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Adult Education and Family Literacy Certification

Community College of Colorado CCCOnline

The history of the U.S. Government and their involvement in adult education spans over 200 years. The nature and extent of federal attention has varied, but, from its earliest days, the government provided funds to establish, encourage, and expand programs to assist adults in overcoming educational deficiencies and support the advancement of productive and responsible participation in citizenry and the growth of the nation.

The Chautauqua Institute, founded originally as a training school for Sunday School Teachers in 1874, stands as a forerunner to the State/Federal Adult Education Movement. The Chautauqua Institute is a shining example of how the growing American population received the spiritual, educational, and cultural lessons with such favorable response, that each successive year the local community expanded learning options and opportunities for adults, part-time learners, and foreign-born students. William Rainey Harper, one of the Chautauqua Institution’s earliest directors, would later become the charter president of the University of Chicago and also be generally recognized as the Father of the Community College Movement and champion of the ideas of the two-year college.

However, it was not until the early 1960’s in the Kennedy administration that poverty and adult literacy became a correlated concern. Building on Kennedy’s efforts, President Lyndon Johnson and a socially conscience Congress launched a series of programs to end poverty and increase the role of the federal government toward the improvement of education. With the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act (August 20, 1964), Congress created the first Adult Basic Education (ABE) Program as legislation focused on the most basic of educational skills for adults who had not completed secondary education.

In the midst of more current day legislation, the issue of a professional adult education workforce with highly qualified staff was brought to the forefront by the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires state funded programs to ensure that staff hold degrees in their field of practice or be certified in their areas of expertise.  To align all federally funded programs serving Colorado adults and families (Colorado Even Start, Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, and Migrant Education Even Start), the Colorado Family Literacy Consortium convened a work group to develop and implement a certification process for adult educators.  The certification work group identified the competencies needed by teachers of adults, recommended courses and course content, negotiated a coursework delivery system in conjunction with Colorado Community Colleges, and developed an alternative route-portfolio process leading to certification.

Literacy Instruction Authorization (LIA)

The LIA credential from CDE (Colorado Department of Education) can be earned through completion of four of the five Adult Education and Family Literacy courses, the portfolio process or a combination of both. Colorado Community Colleges offer all five courses in an online, traditional or a hybrid format (online/onsite option) as the standard of competency to teach in Adult Education Programs. The five courses in the series are designed for adult and family literacy educators to enhance their educational background in adult learning theories and practice, planning and organizing adult ed instruction, and teaching ABE and ESL and family literacy. The program courses include:

  • Introduction to Adult Education (three credits)
    Introductory course to the basic concepts in the instruction of adults.  Emphases are placed on understanding the adult learner and how individual backgrounds and experiences can affect the learning process. The topics also cover applicable federal and state legislation affecting adult learning programs and provide information on the resources and associations in the field of Adult Education. 
  • Planning, Organizing, and Delivering Adult Education Instruction (three credits)
    An introductory overview of the basics of planning an adult education program, organizing instruction within the various content areas and delivering the material in a variety of ways, both in groups and individualized instruction. A wide variety of learning principles and theories are addressed showing their applicability to the adult learner and his/her education. 
  • Adult Basic Education (ABE) and Adult Secondary Education (ASE/GED) (three credits)
    This course specifically addresses the different levels within an Adult Education program.  Each level is addressed in terms of appropriate assessment tools and instructional techniques.  Emphasis is placed on teaching ways for the instructor to encourage the development of cognitive skills at each level as a springboard to the next higher level.
  • Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to Adult Learners
    (three credits)
    Students are introduced to the development and implementation of a program to teach English to adults whose first language is not English.  Topics range from assessment and placement to the theories behind language acquisition.  Students are also introduced to a wide variety of methodologies, both group and individualized, aimed at teaching the non-English speaker the written and verbal skills necessary to successfully function in the U.S. 
  • Family Literacy in Adult Education (three credits)
    This course introduces the student to the philosophy and theory behind family literacy, as well as offer practical advice on the development and implementation of a family literacy program.  The Four-Component Model—adult education, early childhood education, parent and child together time (PACT), and parenting—are covered, both in theory and practical application.

The most recent version of the National Assessment of Adult Literacy Survey (NAAL) is due for dissemination in December 2005 and should offer key findings and new trends in Adult Education and Literacy. While it can be argued that the percentages indicate very few adults in the U.S. are truly completely illiterate (NALS 1988), of greater social challenge are the many adults with low literacy skills who lack the foundation they need to find and keep decent jobs, support their children's education, and participate actively in civic life.

The issues of low literacy culminate social disadvantages in a number of ways. The 1988 NALS found that Education and Adult Literacy is a key to impacting poverty, welfare, income, employment status, and crime—7 in 10 prisoners have low literacy skills and/or are functionally illiterate. The result of the CDE Adult Education and Family Literacy Program is part of a national effort to professionalize the adult education workforce, establish standards of competency for practitioners statewide, and thus raise the quality of instruction and the quality of instructors for this critically underserved population.

For additional information, please contact Phyllis Dobson at or LisaCheney-Steen at Colorado Community Colleges Online—






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