IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Family, Work, and Education: The Balancing Act of Millions of U.S. Adults

For U.S. adults with low skills or low academic attainment, finding the time or resources to go back to school can be difficult because of family and work obligations. Recently released NCES tables from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) give us a clearer sense of how many adults face this challenge. With this information, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers can better understand and meet the education and training needs of working adults and parents.

How large is the concern?

Previous PIAAC analyses found that nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults score at the lowest levels of literacy, nearly 30 percent score at the lowest levels of numeracy, 14 percent of U.S. adults have less than a high school diploma, and 27 percent have no more than a high school diploma or equivalent. But how many of these adults have family or work responsibilities that may complicate their participation in education?

According to the new NCES tables, millions of adults have low skills or low attainment and family or work obligations that may complicate participation in education or training.

  • Of the over 40 million adults at the lowest levels of literacy, nearly 56 percent are employed, 77 percent have children, and 44 percent are both employed and have children.
  • Of the nearly 63 million adults at the lowest levels of numeracy, nearly 56 percent are employed, 74 percent have children, and 42 percent are both employed and have children.
  • Of the nearly 31 million adults with less than a high school diploma or equivalent, nearly 49 percent are employed, 58 percent have children, and 32 percent are both employed and have children.
  • Of the nearly 58 million adults with less than a high school diploma or equivalent, approximately 64 percent are employed, 71 percent have children, and 45 percent are both employed and have children.

What do we know about how to serve adults with family or work obligations?

Currently, the research on improving outcomes for adults with low skills or low attainment is limited, and less is known on how to help such adults who have family or work obligations.

Examples of questions facing policymakers, practitioners, and researchers include:

  • How do current education and training programs benefit working adults or parents?
  • Are work or family obligations barriers, motivational factors, or both?
  • Are multi-generational approaches (e.g., those that combine postsecondary or adult education services with Head Start or early childhood education) able to improve the academic outcomes of adults and the children they care for?
  • Are the assessments used appropriate for adults?

IES offers opportunities for researchers to conduct this sort of work through its Postsecondary and Adult Education topic and disseminate information about promising practices. For more information about funding opportunities for such research, contact Dr. Meredith Larson.

About the PIAAC

The PIAAC is an international assessment for adults that assesses cognitive skills (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving) and contains data on educational background, workplace experiences and skills, and other items. For the purposes of this blog, the category of lowest levels is defined as Below Level 1 and Level 1.

 

By Meredith Larson, NCER Program Officer

 

SREEing is Believing: Conference Shows Range of IES-Supported Work

By Ruth Curran Neild, Delegated Director, IES

Spring brings cherry blossoms to Washington D.C., turning the District into a city in bloom. The spring will also bring two major education research conferences to the city and, while these events may not offer breathtaking views like the cherry blossoms, the potential impact of the research being discussed is powerful.

The Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness (SREE) kicks things off this week (March 2 – 5), with the theme “Lost in Translation: Building Pathways from Knowledge to Action.” Of the 60-plus presentations, courses, and forums at the SREE conference, more than 40 involve research funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), feature IES staff, or demonstrate products that have been developed with IES support. These sessions show the many ways that work supported by IES is being used to improve education across the country.

(The second conference, the American Education Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting, will also include IES-supported work, but more on that later).

Research Studies, Large and Small

The core business of IES includes funding research studies on important topics of policy and practice. Funded work ranges from small pilot studies that test innovative approaches, to studies that are appropriately large – for example, evaluations that examine the impact of major Federal initiatives.  At one Thursday afternoon session, “Improving Mathematics Instructional Practice,” two of the studies being presented were funded through IES research centers—the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER). Later on Thursday, you can attend the “Reading for Understanding: New Findings from the Catalyzing Comprehension for Discussion and Debate Project,” in which all three studies being discussed were IES-funded.

And on Saturday, the “Evaluating the Scaling of Curriculum and Policy” session will feature three IES-funded studies, including a national, large-scale evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund pay-for-performance program, which is being conducted by our National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE).

Partnership and Collaboration

Many of the sessions at SREE feature IES-supported work done through alliances and partnerships that bring researchers and practitioners together. Much of this work is being done through our Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs), which are a key way that we help connect research to policy and practice every day.

For example, on Thursday morning, a session on “Pathways to Algebra Success” will feature studies that grew out of a REL research alliance. For all three studies, the questions that were asked came from practitioners and policymakers in the field.

Friday morning, the “Making Meaning of Research Study Findings” session will focus on how you “translate research into action.” The session will cover four studies from REL research alliances across the country, from New England to Indiana to the state of Washington. The studies cover a broad array of important topics in education—the academic performance and reclassification of English learner students; the effectiveness of teacher evaluation systems; and college enrollment patterns of high school graduates.

(If you’re not familiar with the RELs, read this blog post by Joy Lesnick, acting commissioner of NCEE, which oversees the REL program).

Making Science Better, Making Results More Accessible

Another big bucket of IES work that will be featured at SREE is resources and tools that are improving the research field and making it easier for people to access and use research.

For instance, a workshop on Wednesday featured the IES-funded CostOut tool, which can be used to determine return on investment. Another workshop featured the “Generalizer,” a privately funded, web-based tool that improves generalizations from experiments and uses data from IES’s National Center for Education Statistics.

On Thursday afternoon, attendees can preview software intended to make it easier for states and districts to conduct randomized controlled trials and quasi-experiments.  At another session, there will be a demonstration of the new “Find What Works” tool to help practitioners and policymakers find effective programs in the What Works Clearinghouse.

On Friday morning, NCER Associate Commissioner Allen Ruby will be a part of a panel discussing plans for a new “Registry of Effectiveness Studies in Education,” which will be developed with IES grant support. Study registries can contribute to increased transparency in studies of what works.

There is terrific work going on to connect research to practice.  Don’t miss out -- follow us on Twitter at @IESResearch to learn more about IES-supported work at the SREE conference.