Electronic reserve text: Ruth Nickse,
Update of "The Noises of Literacy"

"I didn't know literacy would be so noisy!"
(Quotation from a professional librarian)

The Context of Family and Intergenerational Literacy

This publication has several purposes: to report on the practice of family and intergenerational literacy and its development as one promising approach to the problem of illiteracy in the nation, to present a typology of generic program models and a discussion of their key components with examples from practice, and to offer recommendations for further research and development. It identifies issues and concerns and alerts readers to the potential of this new approach to educational service delivery.

family and intergenerational literacy programs are an emerging practice in education and a new area for research and development. The novelty is very exciting, but it poses particular problems in writing this overview, which is limited as time and space permit, given the proliferation of programs and the many agencies and organizations involved in separate efforts.


There is no centralized source for information about the topic. Much activity is at the program level and has not yet been published. However, there are major activities sponsored by agencies and organizations to promote the concept.

The programs surveyed in this report are sponsored publicly by federal programs in adult basic education, bilingual education, early childhood and elementary school education, and libraries, and privately through organizations and the corporate sector. In some instances and with increasing frequency, public and private partnerships, sponsored family and intergenerational literacy programs.

This publication necessarily focuses on trends rather than on specific programs, and it synthesizes information found in the existing literature from many different sources. It presents current discussions and updates and expands a prior study funded by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (Nickse 1989).

The intended audience for this work is broad, and it includes policy makers and program administrators who are interested in family education in several settings: in adult basic education, elementary schools, community agencies such as libraries, community-based programs, and corporations,


Whatever the setting, family and intergenerational literacy programs provide an opportunity to combine agendas of mutual importance: the improvement of adults' basic skills and children's literacy development. The decade of the 1990s holds the promise of the merger of activities to support healthy family development, including literacy. New collaborations are in evidence as the complex nature of this problem reveals itself. Literacy improvement is more than an individual pursuit; it is now a community goal. piecemeal efforts at literacy Irnpr4vement no longer seem adequate, and no one agency acting alone can expect to improve the literacy of a community (Nickse 1990a). The seriousness and seeming intractability of educational and social problems in the nation compel new projects that blur traditional separations and the perceived boundaries of home, school, and workplace.


The growing movement toward family and intergenerational literacy programs is represented by a collection of first generation programs located in several parallel, but rarely convergent, sectors.

Generally. the programs are new, service oriented, and non-theoretical, with differing perspectives and goals. Only a few have an empirical focus. Balkanization of programs is also an unfortunate fact. It isolates programs from each other to their detriment. This occurs because of traditional turf boundaries, custom, and habit. Although the stronger programs reach across sectors, it is often a difficult task

As family literacy becomes a legitimate field of education in its own right, interactions across sectors will be encouraged.

Programs have much to share as they initiate new and successful practices. Additionally, research and development in family literacy needs to occur within a multidisciplinary framework. An era of cooperation is required if measurable progress is to be made. Family and intergenerational literacy programs are based an concepts that, in theory and practice offer such an opportunity.

The Concept

Family and intergenerational literacy programs are organized efforts to improve the literacy of educationally disadvantaged parents and children through specially designed programs. They are based on the recognition that homes in which parents read and write tend to have children who also read and write. It is hoped that literacy development might be increased with "at-risk" populations when family and extended family members are involved together: research from several sources, to be reviewed briefly, would seem to support this hope. Although there are many variations in program design, there is a basic idea: educationally disadvantaged parents and children can he viewed as a learning unit and may benefit from shared literacy experiences (Nickse and Englander 1985a). Although the role of parents in programs is controversial, there is agreement about the importance of their involvement.

The family and intergenerational literacy idea, appeals to an audience of theorists and program designers in both public and private settings as well as to legislators, administrators, and policy makers, but at this early point, the anticipated outcomes are largely speculative. There is little evidence to date that expectations are confirmed iSticht 1989) but plenty of reason to persist (Sticht and McDonald 1989).

Definitions of Family and Intergenerational Literacy

In an emerging field, program names and titles are often selected in a haphazard manner, with little thought for the meaning conveyed to others; the result leads to some confusion in definitions. Although various authors may ascribe certain other criteria to distinguish program types from one another, there is at least one basic difference between "family" and "intergenerational" Literacy programs, in the most literal sense.

Not all programs that title themselves as "intergenerational" are "family" programs.

Some planners recognize that a variety of adults acting as reading models can have a positive impact on children's reading activities and they design programs to support this outcome. Strangers (that is, senior citizens and/or literacy tutors, high school students) may be paired for reading and other activities with children who are unrelated to them, in a corporate .setting, child care and elder care may exist within the same Facility, for


example at Stride Rite (n.d.), but the children and elders--are not necessarily family members. 'These programs are intergenerational, because participants span age groups.

By definition, "family" programs are both family and intergenerational because they target recruitment to immediate family parents, grandparents) or extended family members (aunts, uncles, caretakers, friends) and also span age groups.

Since research points to mothers' special importance in the development of literacy (Kirsch and Jungeblut 1986; Sticht 1989), targeting only mothers in "family" programs is common. This practice seems intentionally to restrict or omit fathers or father surrogates from participation even if they are present in 'he home.

"Mothers-only" practice may be less effective in the ions run than is anticipated (Walker and Crocker 1988). Some projects have been modestly successful at attracting fathers of their surrogates to family literacy activities and are increasingly trying to reach out to them by providing different types of events that are thought to appeal to men, for example, carpentry workshops or fishing trips.

Fatherhood projects such as that sponsored by AVANCE are promising (Barbara Bush Foundation 1989). This is an important effort, because research suggests that results may be more profound and lasting, if the whole family, however it is defined, is involved.

Sponsorship of Programs

The context for new types of Literacy initiatives is complex. The early development of and surge in family literacy programs has been a grassroots movement, formalized at the federal level within the last 5 or 6 years through different legislative initiatives in several

Federal Government

Major federal legislation supports a large share of current family literacy practice (Seibles 1990). Programs funded through these acts bring parents/adults and children together for learning. Seven significant statutes and their purposes are described In Table 1.


Three states supported pioneering experiments and reported early on intergenerational literacy projects: Massachusetts (Nickse and Englander 1985a), Pennsylvania (Askov 1987), and Kentucky, where the state legislature sponsored a comprehensive program (Parent and Child Education or PACE). State legislatures have continued to develop and support programs. For example, in Kentucky the legislature has expanded the PACE program to 34 sites (Heberle 1990). Illinois has sponsored 25 programs through its statewide Literacy Council (Illinois Literacy Resource Development Center 1990).

State legislatures can promote family literacy as well as fund it. In Mississippi, where general improvement of education is the goal, family literacy is an objective in a comprehensive plan to increase literacy statewide by the year 2001 (Mississippi Literacy Newsletter 1980). Hawaii has also initiated a comprehensive legislative initiative.


Table 1




Corporations initiate programs as part of corporate family care activities. Companies such as Stride Rite, a pioneer in child care for employees (Hiatt 1987; Kantrowitz and Picker 1990; Leibold 1990); Nissan (Daniels 1990; Nissan ad.); and Chrysler (1989) have begun family and intergenerational programs that provide, directly or indirectly, opportunities for literacy improvement for adults and children (Reading Is Fundamental 1990).

The Work in America Institute, inc. has assembled a five-part workplace family literacy curriculum kit for use with parents in employer- and union-sponsored employee assistance programs. Corporations may purchase one (or all) of the curriculum units (reading, math, science, the use of television for the development of thinking skills, and a parents' library) that promote family learning. Training for company trainers and technical assistance is also available. The purpose of the effort is to increase family literacy as well as to improve employees' skills (Business Council for Effective Literacy 1989; J. Darling 1990).


There is growing interest and activity in private organizations involved in family and intergenerational literacy programs. SER, Inc., a national organization for Hispanic people, is developing 111 Family Learning Center (FLC) programs in its 130 local affiliates across the United States. There are currently 42 FLC programs in operation. These programs use computer-assisted instruction for teaching both parents and children. Another program sponsored by this agency is SER Care Centers, which provide intergenerational activities attracting parents, children, and grandparents. There are now six SER Care Centers across the country, and more are planned, according to the staff (SER 1990),

Other community-based organi7~tions are also involved in family literacy initiatives. They implement literacy programs targeted at particular populations, for instance, low-income single mothers needing employment and basic skills training. Weaving a family literacy component into existing curriculum models is a particular concern of Wider Opportunities for Women (WO·W), which works nationally and in Washington, D.(3., through a network of 400 independent women's employment programs. WOW's mission is to help women and girls achieve economic independence and equality of opportunity (Beck 1988).

Unions have also begun initiatives in response to new concerns about family literacy. For instance, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, Sheet Ne5al Workers, and the UAW/Ford and UAW/GM Training Centers are among several organizations taking part in a pilot effort to help employee parents assist their children's learning. The program, called Linking Home and School through Workplace, is developed by the Work in America Institute (BCEL 1989).

The American Bar Association and the American Association of Retired Persons are developing projects, and other organizations support the idea of family literacy in publications and newsletters and through short-term events that publicize the concept. Many organizations have made considerable investments in adult literacy education in the past 5 years, and it is expected that family literacy will attract others as concern for families increases.



A prominent example of foundation sponsorship is the Kenan Trust Family Literacy Project. which has funded seven family literacy sites in North Carolina and in Louisville, Kentucky. The Kenan Trust also sponsors the National Center for Family Literacy in Louisville. The Center has three purposes: to promote public awareness through providing information, seminars, and planning services to policy makers, program administrators, and to document effects of its program through research; and to provide implementation assistance including and technical assistance to new existing program initiatives (News the National Center for Family Literacy 1989).

What is now known as the Kenan Trust Family Literacy Model" originated in Kentucky and is an elaboration of the earlier, and still existent, Parent and Child Education (PACE) program. Training in both models is done through the National Center for Family Literacy. PACE is replicated within the state of Kentucky, and adaptations of the Kenan Trust model exist at 52 sites in 27 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Both Canada and Australia have at least one site. Sharon Darling (1990), President of the National Center, estimates that around 1,300 families participated in a Kenan Trust program in the last year.

The mission of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, a public, non-profit organization with the First Lady as Honorary Chairperson, is threefold: to establish literacy as a value in every family in the United. States, to break the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy, and to support the development of family literacy programs. The Bush Foundation identifies programs that work, awards grants, provides seed money for community planning, supports teacher training and development, encourages participation, and publishes materials. In September 1990, the Foundation awarded its first grants. About 10 programs, one in each educational region of the country, representing diverse program models, were funded to a maximum award of $50,000. The Foundation plans to continue grants to these programs based on performance.

The MacArthur Foundation has sponsored several projects, including a corporate effort through the Work in America Institute, it also contributes to the evaluation of the Illinois Family Literacy Projects. It supports a national project administered by Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) to improve the literacy skills of women who head families.

The Rockefeller Foundation sponsors an intergenerational literacy project in five sites across the country targeted at single working mothers and their children. Cosponsored by WOW, its conference on literacy in the marketplace attracted hundreds of participants and produced an excellent report on the improvement of literacy for low-income single mothers (WOW 1989).

Volunteer Literacy Organizations

Volunteer literacy organizations have also begun involvement in family and intergenerational literacy programs. Often these are sponsored by grants from companies or foundations. Training modules for tutors and special materials for family reading art developed. For example, GTE Corporations has given a grant of $130,000 to Literacy Volunteers of America to establish the GTE Family Literacy Program in six cities where GTE provides telephone services. The program uses GTE employees as tutors to teach parents and other caregivers who are deficient in reading to read to their children.


Six to eight sessions in this subject are given to small groups of learners who then are encouraged to continue literacy training.

Laubach Literacy International and Literacy Volunteers of America' have received a joint grant of $125,000 from the Coors Family Literacy Foundation to conduct a major national training of trainers during 1990. Through this joint project, it is expected that a total of 100,900 new learners will be reached (Literacy Volunteers of America Inc.).

Clearly, sponsorship of family and intergenerational literacy programs rs not confined to any particular public or private agency or legislative act. It is a concept that is adaptable at the local program or community level, by statewide legislative mandate, or through federal statutes, The practice takes many forms; however, there are general expectations for the efforts.

Expectations for Programs

Family and intergenerational literacy programs attract attention as a sensible idea because they seem "natural" to people who are readers. There is something immediate!y familiar about the ads that encourage people to read to and with children, We remember the joy we felt when reading to our own children, and, as children ourselves, in being read to by our families Nickse 1990c). This natural appeal also lends itself to the notion that teaching literacy through reading to children is easy, that anyone can do it. This is potentially a problem--nor all who want to be involved have the skills or temperament to be effective, and they may need supervision by professionals in adult basic education and reading if the desired outcome--increased family literacy--is to be achieved (Nickse and Paratore 1988).

Long-term goals for programs include a break in the cycle of intergenerational illiteracy, and, additionally, multiple and separate goals for adults (greater success in parenting, education, training, and employment) and for children (increased achievement in school, fewer school drop-outs, and a literate work force for the future). Less widely expressed is the short-term goal wished for by administrators--that these combined programs may save money because they may be more effective and less expensive than the present dual system that teaches literacy to adults and children separately. For corporations, the expectations include recognition of their interest and sensitivity to the changing work force, an increased acknowledgement of the need for workplace literacy, and employee skill improvement.

The reader may now be asking a legitimate question. What is the problem? Why are such a variety of sponsors willing to invest resources and make commitments to an untested idea? For the most part, although there is strong theoretical evidence to support their effectiveness, there is little empirical evidence to support these investments. However, new programs continue to emerge.

The Pressures of Contemporary Society

Educational changes are often slow to be adopted; yet the notion of intergenerational and family programs seems to have bad a rapid acceptance by various sponsors across diverse sectors, despite little evidence to support their worth. Why have both public and private agencies and organizations stepped on this bandwagon with such enthusiasm? The answer lies in a combination of issues that confront the nation. These include growing concerns in communities for the improvement of


adult literacy and literacy of families, young children's and teens' school success, the health and stability of families, the strength and cohesion of neighborhoods, and the economic health, competitiveness, and preservation of our standard of living. Consider these effects of poverty, for example:

One in five children lives in poverty and their numbers have grown over the last decade. Although the majority are white, nearly half of Black children live in poverty.

In 1986, 4.5 million women were in the work force yet living in poverty, and more than half had children The median annual income for such a full-time working mother was $7,056-- significantly below the official poverty threshold of $8,737 for a family of three or $11,203 for a family of four. (National Commission on Working Women 1988).

Poverty is a risk factor associated with a variety of negative outcomes. Poor children face a greater risk of malnutrition, recurrent and untreated health problems, child abuse, educational disability, low achievement, and school drop cut. (Goodson, Swartz, and Millsap 1490)

Workplace concerns also contribute to the dialogue about the needs of women and children. Policy makers and educators believe that family and intergenerational literacy programs may be a vehicle for assisting families in coping with the stress they face. In the workplace, several significant challenges must be met. There is a need for workers to increase their basic skills to accommodate technological improvements in production. Changing family structures with more single parents, especially mothers, as primary caretakers and breadwinners intersect with the lack of a national policy on day care, which exacerbates the pressure particularly on women who need to work for economic reasons. in X988, only 4,150 companies, out of 6 million, provided child care assistance to their employees (National Commission on Working Women 1990).

Within corporate organizations, there are other issues to face. The slow growth and aging of the labor pool supports the need to make good use of every employee. Long-overdue changes in attitudes and practices have contributed to the increased employment of women and rninorities. The-need to improve the skills of the work force parallels the increasing opportunity (in part because of changing demographics) to hire nontraditional workers (women and minorities) and to find ways to integrate them into management. Yet the feminization of the workplace brings with it new challenges that must be faced. Here are some revealing statistics:

In 1989, 68 percent of all women in the U.S. labor force aged 16 to 64 were working for pay. Fifty-six million women were either working or looking for work; women workers made up over 45 percent of the total labor 74.5 percent were employed full time.

The majority of women workers remain in the labor force during their childbearing years; in 1988, 65 percent of all women with children under 18 were in the label forcer 56 percent of mothers with children under age 6 and 74 percent of mothers with children aged 6-17 were in the labor force.

In 1989, 62 percent of Black, 48 percent of Hispanic, and 70 percent of white female heads of families were in the labor force; 53 percent of Black families, 52 percent of Hispanic


families, and 28 percent of white families maintained by working women had incomes below the poverty level.

Thus, there are pressures from several directions, both societal and within organizations, that appear overwhelming. Threats seem constant (Grubb and Lazerson 1982), and the search for solutions is ever more frantic. Together, these concerns form a core of challenges that is multifaceted, complex, and interrelated. Although a common approach has been to address each separately and one at a time through assorted agencies with specialized functions. this strategy may need rethinking. We need to profit from this past experiment, not replicate it for the framework of family literacy.

For instance, there is evidence that interventions aimed at discrete age groups (children, youth, adults) show little or no gains in cognitive development that are sustained over time (Sticht and McDonald 1989). There is a small movement in local service delivery toward a more holistic organization of services to beleaguered families, evidence of cooperation and collaboration not frequently paralleled in agencies at the state or federal levels. This comes not the least from a recognition that many services are directed to the same families in an uncoordinated fashion.

Family and intergenerational literacy programs provide a vehicle for more coordinated policy and practices to aid educationally and economically disadvantaged citizens and workers. However, if comprehensive programs are not necessarily quicker or less expensive despite fervent wishes to get "bigger bangs for the bucks," perhaps they will be more effective. There are few quick fixes or really cheap ways to improve the literacy of adults and children--this seems painfully clear. Prevention of low literacy is less expensive, economically and psychologically, than costly remediation.

Motivations for Family
Literacy Programs

Are we correct in making these commitments? Why do we think this approach may work? Sponsors share some common assumptions. There is something appealing about the idea of adults and children reading together. It makes good common sense. Family literacy seems as though it should work--it worked for us and our children, who are all readers, right? The notion that people should read and, furthermore, enjoy it and bold positive attitudes about literacy is common It is assumed by the middle class, a niche occupied by most educational program designers, that these are shared behaviors and values, common across cultures. Only recently have we begun to learn that this is not so true. There are several mitigating factors.

First, many adults with low literacy development do not have the technical skills for reading and writing; some do not know that reading to children, modeling reading behaviors, and encouraging reading are good for children and appropriate parental behavior; others cannot afford books and do not frequent libraries (Nickse and Englander 1985a). Second, in homes where poor economic and health conditions prevail or homelessness is a.factor, where instabilities caused by extreme burdens of social and economic problems intrude, reading to children is neither a habit nor a priority. All programs designed to increase family literacy have to be aware that low literacy is often an economic problem as well as an educational challenge, and that in the pantheon of priorities, adequate housing, nutrition, and income directly affect individuals'


abilities to learn or their interest in learning. No matter how carefully crafted, the success of family and intergenerational literacy programs is offset by persistent poverty (Rodriguez and Cortez 1988). There are limitations to educational solutions to social and economic problems. Mindful of these caveats, efforts to improve family literacy are promising.

The political appeal of intergenerational and family programs is evident at the federal, state, and local levels because the family is the focus of substantial concern at each level. Current political activities to craft some son of child care bill, still being debated in Congress show a willingness to discuss this concern and also the inability of Congress to pass such legislation. Congress was unable to override a Presidential veto of the Family and Medical Leave legislation in 1994 which speaks to the reluctance of the nation to attempt to resolve these matters. Yet it is estimated that about two-thirds of Americans support some sort of child care and parental leave bill. Caution prevails among legislators, despite mounting support from many organizations. The lack of parental leave benefits is estimated to cost U.S. workers and taxpayers more than $700 million per year in lost wages and public assistance payments (National Commission on Working Women 1990). Although there are lobbies for the elderly, there is no lobby yet for families, although the need is great.

Debates about the nature of U.S. families by both moderates and conservatives cite family breakdowns linked to a glut of social pathologies: child abuse, juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy, and a diminished work ethic (Grubb and Lazerson 1982). According to these authors. the central dilemma is the following: if the state must assume some responsibilities for children, how can it discharge these when child rearing is still considered a private responsibility? The question is relevant to the topic because it underlines a critical issue in the design of dual literacy programs. How can professionals enhance the well-being of families and children without diluting parental control, which contributes to feelings of powerlessness? Further, how can designers of family and intergenerational literacy programs respect cultural differences while changing them through improved literacy? This is a sensitive question with no easy answer.

Weiss, Hausman, and Seppanen (1988) write that the political climate is changing from wariness and reluctance about getting involved with so-called "family business" to the support of preventive interaction. The trend is evident. Concern about the family is the subject of general debates and more specific discussions about the role of family in welfare and education reform and efforts to prevent abuse and neglect. Carefully contoured and evaluated family and intergenerational literacy programs may be a means to prevent the cycle of intergenerational illiteracy and one key element in ameliorating family stress.

Who Benefits?

The question of who benefits from a family or intergenerational literacy agenda is, because of the modest amount of research information on impacts and outcomes, largely speculative now. Large-scale evaluations over time, for example, that of the Even Start projects, are just getting started, However, it is instructive to choose a setting and hypothesize a scenario. Although the benefits detailed here have occurred to date through child care settings, they may suggest some positive effects from a family literacy focus.


Using the workplace as an example, imagine the possible actors who might benefit from a family Literacy focus at work sites within corporations. The family as a whole benefits, because a family program at this convenient location otters stable child care for employees who need it. If, in addition, the program has intertwined with its high quality preschool activities a family literacy focus, there is a convenient linkage to its workplace adult basic skills education program. Parents involved in reading to and with their children are learning of their own importance to their child's eventual school success, are engaged in an enjoyable activity as a parent, and are increasing their own literacy skills. They are doing this during the work day, perhaps during lunch, and sometimes are learning to do this on work time (J. Darling 1990).

The corporation benefits because onsite day care increases the attractiveness of the job to employees and the commitment of employees to work goals. Freed from constant worry about sitters and the quality of child care for youngsters, employee motivation and morale increase through a company policy that acknowledges the importance of being a parent and acts upon this to create a useful program. Absenteeism and turnover are reduced, and so is time lost in making and maintaining child care arrangements. Such peace of mind may increase job involvement and the intrinsic worth of the job to the employee, and that, in turn, of the employee to the corporation.

This ripple effect has both short-term and long-term consequences. In the short term, it increases the literacy skills of the employee; in the long term, it contributes to the literacy capital of the family and helps ensure that the next generation of workers is better prepared for life on and off the job. After all, it is only 16 short years before today's preschool child becomes tomorrow's worker, An early investment in the child's day care and literacy assistance for the family may result in better school achievement and a more successful future for the child as a competent manager.

In most corporations this scenario is just a pipe-dream. for a few others it is not an impossibility. Commitment is the vital ingredient.


Family and intergenerational literacy programs are developed to increase the literacy of educationally disadvantaged adults and their preschool and school-aged children, Programs are varied in administration and design, are in the first generation, and are sponsored by a variety of different agencies and initiatives; thus, they are difficult to identify. No one knows the number of programs in existence.

Family and intergenerational literacy programs may be locally initiated and administered, sponsored by states through special or existing legislation, or federally sponsored. A few are private-sector funded an foundation supported or are corporate efforts. Most programs are service oriented and non-theoretical, and they are run on a trial-and-error basis. Only a few are experimental or demonstration projects with an empirical focus, The programs are for the most part small and new, they have different perspectives and goals, and they are in sectors with separate literatures, They respond to different organizational mandates, so it is difficult to locate information about them or to classify them, although this paper attempts to do so.

Expected program outcomes for parents include greater success in parenting,


education, training, and employment; and for children, increased achievement in
school, fewer school dropouts, and a literate work force for the future. Although there is strong theoretical evidence to support their effectiveness, there is only modest empirical evidence to date that these expected outcomes will actually he achieved.


(There is no text on p. 14 in the print version)


The Research Base

Although there is little evidence to date to support the benefits of family Literacy programs because research-based programs are few, there are modest and positive effects reported in the new literature now being published. These findings are based on relatively unsophisticated evaluations from a limited number of programs--one of the problems faced by this investigator in determining their impact. Yet the concept of family literacy is Tooted firmly in a substantial base of research from related but diverse fields. Studies in adult literacy, emergent literacy, cognitive sciences, early childhood development and education, and family systems theory support the soundness of a family education approach. The following section outlines some contributions of these broad areas that justify the development of carefully-designed family and intergenerational literacy programs.

Adult Literacy Education

The need to improve adult literacy is well known. It is documented in books (Hurman 1987; Kozol 1985), in survey research (Kirsch and Jungeblut 1986), in reviews of literature (Sticht 1989), in review of practice (Fingeret 1984), in resource books (French 1987), in newsletters (Business Council for Effective Literacy 1986-1990). and in countless articles and the popular press. Unfortunately, years of neglect and fragmented responsibility at the federal level have left adult basic education struggling for resources and for professional status. Now, when the need for both service and research is greatest, the national "system" for adult literacy education is found to be what it is, a cottage industry, with no strong research base. Evaluation of the effectiveness of adult literacy programs in 'general is an undervalued process that needs to be strengthened.

Chisman C1989), in a controversial report, points to the crude state of our knowledge of effective adult literacy instruction and administration and offers a plan for federal leadership to rectify this. He describes the adult literacy knowledge base as sparse and the field of basic skills education as "institutionally and politically weak and fragmented." The passage of the Literacy for All Americans Act (LAAA) shelved by Congress in 1990 would have considerably improved the federal role in literacy services. Many of its provisions were adapted from suggestions and recommendations in the Chisman report, which was developed with input from a large group of adult basic educators across the country.

Related research that is relevant to family literacy is found in the literature of adult education. In the absence of substantive empirical evidence on how adults learn to read, there are persistent efforts, often by experts in the children's reading field, to extrapolate from the known (research on children's literacy development); to the unknown (adult literacy development). The most comprehensive review of adult literacy education to date has been reported by Sticht (1989). Although his report also decries the abject state of adult literacy education, it offers a very


useful review of research in adult reading development. Sticht states:

History ... reveals a "crisis mentality" toward the literacy education of adults that has hindered the development of a cadre of professionals trained in adult literacy education and a body of research-based knowledge about the development of literacy in adulthood. Too often understandings of literacy education derived from experience with children in elementary schools are applied to the literacy education of adults, with disastrous effects. (p. 62)

These include misidentification of adult literacy skills and the development of programs inappropriate for adults' life context. Research, policy, and practice, now decidedly different and separate, should bring together adults' and children's literacy development and seek some unified theory of cognitive growth for both adults and children (Sticht 1989). There is a need for more research on the relationship of parents' literacy and children's emergent literacy.

If.parents themselves have literacy problems, what effect can this have on their children? Overall, researchers have found that parents' education affects how well their children achieve--the intergenerational effect that begins and often maintains a cycle of low literacy. Sum and Taggert (forthcoming) found that an extra grade level of attainment for the mother when the father's education, race, and region of the country were constant-was associated with an extra half-grade equivalent of achievement for her children. This is a compelling argument for equal priority on education for parents, Family education programs that enlist parent participation to increase children's chances for success, but do not provide, literacy instruction for parents, might well heed this finding.

A study of literacy in young adults (Kirsch and Jungeblut 1986) found that the mother's educational attainment was positively associated with mean test scores of participants on four literacy scales. Adults whose mothers completed some postsecondary education had mean test scores a full standard deviation above those of respondents whose mothers had not graduated from high school.

Poorly educated parents may have limited vocabularies that may inhibit vocabulary development in children. Since language development and skills are related to cognitive ability, the way that parents speak, directly to children rather than at or past them, can affect children's language and, later, the development of the reading and writing skills, the "school literacies" necessary for school success. The "noises of literacy" refer to appropriate and constant social and verbal interchanges in homes and communities between parents and children that provide the early basis for later social and intellectual development. Not only are the social interactions important for developing literacy in children but adult literacy itself is also supported within social networks (Fingeret 1983).

According to Berlin and Sum (1988), few people realize the critical role that basic skills deficiencies play in stubborn social problems of teenage parenting, youth joblessness, school drop out, welfare dependency, and the decline in work force productivity growth. Their report demonstrates that, compared with young people with above average basic skills, those in the bottom 20 percent were nine times more likely to drop out of school prior to graduation, eight times more likely to become mothers out of wedlock, and four times more likely to become welfare


dependent. Moreover, these authors continue, in an interdependent world economy the skills of the nation's work force become an important determinant of industry's competitive position, workers' real wages, and the overall standard of living. Literacy and basic skills bear a distinct relation to the future well-being of workers, families, firms, and the country.

Although we may not know yet bow best to teach adults to read, there is evidence that intergenerational and family programs retain adult students longer (Heatbington, Boser, and Satter 1981; Nickse, Speicher, and Bucheck 1988). This finding is encouraging, because adult new readers need extensive instruction and practice if skill levels are to be increased to an effective literacy level: some say 12th grade is not too high a goal. For low literate adults, this may take 6 to 8 years or more of intense, professionally supervised instruction. If the motivation to improve literacy is increased by dual programs, retention of both adults and children in educational programs may increase "time on task" and, therefore, have a positive impact on measures of success. If parents' educational skills are improved at the same time as children's, long-term positive outcomes seem plausible, in sum, research findings from a variety of sources lend credibility to the importance of adult literacy education and to educated parents as one key to improved family literacy.

Emergent Literacy

Research in emergent literacy establishes the importance of literate parents in the development of children's literacy. If parents are not literate for their own sake, there is much evidence that they need a degree of literacy for their children's achievement--the more, presumably, the better. Emergent literacy represents a new perspective that stresses that legitimate, conceptual and developmental literacy occurs during the first years of a child's life (Sulzby and Teale 1987; Teale 1986). A review by Mason and Allen (1986) examines the current knowledge of emergent literacy and integrates it with more traditional studies on reading acquisition, with implications for research and practice in reading. These authors have also contributed a valuable book on reducing the risks for young literacy learners, with several articles in the publication targeted on the role of the family in literacy development (Alien and Mason 1989).

The field of emergent literacy studies oral language, story-listening comprehension, and error patterns in early attempts to read and write. A less narrow focus than analysis of letter and word recognition, emergent literacy also involves tracing community and home influences on reading and writing. Briefly, the importance of the social context of literacy is emphasized, noting that the value of literacy is not the same for all members of a society. "Family characteristics, including academic guidance, attitude towards education, aspirations of parent for child, conversations in the home, and reading materials and cultural activities, contribute more directly to early reading achievement and account for considerably more variance than socioeconomic status" (Mason and Alien 1986). According to a widely quoted report sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education; "parents are their children's first and most influential teachers. What parents do to help their children learn-is more important to academic success than bow well-off the family is" (Anderson et al. 1985).

There is much evidence that the ways children learn about language and books are embedded in family communication patterns; parent-child literacy events in middle-class homes include structured


interactions with questioning, comments about the children's experience, and labeling. Preschoolers enjoy bedtime stories; read cereal boxes, stop signs, and ads, sing alphabet songs; and experience a variety of opportunities to use language in interaction with adults. In many working class Black and white homes, parent-child literacy events are less frequent or absent, with other forms of verbal behavior the norm. These forms are dissimilar from the "school literacy" that the children experience and are expected to know when they begin formal education. They're unprepared at the start to cope with it, having learned a different kind of literacy at home and in their communities (Heath 1983, 1989; Heath and Branscombe 1985).

Taylor and Dorsey-Gaines (1988) have written eloquently about the uses of literacy in inner-city life. They argue that myths and stereotypes about poor families abound, and they charge scholars first to examine their own assumptions about families and children before they accept the idea that education and literacy are interchangeable. In their study, poor but literate parents were engaged in a wide variety of literacy-related activities in their homes and with their children. The authors urge changes in classroom practice that would legitimize the literacy learning of the children and build on their personal images of themselves as literate learners,

Studies of homes in which poor parents with low levels of literacy raise their children need more examination to understand the role that literacy plays in these environments. Further, studies of families who are aliterate but not poor would also contribute to our understanding of this complex subject. Although ethnographic research in family settings is difficult to conduct, the information gathered is valuable if appropriate interventions are to be designed.

The social context of literacy in the interaction between children and adults in homes and communities has it profound and early impact on children's early literacy development. Intervention now for prevention of school failure later is the guiding theme from this research. This is why early childhood family literacy projects are so important for families in communities where "school literacies" are either unknown or undervalued and not practiced, Unfortunately, there are few of these in existence (Dickinson 1988; Goodson, Swartz, and Millsap 1990; Sticht and McDonald 1989). However, the new Even Start federal legislation is designed to increase the number of programs that stress family literacy.

Cognitive Science

In the skeins of research that have implications for the value of intergenerational and family literacy programs, research from the area of cognitive science is potentially of most profit and least well known. The impressive case for this perspective and its direct relationship to the development of i8tergenerational educational programs is argued provocatively by Sticht and McDonald (1989). A multidisciplinary and relatively new area of science, cognitive science changes and increases our understanding of how learning takes place. If more widely understood and practiced, it seems promising as a major component in the design of effective educational interventions.

Cognitive science aids understanding of the interaction of both knowledge and context in the facilitation of learning and its transfer to other settings. It posits that knowledge and information-processing skills are socially developed and distributed within society both in and out of school and that cognitive ability is shaped significantly by the culture and society into


which the child is born and reared. Social groups direct the cognitive development of members through values placed on the learning of skills and provide the motivation for the kinds of learning valued by them. The value of school-based, formal education, and individuals' success in acquiring it, it follows, is a product of the belief system of the group. Although the importance of individuals' intellectual inheritance is not overlooked, individual achievement can be inhibited or enhanced by these external factors. The group itself can embrace new values, thus passing them on to their children. However, culture is an important limiting factor in behavioral malleability (Slaughter 1988), and human beings change slowly. Program planners and evaluators must work with this knowledge and with respect for both families and traditions.

Within this framework, Sticht and McDonald (1989) present three themes that reflect understanding of the minimal success of previous educational interventions and the promise of future programs based in cognitive science: (1) a need to attend to the cross-generational" consequences of programs, (2) a need to recognize and incorporate the social nature of cognitive development, and (3) a need to attend to the contexts in which programs are implemented and evaluated. These themes have direct impact on understanding the necessity for diverse family literacy programs and the importance of the use of non-school, social networks in homes, communities, and work-sites. Library and workplace settings, community centers, clubs, and churches are a few examples of sites where social networks thrive. Their contributions to family literacy and cognitive development need to be fostered.

Early Childhood Development

Related work in early childhood development reinforces the need for family literacy programs. Those who study the impact of poverty on early childhood development (Parker, Greer, and Zuckerman 1988) note that, in a low socioeconomic status (SES) environment, more risk factors for adverse behavioral and developmental outcomes me likely to be present--including increased stress. maternal depression, and diminished social support. These factors affect the quality of the home environment and the parent-child interaction, which, in turn, influence the child.

Chronic stress (for example, unemployment and a lack of material goods) and maternal depression are associated with adverse consequences for parents and children, either directly or indirectly. Maternal depression is associated with a number of negative developmental outcomes for children (such as sleep problems, depression, and socially isolating behaviors at school age). It is a higher risk factor for low SES mothers of young children. More positively, the presence of adequate social support for families is associated with a more stimulating and appropriate home environment for the child. It exerts its influence an children by providing them with a widened social network, emotional support, and stimulation. Parents benefit from access to positive role models, external monitoring of their child-rearing practices, and emotional support from interactions with others. Early intervention is effective for children at biologic or environmental risk.

Although family literacy programs cannot make up for extreme deficits in the environment that lead to increased stress, well-designed programs can be helpful. They can provide social support, the lack of which has been found to be a greater


risk factor for families living in poverty, particularly for single parents who are especially susceptible to social isolation.

Maternal depression perhaps can be addressed sensitively in parenting education classes. Again, family literacy programs cannot be expected to alter basic social and economic problems faced by participant families; however, airing distress in a mutually supportive setting with counseling available may provide a sense of sharing and reduce isolation. Effective interventions can honestly confront topics such as parental stress and depression and their effects on children as worthy of discussion.

Preschool and Elementary Education

This field provides some related research of value to family literacy efforts. For example, evaluations of family education programs that worked with parents of young children report positive short-term effects on the children, measured by standardized achievement tests (Goodson and Hess 1976). Bronfenbrenner (1974) notes that early intervention is more effective when parents are involved in the program.

Dickinson (1988) cites studies in several topic areas on the value of parent involvement in schools, on effective child-rearing patterns, on paired reading experiments in England (particularly the work of Tizard and the Haringey project) and the links to children's school achievement (Tizard, Schofield, and Hewison 1982). Dickinson notes some results that bear on family literacy programs, particularly the difficulties in helping parents to change their belief systems (conceptual changes) and to think and act in new ways about child development. A further problem involves helping parents to continue positive behaviors once taught them, and to help them develop new strategies that are age appropriate as their children grow. Effective family literacy programs can teach specific behaviors while providing the rationale for them, which seems an effective technique. However, it appears that long-term interventions may be necessary to make new behaviors and altitudes stick

According to Dickinson, multicomponent strategies, those that initiate a wide range of activities for adults and children seem to have the most significant effects on children's progress. impediments to parent involvement in children's education include structural tensions around the roles of teacher and mother--stereotypes that interfere with learning--and conflicts around power relationships between parents and educators. From another perspective, parental involvement in children's education is reviewed by Topping (1986), who notes that, "despite the great upsurge of interest in parents as educators, and the development of many new initiatives of proven worth, it seems that there are many parts of the school system that the news has yet to reach" (p. 21). Family literacy programs wishing to involve parents successfully need to clarify roles of parents and staff and create links to the public school system.

Regarding evaluations of program success, Dickinson and others (Weiss and Jacobs 1988) warn of the problem of identifying relationships between program-induced maternal behaviors and child outcomes and of the difficulty of establishing causal relationships, a caution to be noted when evaluation of family literacy programs is undertaken

Family Systems Theory

Another area of research germane to family and intergenerational literacy programs is that of family systems theory. The following concepts are taken from an article by Walker and Crocker (1988).


From this perspective, the family system is defined as "any social unit with which an individual is intimately involved, unlimited by generational or physical boundaries."

Families are governed by sets of family rules, spoken or unspoken, that are unique to each. A primary objective is maintaining the stability (homeostasis) of the family unit (thus the possible difficulty of changing family literacy behaviors) and the idea of recursive causality. This means that children shape family life and influence parental behaviors at least as much as the family influences children. Effective interactions 'between parent and children are fostered through parent-child activities in family literacy programs.

Further, families exist in the context of neighborhoods, communities, and religious groups; relationships with these systems will affect the family's response to a program intervention. According to Coleman (19&7), communities have "social capital"--the norms, social networks, and relationships between adults and children that are of value for the child's growing up. When social capital is present, civic, moral, and functional literacies are improved. Self-concept, attitudes, and motivations to succeed in school and as adults are enhanced. When social capital is low, so are literacies.

Many family programs that serve "families" are designed only for children and mothers. This focus on a subset of the family reduces the likelihood of success, according to Walker and Crocker. Although it is not always practical to include all family members (fathers, significant others, elders) in an intervention, administrators need to be aware of the degree to which a program's goals are consistent with the values of those in the " family. Without a contextualized approach, an individual family member's progress can be undermined by others. This fact probably has a lot to do with the high attrition rate from adult basic education; attendance may be disparaged, even forbidden, by influential family members (Nickse 1990b). Hostility and aggression, from nonparticipating family members against those who participate is not uncommon. For family Literacy programs, the implications are clear: the more members involved the better. Specific events for the entire "family" group--however "family" is defined by participants-such as potluck dinners, holiday parties, and outings, must be part of programming for maximum effectiveness.

Parents' Roles in Children's Literacy Development

Not only are the home and community environment important to developing literacy, but parents also play specific roles in children's literacy development. Parents are undeniably children's first teachers. Research evidence supports at least four areas where they affect children's reading achievement. Parents create a literacy-rich environment supplied with books and everyday materials, share reading and writing activities, daily exhibit the naturalness of literacy in their own lives as reading models, and demonstrate positive attitudes toward education (Nickse 1990c; Nickse, Speicher, and Bucheck 1988).

Pioneering work in the field of children's reading established the importance of parents reading to children. In studies of early readers Durkin (1966) found that, although 1Q, sex, and socioeconomic class were not significant in explaining differences between children, every early reader bad been read aloud to, had had literacy-related questions answered, had parents who read for pleasure, and had been provided with writing materials. Replications of this study by other researchers in the United States and other countries


(Canada, Australia and Israel) have confirmed this finding (Radecki 1987).

Sadly, there are homes that do not encourage young children's literacy development. Here, children not only miss the "literacy coddling" of their parents, they may grow up in environments where writing and reading are peripheral and peripherally valued activities (Stahl, Osborn, and Lehr 1990). These children miss the thousands of hours of storybook reading experienced by more fortunate children before they enter school, and thus may also miss critical steps such as learning the alphabet and mastering the skill of phonemic segmentation learned from storybook time. Research in homes of 22 preschool children found that literacy events averaged less than 2 minutes per day for some children and there were others for whom there was no storybook reading at all (Teale 1986). Children who miss story-book time often start formal schooling as less prepared pre-readers.

Compelling too is the evidence that parents' educational level, particularly mothers', is related to children's school achievement. Children's performance on various Literacy tests across age groups (from 9-25 years) and across ethnic groups (Black, white, and Hispanic) confirms the importance of parents' and especially mothers', educational level (Sticht 1989). In many ways, then, parents' own literacy achievement is critical, to that of their children. In middle-class homes these are such normal behaviors and attitudes we are all but unconscious of them; they are embedded as routine in our lives. For a variety of economic, social, and educational reasons, low-literacy, poor parents have a more difficult time in establishing the conditions for their children; family and intergenerational literacy programs can help. Low-literate parents can be positive and supportive models for their children, helping them in many ways to achieve school success (Clark 1983). Family literacy programs can offer concrete suggestions to parents who are eager to help their children but are unsure of how to do this successfully.

Cultural Differences

Immigration is changing the face of communities across the country. Among the newcomers to the United States are many families that have been displaced from their homelands. As they settle into their new country, they face formidable challenges, not the least of which is learning the English language. According to a Census Bureau survey (Bliss 1986)-

· 37 percent of adults classified as illiterate do not speak English at home;

82 percent of adults classified as illiterate were born outside the United States;

21 percent entered the country within the last 6 years;

42 percent live in neighborhoods where English speaking does not predominate; and up to 86 percent of non-English speakers illiterate in English may be illiterate in their native language.

Since many intergenerational and family programs serve Black, Hispanic, and Asian minorities, insights into the particular challenges of working with families that are culturally different are critical to program success. Slaughter (1988) writes specifically about programs for Black families: "Too often we have not asked ourselves what we know, historically and culturally, about the families we intend to serve and what wt need to know in order


to design programs effectively for them. At best, we have relied on a few informants in the immediate community rather than conducting systematic studies ... about the group" @p. 467-468), This admonition applies as will to work with Hispanic and Asian families.

American families are more diverse than uniform in their content, structure, and organization. Since this diversity is one of the country's strengths, program developers need to work harder to know more of the specifics about the communities and neighborhoods that are home to program participants. This is especially true in Family Literacy programs.

Slaughter and others (Weiss, Hausman, and Seppanen 1988) urge a cultural-ecological mode for family support programs; this perspective should guide family literacy programs as well. Culturally consonant intergenerational and family programs are the ideal. Participator program design is an excellent approach that involves parents in planning thus going a long way to ensure that their concerns are incorporated.

Some family literacy programs are sensitive to cultural differences; others try to overlook or ignore them, possibly to the detriment of both participants and the program. Such ignorance may contribute to high dropout from traditional adult literacy programs, estimated at between 30 and 50 percent (Balmuth 1986).

Family education programs in the field of early childhood show sensitivity to family characteristics and differences in a number of ways (Goodson, Swartz, and Millsap 1990):

Translating materials and using bilingual staff

Hiring program staff who are similar to the parents in background, race, and/or ethnicity

Varying curricula and teaching approaches far different cultural groups

Making curricular agendas flexible to accommodate family circumstances

Programs that involve parents in participatory curriculum development celebrate cultural differences as well as empower parents.

Changing skills, attitudes, and behaviors at a family level is a complex matter, and the parents' authority and competence must be respected. Since child-rearing practices are strongly shaped by community values, sensitivity to cultural differences is especially important in family programs. Staff are often faced with family problems and practices that are unfamiliar--supportive and nonjudgmental attitudes work best Group discussions help parents and staff to express their own values while learning different points of view. From another perspective, adult students are more vulnerable in family literacy programs. More of their life-styles may be revealed than in traditional programs, as well as intimate details about family practices (Nickse 1990b). Their trust must not be violated.

Corporate Concerns

Child care and rider care ape two increasing worries of employees, and what worries workers affects their employers. This is a national trend and there is strong evidence that care obligations tend to increase employees' time out of office, excessive phone use, tardiness, worry, and loss of sleep. These concerns affect productivity, which is the bottom line lot employers. Some surprising facts:


At the Stride Rite Corporation, a 1988 survey indicated that about 25 percent of the workers had some responsibility for an aging parent, and another 13 percent expected to face the issue in the next 5 years.

By the year 2000, almost half the employees in the work force will be providing child care, elder care, or both. Now, about 40 percent of the work force is involved.

Studies show that employees tend to lose 5 days per year on average because of problems in providing care for members of the family.

The lack of child care in businesses costs the U.S. economy about 55 billion a year. jeopardizing economic growth as more women are needed to enter the work force.

What causes corporations to provide child care services to employees? For a company with concerns about equal opportunity decreasing turnover and absenteeism and increasing productivity, and building

a positive image in the community, providing child care is a sensible choice. Without adequate child care today, tomorrow's work force will have handicaps to learning that will affect their job performance..

Child care is no longer just a family matter: the delivery of high quality day care to low-income working parents is a broad societal issue. Family literacy programs, of course, can be added to existing child-care programs since their objectives are complementary.

Another workplace concern is a need to improve employees' basic skills, The following quote from Lee Iacocca, Chairman of the Chrysler Corporation, attests to this concern: "On the final lines today, we have people that can't read or write. Maybe 20 or 25 percent of workers at some of these plants are illiterate" (Gardener 1989, p. 3A).

Clearly, low literacy affects both men and women in the workplace, but the literacy situation for women in general is a special concern, as two of three new job entrants by the 21st century will be women. As the basic skills requirements of the workplace increase, the need for increased literacy emerges. More jobs will require basic and higher order skills--only 27 percent of all new jobs will be low skilled. Shrinking opportunity for those without a high school education. With women entering the work force in larger numbers, their particular needs, different from men, are highlighted, Low-income single mothers and other low-literate women face problems so overwhelming that literacy, including family literacy, must be one element of a comprehensive strategy designed to offer opportunities for success as a parent, worker, and individual (Kerka 1989). Linking literacy education to employment and training programs can be a significant factor in improving women's basic skills and creating a foundation for increased employability.

Family and intergenerational literacy programs focus on elemental concerns of parents who raise children alone. If the majority of children are going to be raised by single mothers, then the impact of a woman's literacy extends beyond her own social position and self-esteem to affect that of her children (National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education 1988). The social and economic costs of low literacy are widespread and the impacts on women and children art dramatic: important measures can be taken at the workplace.

When Introducing the family education program "Linking Home and School through the Workplace," Jerome M. Rasow, President of the Work in America


Institute; said that "employers and Labor
unions have the facilities and the eco-
nomic motivation to deliver assistance to
parents in the most cost-effective manner"
(Bureau of National Affairs 1990, P. 656).
Other corporations agree, but their num-
bers are very small indeed.


This section has documented some of the research base for developing family and intergenerational literacy programs. Theoretical justification for program development is strong. However, because programs are new, there is little empirical evidence to document whether they might work as well as anticipated, The family literacy concept represents an opportunity to use the accumulated research knowledge from several fields and to merge findings from studies across many disciplines. It also provides an opportunity to create its own literature with a multidisciplinary focus.

The following section presents information about family literacy practice in five sectors. It includes overviews, specific activities of family and intergenerational literacy programs, some issues they confront. and the impact and effects of programs.