Monday, June 22, 2009

A decline in literacy?

Historically, learning to read and write were considered the mark of education. How well are we doing in teaching our students to read? According to the U.S. Department of Education, literacy is defined "as the knowledge and skills needed by adults, in life and at work, to use information from various texts (e.g., news stories, editorials, manuals, brochures) in various formats (e.g., texts, maps, tables, charts, forms, time tables)" Unfortunately, there has been almost uniform steady decline in literacy rates for those 24 years of age and younger from 1992 to the most recent studies in 2003. Even among college students there has been a decline and there is even a decline among graduate students.

By definition in our modern society, we cannot be prepared if we do not know how to read.

Some of the results of the survey in 2003 are in the category of things I wish some one would pay me to find out. Like, "In 2003, adults with higher literacy levels were more likely to be employed full-time and less likely to be out of the labor force than adults with lower literacy levels. Adults with lower literacy levels also generally earned lower incomes."

Even if the differences in literacy levels are considered to be statistically insignificant, it is significant the we have made no progress in increasing literacy for many years. Additionally, adults in the U.S. were outperformed by adults in Norway, Bermuda, Canada, and Switzerland. Adults in Bermuda, Norway, and Canada had higher literacy scores than U.S. adults at both the high and low ends of the score distribution. The highest performers (the top 10 percent of adults) had literacy scores of 353 or higher in Bermuda, 348 or higher in Norway, and 344 or higher in Canada, compared with 333 or higher in the United States. The lowest performers (those in the bottom 10 percent) in Bermuda had literacy scores of 213 or lower, 233 or lower in Norway, and 209 or lower in Canada, compared with 201 or lower in the United States. The lowest performers in Switzerland also outperformed their U.S. counterparts in literacy, scoring 216 or lower.

One thing this study does show is that literacy is directly correlated to income levels.

Over the years I have encountered a significant number of adults that did not know how to read or whose reading skills were so low as to be embarrassing to the individual. Obviously, if you were illiterate you would not be reading this blog post, but if you know someone who is illiterate, the time to take action is now. There are many national, state and local organizations dedicated to helping adults learn to read. You might want to start with the Department of Labor, Adult Literacy and Education Initiative.

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