ETS SPIES LITERACY TROUBLE AHEAD

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Science  02 Mar 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5816, pp. 1199a
DOI: 10.1126/science.315.5816.1199a
CREDIT: NALS

Literacy in the U.S. workforce is eroding and will continue to do so at least through 2030, according to the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in a gloomy report issued last month.

The economy is becoming more knowledge-intensive—only about 10% is now manufacturing-based compared with one-third in 1950. But workers are getting less literate—defined by the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS), in part, as “using [English] printed and written information to function in society.” The uneducated immigrant population is growing: Hispanics, who have the lowest high school graduation rate (50%) of any group, will go from 14% of the population to 20% in 2030. And according to U.S. Census projections, 60% of the Hispanic working population is expected to remain foreign-born, says ETS's Kentaro Yamamoto.

Hopeful trends are hard to find, says the report. High school graduation rates for both Hispanics and African Americans peaked in 1969. And college attendance among these minorities has been “stagnant” for more than a decade. ETS labels the confluence of economic and demographic factors “a perfect storm [which] continues to gain strength with no end in sight.”

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