Federal Study Overstated Scope of Adult-Literacy Efforts
WASHINGTON--A federal interagency study released last year contains "gross misinformation'' on federal efforts to combat adult illiteracy, a report by a key House education panel alleges.
The report, released late last month by the House subcommittee on elementary, secondary, and vocational education, claims that the study commissioned by the Federal Interagency Committee on Education "overestimated'' the number of federally supported programs, and the level of federal funding devoted to the problem.
A spokesman for the Education Department last week called the House report's conclusions "unfortunate, confused, and ill-founded.''
The interagency study was conducted to provide an inventory of all federal efforts addressing adult literacy, according to the spokesman for the department, which released the report last May.
In fiscal 1985, the study found, 14 federal agencies administered 79 literacy-related programs for adults. Federal funds earmarked for these programs totaled $347.6 million, according to the study.
After an Education Department official cited the findings at a hearing before the House subcommittee last year, Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, Democrat of California and chairman of the panel, asked staff members to determine their validity, according to John E. Butler, a spokesman for the subcommittee.
The subcommittee's investigation found that only 10 of the 79 programs cited in the study "are definitely conducting literacy activities and providing services for the adult-illiterate population.''
The report also states that 38 of the programs "were not'' conducting literacy activities for adults; that 25 did not have literacy as their major function; that 4 conducted one-time-only literacy projects; and that 2 received "no funding'' for literacy activities.
The House report maintains that, of the $347.6 million the study said was earmarked for adult-literacy efforts, only $126 million was actually spent on such efforts.
It also notes that 90 percent of the 79 program directors and 20 state officials contacted in the investigation said that they "were not aware'' of the study and that the interagency group had not contacted them.
Melinda A. Kitchell, an Education Department spokesman, last week challenged the claims made in the House report.
She questioned, for example, the assertion that only a handful of the 79 programs were contacted during the study.
The Washington Consulting Group, the firm commissioned by the interagency committee to conduct the survey, contacted at least one official from each of the 79 programs named in the study, she said. The names of those officials, she added, "are well documented.''
The consulting group, she said, calculated the amount of federal money "obligated'' to adult-literacy efforts on the basis of interviews with those officials. The officials reported what portion of their federal money was earmarked, either directly or indirectly, for adult-literacy efforts, and the total came to $347.6 million, she said.
Figures were not available on how much of the money was actually spent on literacy efforts, she said.
Ms. Kitchell also said that in counting the number of programs, the House subcommittee had relied on "too narrow'' a definition of adult-literacy activities.
The interagency study counted programs serving people aged 16 and older who were trying to raise their knowledge and skills above the 8th-grade level in such areas as reading, writing, speaking, listening, computing, and problem-solving, Ms. Kitchell said.
"Many of the programs [that the House subcommittee] says do not address adult literacy are addressing it, but only indirectly,'' Ms. Kitchell said.
The interagency study, she said, counted all programs offering literacy-related education for adults, even if it is offered indirectly or as a secondary activity.