Leadership Insights

Why America Needs More Adolescent Literacy Education

By The Room 241 Team July 21, 2012

adolescent literacy Literacy — the ability to read, write and understand the written language — is a foundational skill from a child’s earliest school days and on into adulthood. Sadly, far too many students graduate from high school lacking basic literacy skills, which only impedes their ability to enter the workforce and succeed in life.

Nearly every area of life requires basic literacy skills, from being able to read and understand words on things like food packaging, prescriptions and road signs, to being able to read and fill out job applications and forms at the doctor’s office.

Low Literacy Factors

Unfortunately, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), low literacy rates have cultural and economic influential factors that contribute to less than proficient literacy skills. The entertainment organization 2-Cent sponsors a festival focusing on the connection between literacy and art, music and film in an effort to inspire change in the current educational status. The organization shared the NAEP’s 2009 startling statistics regarding reading achievement:

  • Two-thirds of students entering high school are not proficient readers — out of the one-third who are, only 15 percent of them are African Americans and only 17 percent are Hispanic students.
  • Only one-third of eighth-grade students read proficiently at grade level.
  • Only 16 percent of urban low-income and at-risk students read proficiently, as compared to 42 percent of students from middle-income families.

Consequences of Low Literacy Rates

What happens if America’s students don’t acquire proficiency in their literacy skills and enter adulthood? The 2-Cent organization again shared alarming statistics from a variety of agencies and reports:

  • Among prison inmates, 82 percent are high school dropouts, and most of them can’t read; one-third of juvenile offenders haven’t even obtained a third grade reading level.
  • Students who read below their grade level are twice as likely to drop out–in numbers as high as 3,000 per school day.
  • America ranks an abysmal 16th out of 21 similarly developed countries in high school graduation rates.
  • If the current trend of low rates of literacy continue, forecasters have issued a dire prediction that by 2030, America’s employers will have to spend millions in remedial education and the nation’s workforce will not be capable of competing successfully in the global market.
  • Low literacy proficiency also contributes to higher poverty, higher healthcare costs, higher incarceration rates, lower annual income, and higher unemployment rates among those who lack basic literacy skills.

So Why Does America Need More Adolescent Literacy Education?

There is one primary answer to that question: because adolescents become adults. When adults are barely literate, or fully illiterate, it has far-reaching detrimental effects on individual lives, families and even the nation.

The ProLiteracy organization, the nation’s oldest of its kind devoted to promoting adult literacy and related basic education classes, highlights several key issues demonstrating why more adolescent literacy education is vital.

Adolescents become adults who should:

  • Raise children with strong literacy skills.
  • Become valuable employees as part of an educated workforce.
  • Understand healthcare needs and keep themselves and their families healthy.
  • Participate in their communities as informed citizens.
  • Advocate for themselves and their families, and avoid human rights abuse.
  • Avoid falling into crime as a means to support themselves.

Digital Literacy in America

In this 21st century age of technology, students also need proficiency in digital literacy. From schools to the workplace, and even at home, the prevalence of computers and other electronic and digital devices requires that students have at least basic computer skills.

David Honig, president and executive director of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), says students need to move beyond the basic digital literacy required to enjoy social media and to acquire more substantial proficiency in all the information and communications technology available. As high-tech jobs become more prevalent and need employees with digital and technological proficiency, those without those skills will be unable to compete for in the workplace and will likely suffer a lower quality of life.

Literacy in all areas–writing, reading, math, and digital skills–is essential for success in school, work and life itself.

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