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Current and Completed Research

Current Research Projects 

The Goodling Institute and Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy are currently engaged in the following research and evaluation studies:

  • Clymer, C., Kaiper, A., McLean, E., Prins, E., & Wolfe, E. Evaluation of the William Penn Foundation’s Family Literacy Initiative. Funder: William Penn Foundation. Amount: $487,905. Dates: 2018-21

The William Penn Foundation (WPF) has funded five organizations in Philadelphia to implement family literacy programs that include early childhood education, adult education, and interactive literacy activities for caregivers and children. The goal of the Family Literacy Initiative is to “help organizations deepen and expand the connections between adult and child literacy programming and improve language and literacy skills and practices for adults and children.”The Goodling Institute is providing technical assistance to the programs and conducting the evaluation, using data sources such as pre-post caregiver surveys, caregivers’ pre-post test scores in literacy and/or English language, home literacy logs, pre-post measures of children’s language and literacy development, school records, and program records. 

Approximately 11% of all children in the United States have had a parent behind bars during their lifetime. In response to rising parental incarceration rates, correctional institutions and other organizations are increasingly offering family literacy and read-aloud programs for incarcerated parents. However, research on these programs is scarce. This pilot study examines the experiences and perspectives of incarcerated fathers enrolled in the Read to Your Child/Grandchild (RYCG) program at a state correctional institution (SCI) in rural Pennsylvania. RYCG participants are video-recorded reading a book for their child; the DVD, book, and (in this case) a scrapbook are then sent to the child. 

Data sources included observations of video recording sessions; interviews with all 11 fathers enrolled in the program, the RCYG teacher, and the principal; follow-up interviews with four fathers; and analysis of scrapbooks created by fathers. The pilot data will position us to pursue funding for a  larger study.

Completed Research Projects (Selected)

The Smithsonian partnered with the Goodling Institute to better understand how new audiences might use digital museum resources, as well as implement the Smithsonian Learning Lab collections in classrooms with young learners. The project’s goal was to “increase language development in young children, especially those living in under-served areas.” To explore this goal, the research focused on the use of downloadable print-and-play cards using the Smithsonian’s extensive digital collections, combined with questions adapted from Harvard’s Project Zero Visible Thinking routines.

Many adult education providers seek to develop career pathway programs that build low-skilled adult learners' core skills (e.g., math, reading) in preparation for specific careers or fields (e.g., health care). In this project, representatives of adult education programs in Chicago, Miami, and Houston worked with researchers to understand how providers in each city integrated career pathway components into their services. This information will help programs understand and improve practices as well as create the foundation for subsequent collaboration and research.

This grant was a partnership between the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy (Esther Prins, Carol Clymer, & Blaire Toso) and Houston Center for Literacy (Sheri Foreman Elder), Miami-Dade County Public Schools (Mark Needle), and Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition (Rebecca Raymond).

The project included three research phases: (1) a survey of adult education providers (n=147, a 72% response rate); (2) focus groups with 18 adult education providers (five to seven per city); and (3) case studies of six successful programs (two per city).

Links to publications based on this research: 

  • Prins, E. (Co-PI), Clymer, C. Toso, B.W., and Monnat, S. (Co-PI). Literacy, numeracy, ICT skills, post-initial education, and health status: Variation by race/ethnicity and educational attainment among U.S. respondents. Funder: American Institutes for Research and the National Center for Education Statistics ($8000). 2014

The purpose of this grant was to analyze data from the 2012 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) survey to examine how U.S. respondents' self-reported health (SRH) is related to literacy, numeracy, and technological problem-solving skills, and by participation in adult education. Second, the research analyzed how the relationship between proficiencies in these areas varies across racial/ethnic groups and by educational attainment. Third, we identified which types of adult education have the strongest association with health, and which types matter the most for people with different racial/ethnic identities and levels of educational attainment.

A related study analyzed the relationship between self-reported health (SRH) and literacy and numeracy proficiency for immigrants compared to U.S.-born respondents and for Hispanic versus Asian immigrants. 

Links to publications based on this research: 

  1. How Is Health Related to Literacy, Numeracy, and Technological Problem-Solving Skills am ong U.S. Adults? Evidence from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)
  2. Examining associations between self-rated health and proficiency in literacy and numeracy among immigrants and U.S.-born adults: Evidence from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)
  3. Examining associations between adult health and literacy, numeracy, technological problem-solving skills, and post-initial learning in the U.S. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research and the National Center for Education Statistics.
  • Prins, E. (PI), Huang-Pollock, C., Schaffer, B., Toso, B.W., Woodhouse, S., & Witherspoon, D. P-PLAN: Parents planning and learning about attention-related needs. Funder: PSU College of Education Research Initiation Grant ($8304) and the PSU Children, Youth, and Families Consortium ($6500).2012-14

Raising a child with overactivity or attention difficulties can be challenging. Seeking information and treatment, understanding diagnoses, making decisions about treatment, and interacting with teachers and health care professionals can pose a number of challenges, especially for caregivers who lack access to economic, educational, or other support systems.

The purpose of this project was to understand how low-socioeconomic status (SES) parents (or other primary caregivers) of school-age children with overactivity or attention difficulties, or who are diagnosed with ADHD seek out and make sense of information about their children's diagnoses or concerns about behavior, how parents make decisions about treatment, parents' experiences of interactions with professionals involved in diagnosing and treating their children, and parents' supports and needs for support related to parenting a child with ADHD or other such difficulties (including managing challenging behaviors). The study focused both on current experiences and what would most help to promote access to services, support, empowerment, and health literacy.

The study site was a small Pennsylvania city with a racially diverse population, high levels of socioeconomic disadvantage, and low educational attainment. We conducted six focus groups with 22 women and four men; each participant attended two focus groups. The findings elucidate how caregivers developed health literacy concerning their child’s ADHD. They used a constellation of strategies to learn about ADHD and access services from insurance companies, providers, and schools. Importantly, they emphasized the need to persist, question, and advocate for their needs, which contrasts with the emphasis on passive, compliant patients implied in some health literacy research.

  • Prins, E., Kassab, C., & Campbell, K. Characteristics of Pennsylvania students pursuing postsecondary education: A rural-urban analysis of data from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Center for Rural Pennsylvania ($50,000). 2012-13

Access to higher education, especially for low-income, minority, and rural students, remains a priority interest among policymakers, education professionals, and the general public. This research analyzed the demographic, financial, and educational characteristics of Pennsylvania postsecondary students using the 2010-11 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA, n = 610,925), supplemented by interviews with two policy experts and six financial aid administrators at rural postsecondary institutions in Pennsylvania. The analyses identified rural-nonrural differences among students pursuing the same type of degree and among subsets of students such as GED® recipients and adult learners age 24 or older. In addition, the study examined the distinctive needs and challenges of rural postsecondary students. 

Links to publications based on this research: 

  • Prins, E. (PI). Poor women's involvement in community-based adult education: Consequences for social networks, social support, and mental health. Funder: Spencer Foundation ($40,000). 2009-12

Research suggests that poor women with low educational attainment tend to have smaller, less supportive social networks and, concomitantly, to experience depression and other forms of psychological distress. The purpose of this study was to examine how poor women with limited educational attainment use family literacy and adult education programs to construct supportive social networks, and in turn, how these networks influence women's mental health. The study investigated the types of emotional and material resources women exchange with each other; whether intensity of participation increases the number and quality of women's social ties; and whether women who establish more and higher quality social ties experience improved mental health (i.e., depression, sense of control over their lives).

The mixed methods study included 44 women in five adult education and family literacy (AEFL) programs in Pennsylvania. The methods included a structured pre-post questionnaire, regarding relationships with program participants and staff, social networks, social support, social interaction, and mental health; interviews with a sub-set of 26 learners; daily social interaction records documenting interactions with students and teachers from the program outside of class time; program records and participant reading scores and participation data; and observations of classrooms and program events. The findings suggest that AEFL programs have the potential to nurture women’s mental health and supportive social networks, but these results are not uniform across participants or programs.

This study investigated the types, use, and effectiveness of distance learning (DL) for General Education Development (GED®) candidates in rural Pennsylvania. Specifically, the study sought to identify the types and use of GED® distance education in rural Pennsylvania; describe the demographic characteristics and participation patterns of rural GED® students in DL and face-to-face classes; determine the effectiveness of DL in preparing rural students to pass the GED® tests; assess the cost of DL provision; and examine the advantages and disadvantages of DL for GED® study. The primary data sources included the Bureau of Adult Basic and Literacy Education’s (ABLE) e-Data system and GED® Demographics survey, a telephone survey of non-ABLE DL providers, and telephone interviews with a key informant and DL staff members and students from ABLE-funded programs. The research found that DL is as effective as face-to-face classes in preparing students to pass the GED® tests.

  • Willits, F., Sherow, S., & Prins, E., & Toso, B. W. Pennsylvania’s forgotten rural immigrants: Strengthening Pennsylvania’s diverse communities. College of Agricultural Sciences Seed Grant Program, Pennsylvania State University ($14,770). 2006-08

The goal of this study was to contribute to public understanding of rural immigrants in Pennsylvania. The study addressed the following objectives: (1) to describe the characteristics of various immigrant groups in selected rural counties of Pennsylvania as perceived by knowledgeable informants in those counties; (2) to assess the perceptions of these key informants concerning community receptivity of these immigrants; and (3) to determine the types of difficulties that informants perceive immigrants encounter and the availability and use of community social services. The data sources included a survey and key informant interviews with adult ESL providers. Of the 30 rural counties with 500 or more residents who spoke English “less than very well” (per US Census data), 22 (73%) were represented in the survey and 21 (70% percent) in subsequent interviews.

 ESL providers’ depictions of local responses to immigrants ranged from welcoming to hostile. They identified four constellations of factors that influenced receptivity: national and local politics, the labor market and immigrant occupations, immigrants’ ability to look or act like native‐born residents, and community institutions. This study reveals how differing contexts of reception are believed to influence immigrants' incorporation into rural communities. It also highlights the role of educators and educational institutions in creating a welcoming atmosphere that supports immigrants' socioeconomic well‐being.

This study examined how poverty and residential mobility influence low-income adults’ persistence in family literacy programs in Pennsylvania. Twelve out of 20 program directors reported that learners typically moved at least once a year. In five of these high-mobility programs, moving was reported to significantly hinder persistence. Geographic location and the availability of inexpensive and subsidized housing increased mobility. The 17 learners we interviewed had collectively moved 78 times in the previous five years, for an average of once per year. One-half of the moves were within 15 miles, yet even short distance moves often delayed progress and disrupted program participation. Although residential mobility did not hinder persistence in all programs, it is part of a constellation of poverty-related problems (e.g., poor health, lack of child care and transportation) that pose challenges for learners to attend classes regularly and meet their educational goals.