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30 April 2014

America, The Illiterate

HotAir's Allahpundit writes:
Via TheBlaze, watch this and remember that these are the people who decide elections. Not you, not the lefties you see on Twitter breathing into paper bags about Thomas Piketty. It’s these people, the proverbial low-information voters, who somehow can’t identify a guy who’s been vice president for five years now and are still trying to master this whole legislative-executive-judicial thing. They’re the swing voters in 2016. Now try to sleep soundly tonight — if you dare.
But first, explain to me what the point of this is. It can’t be … this, can it?

Tony Hernandez, co-founder of the Immigrant Archive Project, told TheBlaze Monday that his group aimed to debunk the “misconception that it’s relatively easy [for immigrants] to get their citizenship.” 

“We came to the understanding that the naturalization test is the easiest hurdle for immigrants,” he said. “And we thought it could shed some light on the experience to quiz Americans.”

This is like asking random men-on-the-street to solve for x in (x + 2)/2 = 5, then pronouncing it a hard problem because 40-50 percent of the people interviewed will inevitably scratch their heads and pronounce themselves stumped. It’s not a hard problem; an intelligent nine-year-old could solve it with an hour of tutoring on algebra. It’s really not a hard problem if you know the question’s coming and have been studying for it using the handy study sheet that the federal government makes publicly available on its naturalization website. The idea here, I suppose, is to show that it’s unfair to require an immigrant to master basic knowledge to gain citizenship that adult Americans aren’t required to know, but (a) the immigrant’s free to forget it the day after the test, just like ol’ Joe Sixpack did in school many years ago, and (b) most Americans are required to know this at some point as kids, not as the price of citizenship but as the price of advancing to the next grade. The real takeaway from the clip, besides the evergreen lesson that Americans are dumb, is that some immigration advocates object to placing even the smallest, most pro forma demands upon aspiring citizens before granting them full privileges. Something to bear in mind as Congress oozes towards compromise on immigration reform.

And no, contra the host here, George Washington didn’t sign the Declaration of Independence.

Fortunately, immigration classes aren’t straight-jacketed by teachers’ unions.

Take a look at these old tests:

III.  1928 West Virginia 8th Grade Graduation Exam

Bloomberg Businessweek's America The Uneducated by William C. Symonds from 20 November 2005:

How did the U.S. become the world's largest economy? A key part of the answer is education. Some 85% of adult Americans have at least a high school degree today, up from just 25% in 1940. Similarly, 28% have a college degree, a fivefold gain over this period. Today's U.S. workforce is the most educated in the world.

But now, for the first time ever, America's educational gains are poised to stall because of growing demographic trends. If these trends continue, the share of the U.S. workforce with high school and college degrees may not only fail to keep rising over the next 15 years but could actually decline slightly, warns a report released on Nov. 9 by the National Center for Public Policy & Higher Education, a nonprofit group based in San Jose, Calif. The key reason: As highly educated baby boomers retire, they'll be replaced by mounting numbers of young Hispanics and African Americans, who are far less likely to earn degrees.

Because workers with fewer years of education earn so much less, U.S. living standards could take a dive unless something is done, the report argues. It calculates that lower educational levels could slice inflation-adjusted per capita incomes in the U.S. by 2% by 2020. They surged over 40% from 1980 to 2000.

Not everyone is so pessimistic. Education Secretary Margaret Spelling argues that President Bush's 2001 education reform law, the No Child Left Behind Act, is working to lift minority education levels. "It makes me bristle when I hear people say, 'There's no way in hell we can have our children reach grade-level proficiency,"' she says.

Still, the Center's projections are especially alarming in light of the startling educational gains so many other countries are achieving. U.S. high school math and reading scores already rank below those of most of the advanced economies in Europe and Asia. Now education is exploding in countries such as China and India. There are nearly as many college students in China as in the U.S. Within a decade, the Conference Board projects, students in such countries will be just as likely as those in the U.S. and Europe to get a high school education. Given their much larger populations, that should enable them to churn out far more college graduates as well. More U.S. white-collar jobs will then be likely to move offshore, warns National Center President Patrick M. Callan. "For the U.S. economy, the implication of these trends is really stark," he says.

Callan's projections are based on the growing diversity of the U.S. population. As recently as 1980, the U.S. workforce was 82% white. By 2020, it will be just 63% white. Over this 40-year span, the share of minorities will double, to 37%, as that of Hispanic workers nearly triples, to 17%. The problem is, both Hispanics and African Americans are far less likely to earn degrees than their white counterparts. If those gaps persist, the number of Americans age 26 to 64 who don't even have a high school degree could soar by 7 million, to 31 million, by 2020. Meanwhile, although the actual number of adults with at least a college degree would grow, their share of the workforce could fall by a percentage point, to 25.5%.

These trends aren't carved in stone, of course. Bush's No Child law is helping to lift minority kids' test scores, says Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington think tank that studies No Child. But the gaps are still enormous. On the recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, 39% of white eighth graders were proficient in reading, vs. just 15% of Hispanics and only 12% of blacks. "Given these scores, there's no way the country will reach the 100% proficiency goal" of the No Child law, predicts Jennings.

Even with No Child, backsliding already has happened in Texas, the laboratory President George W. Bush used for the law when he was governor of the state. Why? The Lone Star State's Hispanic population is exploding. Because minority students are far more likely to drop out of high school, Texas now ranks dead last among the 50 states in the percentage of adults who have a high school degree. That's down from 39th in 1990.

Similarly, Texas ranks 35th among the states in the percentage of adults who have a college degree, down from 23rd in 1990. State demographer Steve H. Murdock is telling anyone who will listen that Texas public schools will be 80% minority by 2040, up from 57% in 2000. If the education gap persists, he warns, the income of the average Texas household will fall by $6,500 by 2040, after inflation adjustments -- potentially fueling a spike in poverty, the prison population, and other social problems. "We've been very hard hit," says Murdock.

In Texas and across the country, No Child's focus on test results skirts the biggest Achilles' heel of the public schools: the growing dropout rate. Nationally, the on-time high school graduation rate is lower now than it was in 1983, when the report A Nation at Risk first sounded the alarm about the nation's failing schools, says Michael Cohen, president of Achieve Inc., a nonprofit school standards group created by governors and business leaders.

In 2002 just 68% of high school students graduated four years after they started ninth grade. That's down from 75% in the early 1980s. True, many later earn a general educational development degree. But the GED has never been the same as a high school diploma. Once students quit school, it's difficult for them to make it into college, says Thomas G. Mortenson, head of Postsecondary Education Opportunity, a higher education newsletter.

Minority students who do get through high school face even greater obstacles in earning a bachelor's degree. Because many come from low-income families, they have been hit especially hard by the shift in student financial aid policy away from need-based grants toward loans and merit scholarships that favor the middle class. So just 10% of students from the bottom quartile of family income brackets earn a BA by the time they're 24, figures Mortenson, vs. 81% of those from the top quartile. "We are not dealing with the changing demography of the country," he says.

How can the trends be reversed? Jennings argues that the U.S. must push harder to get better teachers into poorer schools. States must also work far harder to keep students from dropping out of high school even as they raise graduation requirements. Today, only about a third of high school grads are prepared for college, estimates Achieve's Cohen. Many need remedial courses, a key reason why fewer than half of those who begin college earn a BA, says Cohen, whose group is working with 22 states to raise their high school graduation requirements. And more generous financial aid could make it easier for low-income students to go to college.

The prospects for U.S. education levels are a lot like global warming. Since erosion occurs gradually, it's easy to ignore. But if the U.S. doesn't pay more attention, everything from its competitiveness to its standard of living could sink.

Take a look at these results from NYC for 194 students, all low-income minorities:

Success Academy 4 Charter School:

Math: 80% passed

English: 59% passed

P.S. 149:

Math: 5% passed

English: 11% passed

NYC: 79.3% of city public-school grads need remedial help before entering CUNY Community Colleges because 'they haven’t mastered the basics of reading, writing, and math, and have to take non-credit remedial classes to catch up.’


Look around the country at the abysmal performance of our students, who are stuck in the clutches of teachers' unions and the politicians that are addicted to the campaign donations of the former...


Chicago:  79% of 8th Graders are not proficient in reading.

While the United States overall has a strong 99% literacy rate, Chicago, IL for example has a rate of just 53%.  37% of adults in Chicago are illiterate or cannot read/write.

From The Chicago Tribune's Many third-graders fail key reading standard: Research links reading proficiency to later education success:

Tens of thousands of Illinois third-graders failed to meet a key reading benchmark that can predict students' educational trajectory long after they leave elementary school.

Clusters of students in schools across Chicagoland did not demonstrate proficient reading ability on the 2011 Illinois Standards Achievement Test, with one Chicago school reporting 85 percent of third-graders falling short. Statewide, a Tribune analysis of School Report Card data found that more than one-fourth of all third-graders failed the reading portion of the high-stakes exam.

At Chicago Public Schools' Guggenheim Elementary, 85.3 percent of third-graders failed to meet state reading standards, the worst performance in the state. Yale Elementary, also a CPS school, came in second with 77.4 percent, followed by North Chicago's Greenbay Elementary. Schools in Chicago Heights, Aurora, Maywood, Elgin, Cicero and Wheeling also reported dismal third-grade reading scores.

The push for third-grade reading proficiency is not new, but it has picked up steam in the last 10 years and received a jolt last year after a study released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, as well as the launch this year of The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

The Casey study found that millions of children across the country enter fourth grade without learning to read proficiently and says those students are at a greater risk of dropping out of high school.

"The research is long-standing, and it just keeps getting stronger," said Ralph Smith, the foundation's senior vice president.

"What has changed in the past decade is there's a renewed public understanding that not graduating from high school has deeply negative consequences for the individual and the family, especially when it comes to escaping generational poverty and finding gainful employment with family-supporting wages," Smith said.

A University of Chicago report released last year found that students who could read at or above grade level in third grade attend college at higher rates than those who were below grade level. In addition, the report stated that adults without a high school diploma or postsecondary education are more likely to be incarcerated.

The focus on third-grade reading proficiency stems from what researchers have deemed a shift between third and fourth grade, where kids go from "learning to read, to reading to learn."

"If they're not reading well by then, they're going to struggle all the way through high school and possibly through adulthood," said Peggy McCardle, chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch at the National Institutes of Health. "It's not that kids stop learning to read, but what we expect from a fourth-grader is to read math and science texts, which requires a certain level of comprehension."

At Greenbay Elementary School in North Chicago School District 187, 77.2 percent of third-graders failed to make the cut in reading.

"Obviously we're not pleased," Superintendent Milton Thompson said. "For 77 percent of our students to be below standards, I have no excuses for it. It's completely unacceptable. We will do everything we can to change that."

CPS, which had the two worst-performing schools when it came to third-grade reading, also earned the two top spots statewide. Not one third-grader at the small Skinner North Elementary or Edison Elementary Regional Gifted Center failed the reading portion; instead, 100 percent of kids at the two selective enrollment schools exceeded standards.

"We have many great schools, but we do not have enough schools in our system that are providing students with what they need for college and career readiness," said CPS spokesman Frank Shuftan, who added that a move to common core standards and a longer school day will provide kids with more reading time. "That is why we must take an aggressive approach and take the best practices from schools that are succeeding and share them across the district."

The effects of bleak third-grade reading literacy rates and subsequent high school graduation are even more pronounced for children of poverty, Donald Hernandez outlined in his report for the Casey Foundation, "Double Jeopardy."

One in 6 children who cannot read proficiently by third grade do not graduate high school on time, and children who lived in poverty and do not meet the benchmark are about three times more likely to drop out or fail to graduate, according to the report.

The gap is stark in the CPS schools that served as bookends to the 2011 third-grade reading scores. Last year, state data show that Guggenheim and Yale both enrolled nearly 100 percent low-income students, while Skinner North's low-income population was 34.3 percent and Edison's was 6.8 percent.
In Wheeling's District 21, where two schools had 66 percent of third-graders scoring below state reading standards, the director of curriculum and achievement, Janelle Hockett, said the district doesn't rely solely on the ISAT to define students' improvement.
"For students who by definition are not yet proficient in English, the ISAT English reading assessment is not an accurate measure of their academic abilities," she said.

Four schools in Cicero School District 99 had around 60 percent of third-graders not meeting state reading standards. Across the district, which has a high number of low-income students, a little more than half of third-graders didn't make the mark. Roughly the same percentage of students are classified as limited English-proficient.

Superintendent Donna Adamic echoed Hockett's sentiment of the inadequacy of the ISAT to test students who came into the district speaking little or no English.

Even so, Adamic pointed to a gain in reading scores by fifth and eighth grades in past years.

"We're making progress," she said.

But experts have said the mountain is a steep one to scale for most children who don't meet that third-grade benchmark.

"If you take (English-language learners) out of the mix, the research suggests that 74 percent of the kids never do catch up," said Smith, of the Casey Foundation.

In 2002, Florida implemented a law that required students who scored the lowest level on the state's assessment test to be retained in third grade. There were some exemptions, including those for English- language learners, students with disabilities or students who demonstrated proficiency through a different measure.

But even with those exceptions, the retention rate for third-graders skyrocketed from about 3 percent the year before the law took effect to 13 percent the year after, said Jaryn Emhof, spokeswoman for the Florida-based Foundation for Excellence in Education.

"In effect, we had about one-third of our third-graders who were scoring at the lowest level, which means they were functionally illiterate," she said.

Since then, the retention rate has dropped to 5.9 percent, and those scoring in the lowest level fell from 29 percent in 2000-01 to 16 percent in 2009-10, according to data from the foundation.

But the law hasn't been without controversy, with some pointing to the negative social implications that retention can have on a child.

"I think that's going to penalize the kids," said McCardle, of the National Institutes of Health. "If we hold these kids back … we're almost guaranteeing that they're going to be dropouts."

But Emhof defended the approach.

"I don't know what the bigger tragedy is — to promote a child out of a grade when they're not able to be successful or to hold them back until they can gain the skills," she said.

Last year, Indiana passed a comparable law stating that if children do not demonstrate reading proficiency by the end of third grade, they may not move on to fourth grade reading instruction (but can advance in other subjects). Similarly, Iowa is among a handful of states considering parallel measures that call for investing in reading programs as early as preschool and requiring basic literacy by the end of third grade.

"It's a moment in a child's development when we have to make sure kids are literate," said Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass. "Socially promoting kids and just hoping something happens isn't a risk we should be taking."

In North Chicago's Greenbay Elementary, a class of third-graders recently sat on a red tile floor snapping their fingers in unison with every syllable their teacher uttered. This is the first year the district has adopted a universal reading program, and the emphasis on early intervention and teacher training is stronger than ever, Thompson said.

"These test results indicate whatever we were doing, it wasn't working," he said. "It's beyond disappointing. You're not talking about numbers; you're talking about kids."
'When school children start paying union dues, that 's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.'

- Albert Shanker, President of the Teachers Union (United Federation of Teachers) from 1964 to 1984 as well as President of the Teachers Union (American Federation of Teachers) from 1974 to 1997.

Detroit: Only 10% of students from third to eighth grade are proficient in reading and math. As to be expected, the statistics get even worse as the students get older. Each year, kids in 11th grade take the Michigan Merit Exam to see if they are college-ready. In 2011, 90 percent of students failed the reading portion, 97 percent failed the math section, and 100 percent failed the social studies and science portions.

The devastating rate of illiteracy means that 200,000 adults aren’t able to read a newspaper, fill out a job application, or read instructions on a medicine bottle. Even more jarring is the fact that half of these functionally illiterate adults held high school diplomas or GED’s.

New Orleans: Before Katrina, New Orleans had only a 40 percent literacy rate and 50 percent of black students did not graduate high school in four years. After Katrina, 70% of students in New Orleans attend a charter school — the highest rate of any district in the nation. Additionally, the district now has an open choice policy that allows students to attend any public school regardless of their geographical location.

According to US News:

So far, the numbers show it has been mostly successful. A recent Stanford University study highlighted Louisiana…where charter schools outperform traditional pub­lic schools. Louisiana Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek reports that in New Orleans, the combined district test scores have risen 24 percent since 2005, when most stu­dents attended traditional schools.

40% of the city’s adults lack the literacy skills to comprehend basic government forms. The National Adult Literacy Survey indicates that 25 percent of U.S. adults read at the lowest functional level, meaning, for example, that they can locate an expiration date on a driver’s license but cannot fill out most motor-vehicle forms. In New Orleans, that figure is 44 percent, according to the survey.


Students in large U.S. inner cities are struggling to improve their reading ability, especially at middle-school levels, according to results from a national reading test released Thursday.

Only Atlanta and Los Angeles, two of the 11 urban centers that took the reading exam, showed statistically significant growth in eighth-grade reading from 2007 and 2009. They also were the only two to show growth since 2002.

The lackluster reading results follow the December release of urban math scores, which also showed stalled progress.

The stagnating scores of urban schools come at a key time in education reform. President Barack Obama has centered his education agenda on lifting the achievement of inner-city children. Their progress, especially in literacy skills, is critical to his push to keep the nation competitive in a global economy.

The highly regarded test is scored on a zero-to-500 point scale, with scores broken into “below basic,” “basic,” “proficient” and “advanced.” Students are considered to have passed the exam at the proficient level.

The test is more rigorous than most state exams. So while many urban districts report impressive gains on state tests, they cannot claim such progress on the NAEP.

Overall, urban schools scored far below the national averages in fourth- and eighth-grade reading. Most urban districts posted higher scores on both exams. But in many cases, the gains were not statistically significant, meaning they could have occurred by chance and might not reflect real growth.

At fourth grade, four of 11 inner-city districts saw an uptick in performance between 2007 and 2009, with the District of Columbia and Houston notching the largest gains. D.C. jumped from an average score of 197 to 203. But even that kept them at “below basic,” the lowest quartile on the scoring chart.

D.C. posted a slight gain if charter schools were removed from the equation. Unlike most national school districts, the D.C. public school system doesn’t have direct control of its charter schools. In the national data, D.C. charter schools were included in 2007, inflating the scores.

Houston improved from 206 to 211, landing them one step up in the “basic” category. The national average was 220 last year, the same score as 2007.

But eighth-grade reading proved a bigger hurdle. Only two districts showed progress, and even then, their scores were far below the nation. Atlanta posted a 250, Los Angeles a 244. The national average was 262. All of these scores are below the proficient level.

The Wall Street Journal's Op/Ed piece "Unions vs. Race to the Top".  The article is worth reading in full, but here are some key points: 

  • 'Is the Obama Administration going to side with school reformers, or will it reward state and local teachers union affiliates that defend the status quo?'

  • 'Teachers unions in Minnesota and Florida are currently threatening to withhold support for their state Race to the Top applications, which are due later this month. So is the school boards association in Louisiana.'

  • 'Unions are mainly opposed to teacher accountability reforms.'

  • 'Collective-bargaining agreements that protect bad teachers also harm children. Unions, which put the interests of their members above those of students, aren't bothered by this.'

And don't forget the infamous words of Bob Chanin, from the NEA Teachers Union:

** Huge caveat relative to Atlanta performance:   NYT: Systematic Cheating Is Found in Atlanta’s School System

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