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How Improve Literacy in America

Updated on April 21, 2017

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What literacy means

Literacy doesn't simply affect the number of people that can read or not. It is correlated with the ability to stay out of poverty and to stay out jail, but those aren't the only reasons why it's important. It's also important to have as high a rate as literacy as possible because being able to read leads to the ability to perform nearly any task well and to learn about it doing it better.

Not everyone needs to read well to be good at their line or work, though, But everyone still needs to be able to read for more practical reasons. Being able to read contracts, loans, agreements, or other legal documents is critically important to be able to understand these various documents and to be able to make critical decisions about them.

The inability to do so can lead to financial problems, bad credit, and a variety of other problems. Creating a society whereas many people as is humanely possible have the ability to be literate will only benefit those people and society in general.

It will also save the taxpayers money because of the decreased people in jail and in poverty. A lot of money is keeping people in jails and helping people survive. Less money spent towards those groups of people means the government saves money and people that could be effected by the lack of literacy could be helped as well.

U.S. Illiteracy Statistics Data

Percent of U.S. adults who can’t read
14 %
Percent of prison inmates who can’t read
63 %
Percent of U.S. adults who read below a 5th grade level
21 %
Percent of prison inmates who can’t read
63 %
Percent of high school graduates who can’t read
19 %
Number of U.S. adults who can’t read
32 Million
Statistics from:

Literacy Facts

  1. 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
  2. 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read.
  3. Kids who don't read proficiently by 4th grade are 4 times likelier to drop out of school...
  4. As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country where the current generation was less well educated than the previous.
  5. Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60% of all inmates are functionally illiterate.
  6. 53% of 4th graders admitted to reading recreationally “almost every day,” while only 20% of 8th graders could say the same.
  7. 75% of Americans who receive food stamps perform at the lowest 2 levels of literacy, and 90% of high school dropouts are on welfare.
  8. Teenage girls ages 16 to 19 who live at or below the poverty level and have below average literacy skills are 6 times more likely to have children out of wedlock than the girls their age who can read proficiently.
  9. Reports show that low literacy directly costs the healthcare industry over $70 million every year.
  10. In 2013, Washington, D.C. was ranked the most literate American city for the third year in a row, with Seattle and Minneapolis close behind.
  11. Long Beach, CA was ranked the country’s most illiterate city, followed by Mesa, AZ, and Aurora, CO.

Out of School Programming

Another great thing that can be done to help with literacy is to create programs in schools that encourage reading outside of the school. These program can be centered around the students themselves and the parents.

It's up to teachers to instill a joy of reading that will help to encourage them to want to do the programs. Having the parents involved can help to bolster their interest and perhaps get them to read too, which will serve to model the desired behavior of reading and indirectly help the parents as well.

This is similar effect that an effective physical education program can have on the family. If students are excited about using the new skills they have, are encouraged to use the skills by their parents, and see their parents also participating in the skill, they are much more likely to keep doing the skill. In the case of physical education, that would be physical activity, and in the case of literacy, that would be reading.

In-School Programming.

An effective way to increase the rate of literacy is to work with children at a young age. Starting when children are young helps to have children become proficient at it because of the ability to learn things easier.

Having the ability for younger children to read allows them to broaden their interests at a younger age and become more proficient at those interest as they develop. If a student is interested in animals, they can read about animals, learn about them, and develop a knowledge base they will interest and help them to become a veterinarian. There's a million other examples.

Another ways to help young children read is to have school wide programs that focus on the ability to read and the improvement to that ability can be extremely beneficial to students. Having programs in all subject areas can help students have more broad experiences with reading, which will only help to improve their skills with it.

Funding for these programs

Many schools already have programs like these in-place which is good, but in many places the programs don't reach far enough or may be inadequate. Part of this reason for that happening can be that there is a lack of funding for these programs. When there is inadequate funds for these programs, the programs themselves can lack in their effectiveness.

Funding across the broad in education needs to go up to a much higher level than it is at currently. And reading/literacy programs are no exception to this need.

Education funding in general could be increased dramatically if more government money than the current 6% it gets now would be a tremendous help. Instead of the excessive 55% the military gets now, it could get knocked back to pay for things that are more important like the learning of children now.

Reading programs for teachers and parents

Teachers receive a lot of instruction of how to best teach students how to learn in the most effective way before they become teachers. It's important for thees teacher to continue to learn about new, effective, and researched methods of teaching reading as they progress in their teaching career.

Also have programs that help teach parents how to teach their children better will be beneficial for their children. When parents know how to teach their children in a variety of ways, they will be able to help their children to be better readers. Having a variety of time-effective strategies and methods to use will also help parents who are unable to spend a lot of time with their children because of work or other reasons.

Not the whole solution

Improving literacy and literacy programs is only one part of the improving education as a whole. Making sure people have the ability to read will only benefit them and society as a whole.

It may no directly cause people to be in prison more or to be in poverty, but knowing how to read well will give people the tools to avoid booth. Literacy is the beginning to many skills and jobs that will everyone.

It all starts with money and the increased amounts of it. Putting money into programs that help with literacy will be one of the best ways to create and bolster these programs.


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    • Amelie Cook profile image

      Crissa Cook 

      4 years ago from San Antonio, Texas

      Nice and informative article. The best way to increase the rate of literacy is to work with children at a young age, because of they have ability to learn things easier.


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