Strengthening Math and Reading Skills in Disconnected Youth

Posted December 10, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Numerical and reading literacy are critical skills for employment

Many young peo­ple — and dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly youth of col­or and youth from low-income back­grounds — face bar­ri­ers to com­plet­ing school or are left behind in class­room learn­ing. As a result, these stu­dents lack the read­ing and math skills need­ed to suc­ceed, accord­ing to a report released by the Urban Insti­tute and fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Sup­port­ing Lit­er­a­cy and Numer­a­cy Skills Among Out-of-School Youth shares find­ings from a lit­er­a­ture review and inter­views with 12 groups that work to con­nect youth and young adults to work­force and edu­ca­tion­al opportunities.

Some insights includ­ed in the report are:

Tai­lor the sup­port. Indi­vid­ual instruc­tion and small class sizes that allow for one-on-one atten­tion are nec­es­sary for youth and young adults, accord­ing to inter­views with pro­gram staff. To help facil­i­tate this, some orga­ni­za­tions report­ed devel­op­ing per­son­al­ized learn­ing plans that iden­ti­fied each participant’s goals and the sup­ports need­ed to improve their read­ing and math skills. Sev­er­al pro­grams also report­ed offer­ing one-on-one tutor­ing out­side of the class­room for youth strug­gling to improve.

Con­nect lessons to the real world. A teach­ing approach known as con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion enables instruc­tors to link class­room learn­ing with a student’s inter­ests and tar­get indus­try. For instance: The New York-based non­prof­it, The Door, said that one of its instruc­tors com­plet­ed an emer­gency med­ical tech­ni­cian pro­gram so that she could tai­lor her les­son plans to reflect the mate­ri­als her stu­dents need­ed to learn to earn their cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Oth­er pro­grams not­ed that they reg­u­lar­ly invite indus­try part­ners to teach read­ing and math skills that align with the fields and posi­tions par­tic­i­pants are inter­est­ed in.

Moti­vate learn­ing. This includes pro­vid­ing finan­cial incen­tives for reach­ing key learn­ing mile­stones and enlist­ing men­tors who encour­age stu­dents to remain engaged in learning.

Address basic needs. This includes help­ing young peo­ple access gro­ceries, afford­able hous­ing, trans­porta­tion, men­tal health ser­vices and child care — all of which are nec­es­sary for some youth to par­tic­i­pate in work­force and edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Good­will of Cen­tral and South­ern Indiana’s Excel Cen­ter® shared that the orga­ni­za­tion has an onsite child­care cen­ter for young par­ents with chil­dren between 6 weeks and 12 years old.

Bet­ter Skill-Build­ing for Dis­con­nect­ed Youth

Youth-serv­ing orga­ni­za­tions would ben­e­fit from the devel­op­ment of cur­ric­u­la and les­son guides tai­lored to old­er youth and young adults who are dis­con­nect­ed from school. New tech­nol­o­gy and tools to aid instruc­tion — sim­i­lar to the many resources avail­able today for edu­ca­tors who teach high school and col­lege stu­dents — can also help, the report says.

These pro­grams and their instruc­tors should also con­sid­er devel­op­ing learn­ing com­mu­ni­ties or hubs where they can share insight, resources and strategies.

We hope this report serves as a start­ing place for the field to come togeth­er and build, refine and lift up promis­ing strate­gies for improv­ing the read­ing and math skills of young peo­ple who are dis­con­nect­ed from school and work,” says Dina Emam, a Casey Foun­da­tion pro­gram asso­ciate. Both young peo­ple and youth-serv­ing orga­ni­za­tions would ben­e­fit from greater field build­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tion, espe­cial­ly as the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has shift­ed the edu­ca­tion­al and work­force land­scape and cre­at­ed many new challenges.”

Learn about a pro­gram that helps young moth­ers build key work­force skills

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