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Dec 17, 2019 |
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By Sharon Darling, President and Founder, the National Center for Families Learning

There is a crack in our nation’s foundation. Although historically referred to as the achievement gap, today we more accurately call this the teaching and learning gap. When children fail to reach their full potential, this weakens families’ fundamental ability to thrive. Over 30 years ago, the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) developed a family literacy model that is still showing positive results for families as they strive to improve their academic and economic trajectories through multi-generational learning.

Over the decades, there have been some well-intentioned programs and money spent trying to close the gap by focusing solely on children’s education. But doing so essentially places a band-aid over a growing divide, rather than addressing the underlying issue—that is, how can children succeed when their parents or caregivers are struggling themselves? To truly close the gap in achievement between low income and higher income students, we must invest in the entire family. Family literacy offers a space for both children and their families to learn—together. In NCFL’s family literacy programs, children are becoming kindergarten-ready or are reading on grade level while their parents or caregivers are learning job skills and how to navigate school systems, advocate for their children, and support their children’s education.

When families learn together, they set themselves on a new trajectory. Learning and education become a part of the families’ DNA moving forward. When we look at research in education, we see a strong correlation between a child’s academic achievement and the educational attainment of the parent, particularly the mother. Adult education is an important piece of the puzzle, and when we combine children’s education with adult education, the impact is greater and stronger for families.  Children learn the value of education from seeing their parents achieve.

Many of the children who have been identified as underachieving come from families who have some of the biggest hurdles to overcome–generational poverty, language barriers, and a lack of academic support–to name a few. Parents and caregivers with low literacy rates have fewer employment opportunities and don’t have the tools to improve their situation. Improving literacy rates translates to developing a stronger workforce. As parents or caregivers achieve their educational goals, they become better candidates for jobs. NCFL has witnessed millions of families improve their education and economic attainment through family literacy. In NCFL family literacy programming, as parents work toward their academic goals, it has been demonstrated that they become more engaged in their children’s education.

The family literacy model NCFL deploys is producing dramatic results. Independent evaluations of family literacy programs have found:

  • Children whose parents help them learn to read score 10 points higher on standardized reading tests in contrast to those whose parents are less involved in their learning (NCFL research).
  • Children who attend family literacy programs have been shown to attend, on average, 16 more days of school each year (Detroit Family Literacy Programs).
  • Of the parents who participated in NCFL family literacy programming longer than six weeks, 56% reported they got a job or a better job. This is one demonstration of how NCFL family literacy programming translates into employability skills (NCFL research).

To impact lasting change, it’s time to invest in the entire family. Family literacy should be incorporated into existing safety net services. Educational efforts that embrace an intergenerational approach will fill the gap and lay a solid foundation for generations to come. Building a stronger family is building a stronger country.


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota Family Learning Program

Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, they invested in the organization’s Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to reach the 35.7 million adults ages 18-64 who do not have a high school diploma by guiding them to better-paying, more stable jobs.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994 to advance early literacy and learning resources for vulnerable families. Current efforts supported by PNC include a collaborative initiative in two at-risk Detroit communities that engages families to support vocabulary development for children under age 5.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website

Goodling Institute

NCFL has partnered with the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University since 2001, working collaboratively to further research, professional development, and policy efforts for family literacy and intergenerational learning.

The work of this partnership includes, but is not limited to, a strong research strand at NCFL's national annual convening, the Families Learning Summit; advocacy for family literacy and learning to further support for and inclusion of family-focused education in new and ongoing legislation; and dissemination of the latest research, resources, information, and professional development opportunities for literacy and learning practitioners and advocates, including the Certificate in Family Literacy provided by the Goodling Institute.

Learn more about the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University