Saturday, May 7, 2011

Discussion: Literacy in the U.S.

Yesterday, I saw a link to this story on Good--Almost Half of Detroit Residents are Functionally Illiterate--and was rather distressed. Although it is likely a flawed supposition (based on some deeper digging into the 20-year-old data source, small sample size and more), it is still a scary number. Even more disturbing is the estimate that half of the "low literacy" adults have high school diplomas or GEDs (the others are likely not-yet-English-speaking immigrants and dropouts). So, how do students get through high school without anyone noticing that they can't read at higher than a fifth grade level? English classes are mandatory and I would assume that teachers would notice kids that aren't able to read the books, pass the tests or write the papers but my assumption must be wrong.

If you look at these global literacy numbers from about five years ago, the U.S. reports that it has a 99% adult literacy rate on the whole. But this is a very generic "can read and write" definition and does not truly indicate a competent literacy, which might be at something more like 65-85%. Only about 15% of Americans are "fully literate", the equivalent of college literacy levels.

Are there any teachers out there who can give me some insight into what might be happening here? And I don't really believe the argument that this happens because of a lack of money. A teacher can evaluate a student's reading level for free by just sitting down with him/her and a book for a few minutes. Do some teachers simply not care or are there outside pressures on them that make them incapable of even taking these small amounts of time to help their students succeed? Are there any good sources out there that discuss illiteracy? What are your thoughts on the causes of illiteracy?

And now, since I would like to be part of the solution, here is a press release for an event to get books to Detroit's children --

Media Alert
May 2, 2010 

Operation Kid Equip Partners with The Giving Effect
to Collect Books for metro Detroit Kids
Inaugural Book Drive Hopes to Collect and Distribute
Thousands of Books for Area Students 

What: Operation: Kid Equip (OKE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supplying metro Detroit kids with free school-day supplies and books, will host its first mail-in book drive in partnership with The Giving Effect. Between now and May 14th, people from Michigan and across the country can donate new or gently used books to OKE without leaving the comfort of their own home. The postage is free too.

"I was fortunate to connect with Menachem from Operation: Kid Equip. Their progressive views on social media and their willingness to join us were a tremendous inspiration for building this system,” said Mitchell Silverman, Founder of The Giving Effect. “I look forward to working with them to get many more donations to the thousands of kids OKE serves.”

Local businesses are getting involved in the initiative, too. PublicCity PR has offered to be the first business to cover the cost of postage to donors who mail the first 1,000 books.

“We couldn’t have picked a better organization to partner with. The Giving Effect has helped us take our message to a whole new level,” said Menachem Kniespeck, Founder & Director of OKE. “It’s important to ensure the children of metro Detroit have the proper books they need to become the future of our great state.”

Details: To donate simply collect 10 or more books, put them in a box, weigh it and log onto to print the packing slip. Each donor will receive a tracking number and when the books are received by OKE, the donor will get an in-kind donation receipt via e-mail.

To donate locally, drop books off at

OKE Teachers’ Annex & Operations Center
1830 Stephenson Highway, Suite B
Troy, Michigan 48083

Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 2:30p.m. – 6:30p.m.
Saturday from 10:00a.m. – 2:00p.m.

About Operation Kid Equip
Operation: Kid Equip’s long term vision is a community where every child’s basic needs are met. To accomplish this in the short term we provide free school supplies, books, hygiene and food items for children who are at-risk. To effect long term community improvement, we work to increase awareness of the issues facing school-aged children to help them succeed in school and in life. For more information about Operation Kid Equip go to

About The Giving Effect
The Giving Effect ( helps donors connect with organizations that distribute essential items such as clothes, shoes, and food to people in need. Nonprofits use the site to publicize their needs and to create stories around each item donated: donors can share these stories online to increase support for the causes they care most about. Sponsors use The Giving Effect to promote their pro-social message: they provide postage to donors who mail items for free to people in need. The Giving Effect is headquartered in Brooklyn, NY.

About PublicCity PR
PublicCity PR is a publicity company, focused on quickly and effectively garnering publicity and raising the visibility of its clients through the development and execution of strategic media and community relations programs and initiatives. Based in Beverly Hills, Mich., the company is committed to providing its clients the personal attention they need and the results they deserve at a budget they can afford. For more information about PublicCity PR and its services, visit,

Trying to understand and help,


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This just shocks me. I found Tracy's comment interesting I wish there was more discussion as I'm as clueless as you.

  3. My goodness teachers notice alright. What it is like in the US I can't comment on but here in the UK it works as follows. The class teacher is a bit like the general doctor you go to for minor stuff like tonsillitis. If a kid does not learn to read with the resources in school and with the skills the class teacher has then they need expert help. You don't expect the doctor who proscribed penicillin for your minor sore throat to treat your throat cancer. You need a specialist. Who are few and far between and cost money both for their imput, the specialist book resources that might need to be specially bought in, and for the time of the class tracher to implement the advcie of the specialist. And remember the class teacher has 30 or so kids and in poor areas there may be a huge range of literacy, numeracy, social and behavoural problems.

    The really sad thing is that most, not all, but most, literacy problems could be avoided by parents reading with and to their kids from before their kids could talk, and by following school's advice on hearing your child read once they start to learn. But when some kids come to school at age 4 not knowing their colours, what hope has the class teacher building on that!

    I am really glad to be out of teaching but I do still help out for an hour week at my daughter's school. Time is what a lot of schools are short of.

  4. Oops, I do know the difference between proscribed and prescribed.