[AAACE-NLA] cuses of low adult literacy
george.demetrion at lvgh.org
Wed May 24 14:06:17 EDT 2006
For an upcoming presentation on adult literacy to a civic group, I've
mostly borrowed and amplified on the following five points to identify
major causes of low literacy in the US. On the last category, learning
difficulties, I improvised. My request is twofold:
1. Are there areas that I'm missing?
2. Do the areas I have identified sound reasonable?
If you prefer please contact me personally at george.demetrion at lvgh.org,
although the topic, I assume is of general interest that may elicit some
public interest on the list.
Thank you very much.
Causes of Low Level English literacy amongst adults
1. Increasing standards of what counts as literacy. Literacy is not
something that can be defined by a static grade level, but is measured
against the perceived literacy needs of individuals shaped, in part, by
society and culture. For basic literacy population the higher end
achievement is high school equivalency achievement. Also important is
mastering the print-based needs of obtaining and keeping a sustainable
job, understanding and filling out forms of various types, basic math,
capacity to write a basic letter, rudimentary computer-based mastery and
knowing how to access information from various print sources in home,
work, community, and commercial environments. All of these pertain to
the ESOL population. The higher end here would be entrance into college
and obtaining a professional or entry level administrative position. A
cause of low literacy is that the ladder has been raised on what
functional proficiency consists of.
2. Increasing immigrant population. 31.4 million immigrants identified
in 2000 census. Immigrant groups are at the lowest levels of English
literacy. This pertains also to immigrants from English speaking
countries, particularly the Caribbean Islands where those who sign up
for literacy classes are typically at a much lower literacy level than
US born adults.
3. Student mobility. About 60% of students in the US make unscheduled
school changes between grades 1 and 12. The student who moves a lot is
typically from a lower income family and/or attends an inner city
school. In areas of high rent, poor housing and economic hardship,
school populations changing as much as 100% per year are increasingly
common. Such mobility creates much instability and is a contributing
cause to high numbers of inner city students not reading to grade school
4. Drop out rates and increasing numbers of students, especially in the
cities not reading at grade level all the way through their schooling
and getting further behind and socially passed year after year. This
would be bad enough if high school drop outs were ready to prepare for
the GED, but this is rarely the case. Most, in fact, lack the basic
literacy and numeracy skills needed to succeed in a GED program, and may
lack the basic skills to succeed in a pre-GED program. This, in turn,
contributes to the alarming life long gap between the educationally
haves and have nots, which, in turn, help to foster generational cycles
of low literacy.
5. Learning Difficulties. Undiagnosed learning disabilities, has been
identified as an important cause of adult illiteracy. Whether one wants
to stay with the specific notion of learning disabilities, it is at the
least indisputable that millions of adults have tremendous learning
difficulties in relation to reading and writing. For many, those
difficulties were pervasive throughout their public schooling, which
acted to keep them back in their learning, and in any event, impacts on
their ability to learn as adults even if they have enrolled in an adult
literacy or adult basic education programs. What we typically see in
adult literacy, even among the most dedicated students, is modest
progress, which, except for the most advanced students is still a far
cry from fluent, independent literacy. Thus, one of the causes of adult
illiteracy is the current rate of low literacy, for whatever reasons,
and the difficulty of moving substantially beyond current levels of
mastery. One might say that illiteracy is self-perpetuating even as
people can and do make progress in ways that matter to them as we have
seen in the case-study profiles.
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