An American Heritage: A Federal Adult Education Legislative History

A paper that contains the history of adult education acts from August 1964—August 2013.

Dr. Gary A. Eyre
Roberta Pawloski
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
NOVA Research Company
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

This “American heritage” history traces the roots of federal legislative involvement in adult education in order to place federal adult education acts into historical perspective. This history is one of many education resource documents; however, it is the first resource that contains the history of adult education acts from 1964 to 2013.

Throughout the history of the United States, adult education has played a continuous role in helping adults reach for better lives. In the early 20th century, as this country witnessed expanded growth and tremendous work opportunities, it became apparent that in order to have a productive workforce and economic stability, the language needs of so many arriving immigrants would need to be met in order for them to assimilate into the culture of this country. This led to creation in many states of evening schools to provide English instruction for adults

This adult education legislative history paper is part of the U.S. Department of Education’s continuing efforts to provide research, statistics, and information to the Executive Branch of government, the Congress, State and local adult educators, and practicing adult learners. Its purpose is twofold: to give the generalist a broad overview of the federal role in adult literacy education and information about major adult education enactments, and to provide a guide to primary source material related to federal legislation on adult basic education.

Benefits and Uses

The field of adult education and literacy is today entering a new and crucial era. Challenges to be addressed include a climate of austerity, a growing emphasis on evidence-based funding, and the potential impact of emerging technologies. More specific factors that will affect the future of adult education are national immigration policies, welfare policies, the K-12 Common Core Standards, the new General Educational Development (GED®) test, and new national goals for multiple educational pathways to employment. However, those serving in the field, collectively and individually, will profoundly influence the field’s development and direction in the decades to come. Therefore, it is important that adult education practitioners understand the political climate in which they exist and to whom they are responsible.

This adult education legislative history report will help practitioners to better understand the history of legislative actions and how they have shaped adult education programs over the past decades. This understanding provides a sound foundation for the building that must continue to occur for all U.S. adults, if the U.S. is to continue to be competitive in a now global technical and commercial environment. This report should be of particular interest to new federal employees in the Office of Vocational and Adult Education and new State Education Directors, as it will provide a better understanding of how adult education has evolved in the U.S. in terms of making decisions as to where it needs to go in the future to improve adult literacy and numeracy skills.

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