John P. Comings
Adjunct Professor
Professional Interests: 
Adult literacy, health literacy, early grade reading, research design



John Comings first came to CIE after six years of living and working in Nepal. He initially went to Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer working in inland fisheries in 1969. He later directed five Peace Corps training programs and worked on two research projects, one with Johns Hopkins University and the other with the Centers for Disease Control. While in Nepal, he read Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and began looking for a doctoral program that might help him understand how to use Freire’s theory to help adults learn to read. Several people pointed him to CIE.


He completed his Ed.D. at the Center in 1979. His dissertation was a randomized control trial that assessed the impact of involving members of the target audience of a health education material in the development of that material in Troy, NY. While he was still writing up his findings, he took a position on the Center’s Indonesia project as its materials development consultant and later as its chief-of-party.


After two years in Indonesia, he settled into a life as a consultant in Baltimore, while his wife finished her doctorate in public health at Johns Hopkins. Once Rima was finished with her course work, they and their son Andrew moved up to Boston and John went to work for World Education. He spent 12 years as a Vice President working on adult education projects in Asia, Africa, and the United States. On one domestic project, he served as the director of the State Literacy Resource Center in Massachusetts, and this allowed him to bring what he had learned overseas back to the U.S. Eventually, he was spending half of his time working in the U.S. and the other half working in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.


This domestic work eventually caused him to leave World Education and join the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. From 1996 to 2008, he was Director of the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL), which was based at Harvard and was funded by the U.S. Department of Education as the national research and development center focused on educational programs for adults who have low literacy and math skills, who do not speak English, or who do not have a high school diploma.


In 2008, John left Harvard to become a Principal International Technical Advisor at the Education Development Center (EDC) in Newton, MA. From April 2012 to October 2013, he served in the Obama Administration, as an education policy advisor focused on USAID’s early-grade reading initiative.


At present, he is also a Senior Technical Consultant at World Education and an adjunct faculty member at CIE, teaching two online courses as part of the Early Grade Reading Graduate Certificate. In addition, he serves as the Lead Early Grade Reading Senior Consultant for All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (a collaborative project of USAID, World Vision, and DFAT), which is funding technology-supported innovations that advance early grade reading in low-resource environments.


Recent Publications


John's research and writing has been concerned with the impact of adult literacy programs and the factors that lead to that impact in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as factors that support student persistence in adult education programs in the U.S. He was one of the editors of the Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy and author of Building a Level Playing Field, Establishing an Evidence-based Adult Education System and New Skills for a New Economy. His most recent published articles are:


Comings, John, John Strucker, and Brenda Bell (accepted for 2017 publication). “Two Reading Assessments for Youth in Alternative Basic Skills and Livelihood Skills Training Programs,” UNESCO Prospects.


Comings, John, “An Evidence-based Model for Early-grade Reading Programmes,” UNESCO Prospects, 45: 167-180, 2015.


Comings, John, “We’re Still Failing to Teach Children to Read, After All These Years,” The Guardian: Global Development Professionals Network, April 21, 2016.


A Health Literacy podcast by John entitled Health Literacy from a Literacy Perspective was recently posted on the Web. [7/17]