Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Adult literacy in decline

This article summarizes the findings of this study, also discussed here. Much of the decline from 1992 to 2003 is likely due to immigration, but there are still some startling findings about higher education, discernible in these tables (numbers 11 and 12). Note that in 2003 17% of college graduates scored at basic or below in prose literacy, while only 31% scored as proficient, a 9 point decline since 1992. Also in 2003, 11% of those possessing graduate degrees scored at basic or below, while only 41% scored proficient, a 10 point decline since the last survey. These standards are not high: "proficient" is defined as the capacity to "compar[e] viewpoints in two editorials"; basic literacy requires the ability to read a pamphlet, below basic the capacity to sign a form. As Mark S. Schneider, Commissioner of Education Statistics, put it, "What’s disturbing is that the assessment is not designed to test your understanding of Proust, but to test your ability to read labels."

Let me repeat: less than half of those with graduate degrees can read (and presumably think) well enough to compare two newspaper editorials. What say you, dear readers?

Discussions - 7 Comments

Uh, I don’t understand the question.

Seriously, it’s another nail in the coffin, proving that lowering standards so that our children won’t have their precious self esteems injured is doing more harm to them that the occasional good spanking might.

Beware! You’ll bring the Fung-monster out with that kinda talk!

On a serious note, I don’t find this shocking. Our graduate programs in science and engineering are languishing, while education and other "squishy" no-standards degrees are the choice of most Americans. We should radically ratchet down the number of Ph.D.’s in humanities and social sciences and beef up MA programs across the country. Of course, I understand that this won’t happen because of the vested interests of our all-too-numerous institutions of "higher" learning, but it’s really the only hope.

I think it’s also important to understand that not everyone is "college material," and we need to stop pretending that this isn’t the case. Granting BA’s and BS’s to students who shouldn’t have graduated from high school does a disservice to the country and ultimately waters-down the educational "product."

"Granting BA’s and BS’s to students who shouldn’t have graduated from high school does a disservice to the country and ultimately waters-down the educational "product.""

Yes, exactly. And the fewer people who get BAs, the better Mr. Bramaged will feel about himself and his own lack of achievement.

I am undoubtedly more accomplished than you, MES. And that’s all the detail you get.


Quite a come-back...

Your point was?

Before the personal battles begin, can the results of this study possibly be right? I’d love to see a sample question. If proficiency is defined as "the capacity to compare viewpoints in two editorials," and only 41% of people with graduate degrees scored as such, shouldn’t we question the subject-matter of the material presented? I would think that to test implies that the participants are able to read the questions. It’s worth asking whether the available answers (assuming they are in the dreadful multiple choice format) are biased according to the drafters opinion of a topic that might not be closed.

Here’s the test questions page (not terribly helpful). Here’s the study itself (43 pp. pdf).

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