Date of Award



© 2018 April Arfaras

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Michelle Collay

Second Advisor

Andrew Ross

Third Advisor

Aisha Howard


This study critically examines America’s literacy crisis and focuses on the most affected: at-risk single-parent mothers of infant-toddlers. Illiteracy is a social justice concern that contributes to poverty, poor health, and crime, and affects the economy and America’s status as the former world leader in education. There is contention among academic, corporate, private, and government sources regarding the conflicting statistics of the severity of the literacy crisis (Amarao, 2016; Khazan, 2014; Layton, 2015; Rasco, 2017; Sugrue, 2008). Little is known from mothers closest to the problem (Knowles, 2015). The research questions addressed in this study are (1.) How do at-risk mothers describe their role in supporting their children’s language acquisition and literacy development? (2.) Given limited time and resources, what does a mother do to model language and literacy skills with her children? (3.) What strategies and influences do mothers use to ensure their children obtain preschool or early childhood education (ECE) and remain successfully enrolled? (4.) What advice do mothers offer other struggling mothers to address these literacy challenges? What help do they need? The literature review portrays literacy as an essential human right and explores the rudiments of language acquisition. Scholarly activists Paulo Freire, Thomas Paine, Tom Sugrue and Sven Beckert defend literacy as an inalienable right, yet social justice experts condemn the proliferation of the preschool to prison pipeline that impinges freedom of speech and the right to be literate. They fear it oppresses marginalized populations due to elitist profit incentives and corporate opportunists (Glaze, 2011; Hood, 2015; Sugrue, 2008). This qualitative phenomenological research study framed in language acquisition and social justice theories gives voice to at-risk mothers to inform the body of research of this imminent social problem by offering hope and viable findings toward resolution. Mothers leverage community and family relationships, resources, and obstacles to obtain literacy for their vulnerable families. An effective preschool program (a vital community resource) helps transform multiple generations of literacy challenges by “teaching mothers to reach their children” (Sticht & McDonald, 1990). Mothers’ best practices in literacy and language development, a showcase of leading literacy programs, and prospective literacy study recommendations, are featured.


Ed.D. Dissertation