Welcome to the Profit of Education website. Continuing the conversation begun in the book Profit of Education, we discuss the latest economic evidence on education reform.

Literacy challenges

This week we’ll stray a little from straight education economics and discuss some of the findings in the most recent issue of The Future of Children, Literacy Challenges for the Twenty-First Century.” There’s so much great, and accessible, material here that I can only touch on a few points that I found to be the most provocative.

Let me begin with a picture from the introduction to the issue by Dick Murnane, Isabel Sawhill, and Catherine Snow. I’ve doctored the picture to make a point.

You can see that over the 70’s and 80’s great progress was made in closing the reading gap between white children and black and latino children. White reading scores stayed steady while minority scores shot up, although not by enough to wipe the gap out.

How did I doctor the picture? I took an eraser to all the data after 1988 to make the point visually clearer. Here’s the full graphic, left unmeddled with except for the addition of the dotted line marking 1988.

Now look at the most recent two decades. First off some reading progress has been made, especially for white kids. But we’ve long since stopped closing the gap.

More on Wednesday…

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One Response to Literacy challenges

  1. Alexi says:

    My specious spuealction is this stall has all the hallmarks of the thesis of Cultural Literacy . That thesis was that the US does a great job of teaching the mechanics of reading (what a 4th grade test would mostly measure) but a poor job teaching the underlying cultural meaning of words that is necessary to decode more complicated passages that might contain previously unknown words or ideas. Part of the thesis is that this results from reading pablum rather than content in the early grades. I see this all the time in my college students. They have a superficial understanding of most words, particularly those that might have been encountered if they had been reading something with more content than My Little Goat or whatever they read in K-5 these days. Their strongest reading skill appears to be skimming over detail to seek well, they don’t know what key word they are looking for because my class content doesn’t fit into the one of the specific types of standardized tests they were trained to barely pass. So they simply skim, which means they have a lot of trouble simply reading a problem literally, paying attention to every word. Paying attention to adjectives and modifying prepositional phrases is a particular weakness. And since they are definitely above the average HS graduate, one assumes that a typical 8th grader sees only nouns and verbs and misses the higher-order content a test like NAEP presumably examines.

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