Sunday, August 16, 2015

Illiteracy is (still) tied to school failure

Today in The Oklahoman, Heather Warlick reports on an Oklahoma City woman's "journey through school, when, despite her inability to read, she was promoted year after year, eventually graduating from Douglass High School."

"For a large percentage of Oklahomans, to read this article would be impossible," Warlick reports in an accompanying article.
Some experts use data from the 2003 Oklahoma State Assessment of Adult Literacy, which they say is largely still statistically representative of Oklahoma's literacy rates. 
That study suggested that 12 percent of Oklahomans read at a "below basic" level. This means they have only the reading skills to make out short, simple text; to sign their names and perhaps fill out a bank deposit form. 
Another 31 percent performed at a basic level, defined as having the skills necessary to perform simple and everyday literacy tasks such as using a TV Guide or comparing ticket prices. Forty-seven percent were considered intermediate readers and only nine percent were deemed proficient.
And now for something I wrote (sigh) a dozen years ago in The Oklahoman:
By now the story formula is well known. A reporter or columnist will trot out Oklahoma's mind-boggling illiteracy statistics, profile a recovering illiterate, then end with some warm fuzzies about reading to your kids or becoming a volunteer tutor or launching a "Read Y'All" marketing campaign, as in the case of "Henry backs reading program" (news story, Oct. 19). 
Stories about literacy programs have their place, but why must they always ignore the elephant in the living room? Surely I'm not the only one who wonders how we ended up with 421,000 illiterates in this state. I thought schools were supposed to teach people to read. 
"The full truth can't be told," Joseph Sobran once remarked, "if some subjects have to be danced around like Uncle Harry's drinking problem." 
Let's be honest: Our illiterates have been to school. Oklahoma doesn't have a mere 100 literacy programs, as one source indicated. We have more than 1,800 of them. They're called schools. Taxpayers pour billions of hard-earned dollars into them. 
Oklahoma has a compulsory attendance law that mandates school attendance from ages 5 to 18. About 95 percent of Oklahoma students attend a public school ... Yet 1,127,482 Oklahomans—nearly half the adult population—have a literacy repertoire ranging from practically nonexistent to "quite limited." 
Isn't it time someone confronted poor Uncle Harry? I'm not asking that every child become a National Merit scholar, but at $6,772 annually per child, even if you taught them nothing else you could at least teach them to read, y'all.

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