the first organization in the nation to take this approach.

Assistant Secretary of Education, Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, lauded The Commission for this innovation; which she believes has potential for becoming a national model in workforce preparedness. “Philadelphia is lucky to have a champion like Mayor Michael Nutter,” said Dr. Messier. “His vision and commitment is unprecedented and is exactly why we (OVAE) came here to highlight the work of The Commission. If we’re going to turn the needle, technology and out-of-the-box thinking will have to be a part of the solution.”

Dr. Judith Rényi, Executive Director of The Commission, moderated a regional responder panel of local experts. Participants painted a picture of Philadelphia’s current labor market; highlighting challenges and opportunities that can unlock the untapped potential of the local workforce.

Cheryl Feldman, Executive Director of District 1199c Training and Upgrading Fund, stressed the importance of maximizing various funding streams that invest in supportive services more efficiently. She believes case management is a vital component for student success and should be a shared expense across agencies.

Dr. Paul Harrington, Director, Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University, described the negative effects that a low-skilled labor supply has on the ability of the local economy to grow and prosper.

William Strahan, Executive Vice President, Human Resources at Comcast Cable, provided an outlook on behalf of the local corporate community. According to Strahan, businesses understand this is a workforce issue, but history also demonstrates that businesses will invest capital to fix a problem with a different solution. “Employers will find ATMs when bank tellers can’t count; they’ll find self-help solutions when people can’t speak on the telephone,” Strahan said. “Government should look at ways to award capital that grows the capacity of businesses that actively invest in its workforce.”

Meg Shope Koppel, Senior Vice President of Research, Policy & Innovation for Philadelphia Works, Inc., discussed the need to change the traditional transition points of education in a way that encourage and support lifelong learning. She believes a system with multiple entry and exit points will encourage adults to stay engaged in the educational pipeline by earning certificates and credentials that increase employment and earning potential.

After the panel discussion, participants were charged to break into smaller group sessions and recommend strategies that will expand opportunities and close the achievement gap given the current fiscal and political climates. Key recommendations included:

• Build awareness through a national marketing campaign that creates a common language around the cause; eradicates the stigma associated with adult literacy; and helps businesses, legislators, and adult learners understand what’s at stake if the nation does not invest in its most valuable asset – its workforce;

• Expand beyond traditional Title II adult education funding by taking a unified approach across agencies that leverages resources from various sources;

• Utilize technology in innovative ways that bolster and/or replace traditional classroom instruction and make learning convenient for adults; and

• Change state data systems so learner data can be shared across agencies; thereby eliminating regulatory barriers that take time and resources away from instruction.

Dr. Dan-Messier delivered closing remarks. “We know that we cannot do it at the Federal level. This is going to take sustained systemic work with many strategic partners, but you have our commitment from the Department of Education.”

Click here to view photos from the session. To learn more about these regional engagement sessions, visit

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