There’s a conundrum that faces those of us who direct the services in literacy agencies: the numbers of residents in need (in Washtenaw County that number is estimated at 27,000) outpaces our ability to serve. Yet, we can’t streamline our tutoring processes and be effective for our learners. Classroom settings – teaching groups of adults at once – are efficient and cost effective, but for so many they simply aren’t useful.
Washtenaw Literacy’s core program is one-on-one tutoring. This is the approach our first volunteer tutors used in 1971. The reason we still use it today is because it works. More than 90% of adults in our one-on-one tutoring program reach one or more of their goals. Part of this success stems from our “designer tutor” approach. We train each of our volunteer tutors to plan lessons according to the learner’s strengths, needs and goals and support those tutors every step of the way. Adult learners in our program are motivated because they are setting, and meeting, their own standards for success.
This customized 1:1 tutoring is critically important for illiterate adults who have cognitive or learning issues. Quite simply, these issues can only be remediated with this individualized, labor-intensive and potentially expensive approach. These are neighbors of ours who would fall through the cracks in the system without resources such as Washtenaw Literacy. Either because of low scores on assessments or the incremental progress they make, they do not qualify for service or help through most funding streams or federal student financial aid. For example, adult basic education through the Workforce Investment Act requires one grade level improvement in a year, which is sometimes simply unattainable for an adult with a learning disorder. Federal financial aid for community college is out of the question without passing scores on entrance metrics such as the Compass test.
What happens to those who are left behind? It’s easy enough to plot the trajectory of that life. With ever-decreasing opportunities for employment, illiteracy is a direct path to poverty. According to the 2003 report from ProLiteracy “US Adult Literacy Programs: Making a Difference
,” 70 percent of adults on welfare have the lowest levels of literacy. The report goes on to explain that children of these illiterate and low literate parents “tend to get poor care and poor nutrition at home and to do poorly in school.” And there are surprising health consequences for those who lack basic literacy skills – they’re more likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. In fact, their health care expenses are six times the rate of adults with average literacy skills.
Clearly, the stakes are high for our community and we’re steadily fighting this battle. Washtenaw Literacy, with its 'each one, teach one' model empowers armies of volunteers, who expand this best practice of one-on-one tutoring, on a scale that only starts to approach the problem.