EDUCATION: More than job-training

Pupils and Prisoners

If what people spend money on indicates what they value, then one must conclude that in the US, taxpayers value locking ignorant people up more than preventing children from growing up ignorant.

Policy-makers of every stripe and level pay lip-service to the importance of education, but when push comes to shove, they prove again and again that public education is way down on their list of priorities. Maintaining people in prison, on the other hand, eats up tax dollars.

I settled on a dozen states for purposes of comparison. I gathered the statistics in 2018.

Here are the average amounts twelve states spend to educate children K-12 and to keep adults in prison. The ratios are similar in all fifty states.

Studies support the importance of early childhood education in preparing children for school and instilling positive character traits, but, so far, only three states—Florida, Oklahoma, and Georgia—have funded universal preschool for their children.

I suspect that if states would provide quality preschool programs for all its three- and four-year-olds, we would see a corresponding decline in prison populations.

Eighty percent of young people who become involved with the justice system have difficulty reading. Seventy to eighty percent of the adult prison population ditto. Every year, about a million young people drop out of school without completing high school. A large percentage of those who do graduate have not reached a level of basic literacy as defined on this site.

Children who begin school lacking adequate preschool language and social exposure start their academic work two to three years behind the children who come to school with a rich preschool experience. They never catch up.

Effective public education requires adequate funding and intelligent leadership at the state and local levels.

In many districts, parents are proving that they can gain the attention of legislators. Perhaps some of this parental passion might be deflected from the culture wars and channeled into an effort to obtain universal preschool and systematic phonics instruction in all the states.

2 Responses

  1. Drew Ward,
    The article that cites the 93 million figure was written six years ago. I just checked the Literacy is Fundamental site and all I saw were stats for children.

    According to this site <> the US adult population is 209,128,094. Half of that is 104,564,047.

    The 50% figure dates from four years ago. More recently, according to this site <> “54% of adults have a literacy level below 6th grade level.”

    Here is something dated March 16, 2022:
    About 130 million adults in the U.S. have low literacy skills according to a Gallup analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education. This means more than half of Americans between the ages of 16 and 74 (54%) read below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level. <>

    Whatever the precise figures, the situation is concerning and seems to be getting worse. According to the most recent NAEP report, elementary reading scores have declined since 2020.

    Thanks for commenting.
    M. J.

  2. Wow, this is kind of horrifying. I’m not sure it is necessarily cause and effect, but poignant nonetheless.

    I was wondering where exactly this stat is from –
    “US literacy statistics indicate that 50% of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level.”

    Doesn’t that also kind of contradict this one?
    “Adult literacy
    According to the Reading Is Fundamental site, 93 million adults in the U.S. read at or below the basic level needed to contribute successfully to society.”

    Not asking to be obtuse, but to make sense of it in my head!

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