John Comings

Before I came to CIE, I worked in Nepal for six years. I started as a Peace Corps Volunteer working in fisheries extension (my BSc in Zoology was preparation to become a marine biologist, and so Peace Corps sent me to a landlocked country), where I became interested in why it was easier to work with farmers who had some education.


After my volunteer service ended, I directed some Peace Corps training programs and worked on two research projects. I started at CIE in February 1976. At CIE, I had a chance to explore the question I had when I was working with farmers in Nepal [who had differing levels of education] and settled on literacy as the answer. Once my dissertation was at the writing stage, I took a materials development position on the CIE’s Indonesia NFE project and later took on the role of Chief of Party. This gave me more experience with adult literacy.


When I came back from two years in Indonesia, I went to work for World Education in Boston with a focus on adult literacy projects and eventually became the vice president for literacy, which included work with adult literacy in the US.


After 12 years at World Education, I left to become Director of the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) and a member of the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. NCSALL was engaged in research and dissemination activities focused on improving the quality of educational programs that serve US adults who do not speak English, who do not have a high school diploma, or who have low reading, writing and math skills. I stayed in that position for 12 years. I retired from Harvard in 2008 and worked part-time for Education Development Center (EDC).  


In 2012, I was asked to join the Obama Administration as a political appointee working as a policy advisor in USAID on their new early grade reading initiative. I served as a technical resource based in USAID’s Washington, DC office. I had always wanted to end my career with public service, and this gave me that chance. I left that position after 18 months when I felt the initiative was up and running and no longer needed my help.


I’m now working part-time at World Education, serving as a technical resource to their field projects and helping with new business development. I’m also continuing work that started when I was at USAID. I’m the literacy technical expert for the All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development. I’m also involved with the Global Learning XPrize. In addition, I’m working with Cristine Smith and others at CIE on the development of the certificate program in early grade reading and teaching some of the courses for the program.


Recent publications include: An evidence-based model for early grade reading programmes and Two reading assessments for youth in alternative basic skills and livelihood skills training programs, both in UNESCO Prospects, the first in 2015 and the latest will come out in 2017.


My wife Rima is on the faculty of Harvard's School of Public Health and is doing research on health literacy. Our son Andrew is soon to be 35, is married to Kelly, and has a daughter, Tessa Raye Comings. They live nearby and Rima and I are avid childcare providers.  [3-17]





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CIE Graduate