Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Even Start family literacy initiative implemented in the U.S.

This year, the U.S. Congress approved the implementation of Even Start, a federally-funded, comprehensive family literacy program designed to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and illiteracy in low-income and low-literate families.

The first grants for the program were awarded in 1989. The Even Start Family Literacy Program was first authorized as Part B of Chapter 1 of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). The Even Start legislation was amended in July 1991, when Congress passed the National Literacy Act (P.L. 102-73), lowering the age of children served from age one to birth and allowing community based organizations to receive grants. In 1994, Even Start was reauthorized as Part B of Title I of the ESEA as amended by the Improving America's Schools Act. According to this legislation, the Even Start program intended to: break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy by improving the educational opportunities of the Nation's low-income families by integrating early childhood education, adult literacy or adult basic education, and parenting education into a unified family literacy program...The program shall (1) be implemented through cooperative projects that build on existing community resources to create a new range of services; (2) promote achievement of the National Education Goals; and (3) assist children and adults from low-income families to achieve to challenging State content standards and challenging State student performance standards. (P.L. 103-382, Sec. 1201).

Even Start programs were designed to meet the basic educational needs of parents and children up to age eight by integrating early childhood education, adult literacy and adult basic education, and parenting education into an integrated, comprehensive literacy program. As such, the program offered simultaneously three related activities: 

1.      adult basic or secondary education and literacy programs for parents

2.      assistance for parents to effectively promote their children's educational development

3.      early childhood education for children.

Even Start projects also offered support services designed to facilitate the provision of core services. Examples of support services are transportation, childcare, nutrition assistance, health care, meals, special care for a disabled family member, and referrals for mental health and counselling, services to battered women, child protective services, employment, and screening or treatment for chemical dependency. If possible, support services are to be obtained from existing providers, to avoid duplication of services. This allows for a high degree of collaboration between services such as Head Start for Early childhood education.  Even Start has also expanded to include a wide range of participants: immigrant communities, fathers, incarcerated mothers, and parents of newborns, teen parents and large proportions of Hispanic/Latino families.

            Initially, the U.S. Department of Education administered all Even Start grants, which were competitive at the local level.  All program decisions were centralized through the Even Start Program Office, housed in the Department's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.  However, by 1992 most Even Start local projects became state-administered when the appropriation level exceeded $50 million. While previously there was uniformity within programs, this shift allowed for a degree of variability into program administration, based on each state’s needs and experience, and on the situation of  the population being served.  For example, as part of the adult education component, particularly with migrant families, citizenship education is taught in addition to ESL instruction in the adult education component.

At present, most Even Start projects are state administered and there are more than 700 programs in all states. Nonetheless, the Department of Education continues  to administer Even Start family literacy program grants through special set-aside funds (5 percent of the total Even Start allocation) for Indian tribes and tribal organizations, programs for families of migratory workers, and a discretionary grant for a family literacy program in a prison that houses women and their preschool age children.

References Migrant Even Start Program National Council of Family Literacy (NCFL) National Even Start Foundation United States Department of Education

Prepared by Malini Sivasubramaniam (OISE/UT, 2003).

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