National Action Plan for Adult Literacy and the Launch of ALL IN

About 43 million Americans—nearly 1 in 5 adults—cannot read and write at a third-grade level. The toll of this “silent crisis” is immense: low literacy is closely linked with poverty, poor health, and incarceration and costs the U.S. economy up to $2 trillion per year. Low literacy is both a cause and an effect of intergenerational cycles of poverty and inequity in the U.S. Yet, only an estimated 10% of adults in need of literacy support are actually receiving services: the field of adult basic education is fragmented, underfunded, and under-researched.

To begin to reverse this vicious cycle, the Barbara Bush Foundation commissioned Dalberg to support the development of a National Action Plan for Adult Literacy (NAP).

Dalberg convened more than 100 educators, researchers, policymakers, edtech innovators, and funders and, based on their input, wrote the National Action Plan calling for ten broad initiatives to bring new resources, innovations, and energy into the adult literacy space.

In 2021, U.S. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden publicly launched the NAP.

Dalberg continued working with the Barbara Bush Foundation to design and launch a unique, national collective impact initiative to carry out the initiatives laid out in the NAP. Formally launched in 2022, the Adult Literacy and Learning Impact Network (ALL IN) brought together more than ten national organizations working in adult literacy, including the American Library Association, ProLiteracy, World Education, Jobs for the Future, and the National Association of State Directors of Adult Education.

After helping to bring these diverse organizations together in support of a shared agenda, Dalberg served as the Secretariat for ALL IN, providing its first Executive Director and support team, before helping to recruit and on-board a new Director. In its first year, ALL IN attracted support from the Annenberg Foundation, Dollar General Literacy Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education, among others. Notably, ALL IN was also instrumental in establishing the first-ever, bipartisan U.S. Senate Caucus on Adult Literacy.

ALL IN is unique in that it is one of the very few collective impact initiatives active in the U.S. at a national level that is driven by practitioners rather than funders. Collectively, its members represent virtually all adult literacy instructors in the country, as well as most state-level officials, academic researchers, and major funders.

Two lessons stand out from Dalberg’s experience designing and implementing ALL IN. First, ambitious plans, strategies, and general calls-to-action are useless unless someone is specifically charged with carrying them out. And “if everyone is responsible, no one is responsible”—meaningful implementation requires a dedicated, central team as well as the support of a wide range of stakeholders. Second, bringing together a diverse field of stakeholders—who would more typically compete with each other for funding and attention—demands a thoughtful balance of confidence and humility, persistence, and patience, and above all, a willingness to do the work while sharing the credit.

Collaborative efforts are never easy, but with financial support for the coordinating activities, this initiative has been able to sustain its work through the challenging first few years. We are proud of our contribution to ALL IN and look forward to continuing to be thought partners for the new leadership.

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