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The invisible cause

Literacy facts at-a-glance

Lack of literacy and education are at the root of many problems.

Yet it is an invisible cause, hidden from public view! Those who are educated have long forgotten how it feels to struggle with words, or may have never experienced the fright and embarrassment that comes with getting lost in literary nowhere land. 

Those who are illiterate don't commonly speak out for themselves. Trapped by feelings of guilt and low self-esteem, they often work hard to hide this weakness. This makes them invisible, and their cause overlooked.

Our society is ever demanding more literate workers and citizens.

As technology advances and the American economy becomes increasingly knowledge based, individuals must be able to read, write, and communicate at higher levels in order to succeed economically and socially.

Currently, more than half of America’s secondary students struggle to read their textbooks and other course materials. Yet, despite research that demonstrates that adolescents’ literacy levels improve with intensive, comprehensive instruction, the children of our nation struggle to master core literacy skills.

The following literacy facts illustrate the size of the problem.
Please also take a look at our Vocabulary Junction campaign
If you would like to add a quote or source to this list, please email us!


***Nearly half (41 to 44 percent) of all adults at the most basic level of literacy live in poverty, compared with only 4 to 8 percent of those in the two highest proficiency levels. 
***Adults of higher literacy level are more likely than those in the lower levels to vote. 
***Individuals demonstrating higher levels of literacy were more likely to be employed, work more weeks in a year, and earn higher wages than individuals demonstrating lower proficiencies.
***Seven out of ten prisoners perform at the lowest literacy level.
Source: NAAL, National Assessment of Adult Literacy

***Only a little more than half of the students in today’s U.S. elementary schools learn to read and write well enough to be functionally literate.
***More than 40% of the employees in U.S. businesses are functionally illiterate.
***More than 94 million adults in the U.S. can speak, but not read, the English language.
Source: Literacy in the Labor Force Report, 2003. http://literacy-research.com/


Most U.S. adults who learn to read well enough to be functionally literate require at least two years of reading instruction to become literate, while students in more than 98% of all other alphabetic languages learn to read in less than three months.
Source: Welcome to the Solution to English Illiteracy. http://literacy-research.com/


Read here the Indicator Pages regarding why students need to be reading proficient by end of third grade.
Research shows that adolescents with reading problems can master college preparatory material if provided with appropriate, quality literacy instruction. 
Source: Alliance for Excellent Education, Fact sheet December 2004
A survey of 120 major American corporations affiliated with Business Roundtable, employing nearly 8 million people, concludes that in today's workplace, writing is a "threshold skill" for hiring and promotion among salaried (i.e., professional) employees. Survey results indicate that writing is a ticket to professional opportunity, while poorly written job applications are a figurative kiss of death. Estimates based on the survey returns reveal that employers spend billions annually correcting writing deficiencies.
Source: Writing: A Ticket to Work...  Or a Ticket Out, A Survey of Business Leaders


"American education will never realize its potential as an engine of opportunity and economic growth until a writing revolution puts language and communication in their proper place in the classroom. Writing is how students connect the dots in their knowledge. Although many models of effective ways to teach writing exist, both the teaching and practice of writing are increasingly shortchanged throughout the school and college years. Writing, always time-consuming for student and teacher, is today hard-pressed in the American classroom. Of the three 'Rs,' writing is clearly the most neglected."
Source: The Neglected "R": The Need for a Writing Revolution


The United States is ranked 49th among the 156 United Nation member countries with regard to literacy.
Source: United Nations
According to a survey of company executives the most important skill a job applicant can possess - and the skill most often found lacking - is the ability to communicate effectively. 
A number of national and state organizations in the U.S., including the National Governor's Association, have identified Level 3 proficiency (on a scale from 1 to 5) as a minimum standard for success in today's labor market. Findings from the International Adult Literacy Survey indicate that only half of the U.S. population 16-65 years of age reached Level 3.
86% of small business owners surveyed in the "Voices from Main Street: Assessing the State of Small Business Workforce Skills" thought that language skills were very important for their employees. 
Even for low paying, hourly production positions employers rated language skills (reading/writing) higher (31.6%) than math or communication skills.
Source: National Institute For Literacy, NIFL
In a study examining resume preferences, personnel professionals from major corporations, government agencies and public schools were asked to rate sample resumes based on content, style and format, overall rating  and whether an applicant would be invited for an interview based on the resume presented.
The study found that misspelling and poor grammar would usually screen the applicant out of the hiring process. These negative points were thereby valued more than a low or omitted grade point average, extensive education in an unrelated field, prior employment length of less than one year, etc.
Source: Important Factors that Influence Employers when Screening, Monthei C.
Surveys of Fortune 500 companies in 1978, 1985, and 1995 revealed trends in the evaluation of resumes. Compared to earlier years, the later survey found more emphasis on grammar and spelling than previously.
Source: Career Development International, see White Paper bibliography, Spinks, N.
"If the ability to write clearly and correctly is the hallmark of an educated person, recent data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and other groups depict nothing less than a writing crisis in ... [America's] classrooms: Most students are poor writers. July 2003 NAEP test scores show that fewer than one in three of the nation's fourth-, eighth-, and 12th-graders are proficient in writing--that is, capable of composing organized, coherent prose in clear language with correct spelling and grammar. Only 24 percent of high school seniors achieved that goal. Teachers themselves lack writing skills. Only a handful of states require courses in writing for teacher certification, even for elementary school teachers, and few of the nation's public school teachers have taken after-school, weekend, or summer courses in writing or the teaching of writing. Students rarely receive rigorous writing assignments, even in English class. NAEP reports that nearly all elementary school students (97 percent) spend three hours a week or less on writing, about 15 percent of the time they spend watching television. Only half of high school seniors (49 percent) receive writing assignments of three pages or more for English class, and then only once or twice a month. Employers and college professors decry the quality of writing among their new employees and students. In a 2002 Public Agenda survey, more than 70 percent of employers who hire recent high school graduates and college professors who teach freshmen and sophomores rated public high school graduates 'fair' or 'poor' on writing." 
Source: Hurwitz 2004.
It is estimated that approximately 10% (29 million) of the U.S. population (290 million) are affected by learning disability.
Roughly one billion dollars is spent annually to help improve the educational opportunities of school-aged LD children. Recent studies indicate that timing involved in the processing of visual and auditory information may be impaired in children who have difficulty learning to read (dyslexia).   
Source: Hearing by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, 1993.
“In CA, NM, TX, NY, and AZ, at least one-fifth of the school-age population speaks a language other than English at home. About 1 in 25 students is linguistically isolated—that is, they live in a household where no one age 14 or older speaks English ‘very well’. Approximately 2.6 million students in kindergarten through high school were identified as having limited English proficiency (LEP) in 1992-1993. This represents nearly 6 % of all K-12 students in the United States.”   
Source: The United States at Mid-Decade, Population Bulletin, 1996.
"In a report called 'Reality Check' (www.publicagenda.org/specials/rc2000/reality.htm), Public Agenda and EDUCATION WEEK asked parents, college professors, and employers [in the U.S.] to rate the skills of high school graduates. Asked if these young people had the skills to succeed in the working world, 66 percent of parents said yes, but only half as many employers agreed. Similarly, 61 percent of parents said high school graduates had the skills to succeed in college, versus just 46 percent of professors. The employers and professors were most concerned about basic verbal skills. Seventy-nine percent of employers and 82 percent of professors said they would give recent graduates 'fair' or 'poor' ratings on writing clearly. Seventy-seven percent of employers and 79 percent of professors would give the same grades to the graduates' grammar and spelling. Half the employers and 49 percent of professors would give the students fair or poor rankings on 'speaking English well.' (...) Seventy-seven percent of students, 74 percent of teachers, and 66 percent of parents said in the Public Agenda survey that a high school diploma means a student 'has at least learned the basics.' Only 33 percent of professors and 39 percent of employers agreed."
Source: Hardy 2000
Only about half of this year's high school graduates have the reading skills they need to succeed in college (…) according to a yearly 2005 report from ACT, which produces one of the nation's leading college admissions tests.                 
Source: New York Times, 8/17/2005 
State funding helping English-language learners has dropped from $221 per student in 1992-93 to just $90 per pupil today. School officials in many districts say that's barely enough to test the students as required by law, much less buy special materials, hire teachers or provide extra tutoring. 
"If we relied on that to educate our students, we would be so woefully inadequate as to be committing a crime," said Jorge Garcia, director of bilingual education for Boulder schools. 
Source: Many tongues, fewer dollars: Number of non-English speakers has tripled in decade, Rocky Mountain News, 3/2001.
ProLiteracy, one of the Nation's largest literacy organizations released a comprehensive study on the State of Adult Literacy in Sep. 2004. Click here to review the original document.


Poorly written job applications are a figurative kiss of death, and corporations spend several billion dollars annually improving writing among employees, according to a business survey released here today by a blue-ribbon group worried about the quality of writing in the nation's schools and colleges.
The report available below found that US companies are spending approximately three billion dollars a year on remedial writing classes for current and new workers (2002) in order to prepare them for the current demands of workplace writing which includes increasing amounts of communication via email and reduced contact by phone or in-person conversations 
Click for the full report by the National Commission on Writing for America's Families, Schools and Colleges, Sep. 2004

"How are reading and writing related? Reading and writing are interactive and complementary processes; in the real world, they function together.  Both readers and writers must know word meanings and spelling."  Source: Bromley, 2002

The Alliance for Excellent Education offers great fact sheets on Adolescent Literacy and the impact of education on Health & Well-Being, the Economy, Crime, Income, Employment and Poverty.
Most students are poor writers. July 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress(NAEP) test scores show that fewer than one in three of the nation's fourth-, eighth-, and 12th-graders are proficient in writing--that is, capable of composing organized, coherent prose in clear language with correct spelling and grammar. Only 24 percent of high school seniors achieved that goal.
Approximately 8 million of the 32.5 million students in fourth through twelfth grade read below the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s minimum or “basic” standards for their grade level. 
Source: Analysis of the National Center for Education Statistics, 2003.
Only 31 percent of eighth graders and 34 percent of twelfth graders meet the National Assessment of Educational Progress standard of reading “proficiency” for their grade level. 
Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2002.
In a typical high-poverty, urban school, approximately half of incoming ninth-grade students read at a sixth- or seventh-grade level. Source: Balfanz, 2002.
On average, African-American and Hispanic twelfth-grade students read at the same level as white eighth-grade students.
Source: Office of Vocational and Adult Education, 2002.
Students in the lowest 25 percent of achievement are twenty times more likely to drop out of high school than students in the highest 25 percent.
Source: Carnevale, 2001.
Approximately 53 percent of undergraduates enroll in remedial courses in postsecondary education. Nearly one-half of the undergraduates enrolled in remedial courses in the 1999-2000 school year took a remedial writing course, and 35 percent took remedial reading. Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2001.
Sixty percent of prison inmates are illiterate and 85% of all juvenile offenders have reading problems. According to Nation's Business Magazine, there are 15 million illiterate employees in the United States today. American businesses pay for this deficiency in a variety of ways: remedial classes given to employees, low productivity, accidents and errors due to illiteracy. The cost runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
Source: http://www.villagelife.org/news/archives/func_illiterate.html
“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.”
Source: Unknown.

Please also read the LearnThatWord blog regarding this experiment.

There are more than 1,768 ways of spelling 40 sounds in English.
Source: Welcome to the Solution to English Illiteracy. http://literacy-research.com/

Eighty percent of the words in the English language dictionary do not accurately indicate how they should be pronounced.
Source: The American Literacy Council. http://americanliteracy.com/

George Bernard Shaw created the word “Ghoti” which he suggested was pronounced like the English word “fish” if some of the precedents of English spelling were used. He pointed out that the “gh” was pronounced like “f” as in “enough”, the “o” as in “women” and the “ti” as “nation.”
Source: REY, D S., 2006. Language In Use [online]. Cambridge, UK. www.putlearningfirst.com/language/02signs/spell.html


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