1 in 7 U.S. adults can’t read?

Considering our upcoming conversation with Kelly Gallagher on his new book Readicide (see here, here and here), I thought the findings of a 2003 survey of adult literacy skills released by the National Center for Education Statistics were completely fascinating.  Poking around a bit led me to these disturbing conclusions:

  • There was little change in the adult literacy levels between the time of the first National Assessment of Adult Literacy—conducted in 1992—and the second survey conducted in 2003.
  • Double digit drops in both the prose literacy (searching, comprehending, using information from continuous texts) and document literacy (searching, comprehending, using information from noncontinuous texts) of Hispanic Americans were noted between 1992 and 2003.
  • The average prose literacy scores for adults between the ages of 25 and 49—prime working and earning years—dropped from 1993 to 2003.
  • Only 5 percent of the 16-18 year olds and 12 percent of the 19-24 year olds surveyed in 2003 were rated proficient in document literacy.

Considering that “proficiency” includes the ability to perform such commonplace tasks as comparing two competing viewpoints in editorials, interpreting a table showing the connections between age, blood pressure and physical activity, and computing and comparing the cost per ounce of food items, I’d say that we’ve got something to be concerned about, don’t you?!

I think the statistics that I found the most interesting were connected to the literacy performance of students graduating from high school and college.  From 1993-2003, the literacy scores of high school graduates dropped by 6 points and the literacy scores of college graduates dropped by 14 points

Those numbers just sit wrong in my craw.  I mean, with all of the emphasis that we’ve placed on reading instruction in the last decade—including something like a billion dollars to implement “proven reading practices” in schools—how can it be possible that the students graduating from our schools are leaving with such a poor handle on the very skills that are most important to their future success?

Is this evidence of an underinvestment in schools?  What about communities?  Are they doing less to support families, causing children unnecessary personal struggles that interfere with reading?  Should we redirect our efforts from supporting early readers to supporting adults who haven’t mastered basic literacy skills?  Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Could this somehow be a reflection on the poor quality of teachers in our country?

What about a reflection on the poor quality of instruction in our country?

Are the two connected?

These are the kinds of questions that Kelly tackles in his new book, Readicide: How schools are killing reading and what you can do to stop it—-which will be available for download here on the Radical this Thursday (January 14th).  They are also the kinds of questions that we’ll tackle in our focused 4 day conversation with Kelly, running from January 18th through January 22nd.

I hope you’ll join us.  This is a conversation that practitioners need to grab a hold of and own.

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