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Sep 28, 2022 |
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The National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) today announces the launch of its Research Advisory Council (RAC), a group of 12 experts from across the U.S. supporting NCFL’s research and evaluation efforts that are crucial to spreading and scaling effective practices and programs rooted in the needs of children and families.

A group of 12 headshots of the Research Advisory Council with the text Introducing NCFL's Research Advisory Council

NCFL, a national nonprofit that works to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families, partners with community-based organizations, school districts, and other local entities in communities on initiatives where families develop their literacy and leadership skills. Independent evaluation of these initiatives over the last 30 years has identified positive outcomes for families who have participated in NCFL programming, such as higher school attendance for participating children, increased parent and family involvement in children’s education, and increased parent confidence in themselves as their child’s first and most important teacher.

This group of researchers will serve to advance a comprehensive agenda of family literacy, family engagement, and family leadership, as well as adult learning and emerging topics of interest for the field, that can inform essential policies to support the well-being of families nationwide. The expertise of RAC members spans a broad range of areas including adult education, children’s education, technology, economics, family policy, literacy, parent education, family well-being, research and evaluation methodology, data equity, family engagement, and school and community partnerships. Each member is well-published in the field and has demonstrated a focus on equity across their research and evaluation endeavors. Collectively, the group has helped secure at least $60 million in research and evaluation funding for their institutions.  

The members are: Dr. Lisa Gennetian, Duke University; Dr. Iheoma U. Iruka, University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and Equity Research Action Coalition; Dr. Kimberly Kelly, Michigan State University; Dr. Emily Markovich Morris, The Brookings Institution and Center for Universal Education; Dr. Kristen H. Perry, University of Kentucky; Dr. Shanette Porter, Student Experience Research Network; Dr. Esther Prins, Pennsylvania State University, Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy and Institute for Study of Adult Literacy; Dr. Beth Redbird, Northwestern University; Dr. John Sabbatini, University of Memphis; Dr. Steven Sheldon, Johns Hopkins University and Center for School, Family, and Community Partnerships; Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, Howard University and NAACP; and Dr. Blaire Toso, WestEd. Read more about the RAC members at

”Having a strong cadre of researchers to inform NCFL’s evaluation efforts ensures that we continue to meet the evolving needs of families, educators, and communities, and bridge a gap between research, evaluation, and practice,” says NCFL’s President and CEO, Dr. Felicia C. Smith. “The Research Advisory Council is an important step to help us meet NCFL’s vision of establishing coordinated and aligned family learning systems in 60 communities by 2030, built with and for families, to increase education and economic outcomes and create more equitable communities.”

“NCFL’s Board of Directors is committed to supporting and learning from our newly formed Research Advisory Council,” says Dr. Vikki Katz, who is a professor at Chapman University's School of Communication and a member of the NCFL Board. “Drawing on the expertise of this council's members will ensure NCFL stays apprised of cutting edge, cross-disciplinary research that will enhance our development of innovative practices to help children and families transform their communities.”

NCFL has a long history of bringing researchers together around critical topics in the field of family literacy, including the National Early Literacy Panel that convened in the aughts and served to conduct a synthesis of the scientific research on the development of early literacy skills in children ages zero to five. The output of the panel, a 2008 report titled “Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel,” continues to be referenced today to inform interventions, parenting activities, and instructional practices that promote the development of children’s early literacy skills.

Every year, NCFL dedicates a strand of learning content at our Families Learning Conference to research and policy in order to bridge theory to practice. Convening researchers and literacy practitioners for shared learning creates a cross-sector collaborative conversation that ultimately benefits families in communities. Dr. Esther Prins is participating in this year’s event, and additional RAC members will participate in the Families Learning Conference beginning in 2023. Details about this year’s event can be found at


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NCFL Partners

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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, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling 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 guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.

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, most recently in Louisville, Kentucky, to support Say & Play with Words, our pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative.

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

U.S. Department of Education

Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania. 

The SFECs work to support family engagement through state- and local-level agencies while providing both professional development to school districts and direct services to families related to children’s academic outcomes and overall well-being.

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education

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