“Johnny Can’t Read” Goes to College

According to an ACT college entrance exam study, three-fourths of students who took the ACT in 2006 lacked the skills to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing college courses in reading, math, social studies and science, even though they had taken a high school curriculum designed to prepare them for higher education.

During the 2003-04 school year, according to a 2006 report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than a third of first- and second-year undergraduates reported taking a remedial course.

The Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit group, reported in 2006 that community colleges alone spend $1.4 billion annually on remedial courses for recent high school graduates. The group also noted that community colleges, like public schools, are subsidized by taxes.

Although the most common remediation method used by community colleges was the remedial course, they employed other methods, including tutoring programs, computerized learning laboratories, and learning assistance programs that featured a variety of individualized programs. In 1992, according to the National Study of Developmental Education, over 90 percent of U.S. community colleges used these additional methods to supplement or substitute for remedial courses.

In addition, an estimated 700,000 students, many attending community colleges, were served by federally funded TRIO Programs, which provide non- course-based remediation (Boylan, 1995). Consequently, the study actually underestimated, perhaps by a significant margin, the number of students receiving some form of remediation in the nation’s community colleges.

1998 NCES data indicated that in Fall 1995, 41 percent of 963,000 first-time public community college students were enrolled in at least one remedial course. Twenty-six percent of 56,000 first-time private community college students took a remedial class. These percentages total 409,390 first-time community college students that took one or more remedial courses in Fall 1995.

Enrollment figures at one school, Jackson Community College, reveal the trend that the number of students requiring instruction and support in reading has been increasing in recent years. In 2001-02, the school enrolled 257 students in the remedial course English 085: College Reading. In 2005-06, 499 students were enrolled.

Enrollment decline at Jackson CC is also indicative of a lack of postsecondary preparation. Total enrollment for Fall 2006 was 6,173. By Winter 2007, enrollment was just 4,124. (Literacy Coaching, Service Learning & Literacy: Jackson Community College, Amelia Gamel).

In September 1993, the U.S. Department of Education released the most detailed portrait ever available on the condition of illiteracy in the United States. The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) evaluated the skills of adults in three areas of proficiency: prose, document, and quantitative. Results showed:

• 23% – 25% (40 to 44 million adults) were at Level 1, the lowest of five levels. This group is the Adult Literacy Service’s primary target population—those identified as functionally illiterate.

• 25% – 28% (50 million adults) were at Level 2. According to the Executive Summary, “While their skills were more varied than those of individuals in Level 1, their repertoire was still quite limited.”

The survey also found literacy proficiencies of young adults to be somewhat lower, on average, than the proficiencies of young adults who participated in a similar study in 1985 by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The statistics are clear; illiteracy is on the rise in the United States!

The Office of Technology Assessment (OAT), an analytical arm of the U.S. Congress, stated in a 1993 report:

“Standards and requirements for literacy have increased over time and a large number of adults need to improve their literacy skills. OAT finds that at least 35 million adults have difficulty with common literacy tasks. Although many of these adults can read at rudimentary levels, they need higher levels of literacy to function effectively in society, to find employment, or to be trained for new jobs as the workplace changes… Fewer than 10% of the population in need is being reached.”

According to the American Council on Education, first-time students comprised only about 56 percent of those taking remedial courses at any given time. A large number of enrollees in remedial courses included students repeating a remedial course, those unable to register for one in their first semester, and those who delayed taking remedial courses until later in their college careers. Assuming that this 56 percent represented 409,390 first-time students, the total estimate for remedial course enrollees in Fall 1995 was 731,054.

Since enrollment figures for Spring 1996 were not available, an estimate was used to compare remediation enrollment in Fall/Spring 1995-96. Experience suggested that slightly more community college students took remedial courses in Fall 1995 (60%) than Spring 1996 (40%).

An estimate, therefore, of the number of students taking one or more remedial courses at some point during Fall/Spring 1995-96 was 1,218,422. This estimate included an unknown number of students who took one or more remedial courses in the fall and had to repeat one or more of them during the spring.

Given that some of these 1,218,422 students were taking more than one remedial course, the actual number of registrations was somewhat higher during this period. Moreover, the estimate included only courses in reading, writing, and mathematics.

NCES reported, for example, that 36 percent of the nation’s public community colleges offered remedial courses in general science, biology, chemistry, and physics. This is consistent with the 1992 National Study of Developmental Education, which found that remedial science courses were offered in about a third of U. S. community colleges.

Generally regarded as the most reliable recent study on remediation in higher education, a 1996 NCES survey during Fall 1995 used the Postsecondary Education Quick Information System to survey 847 randomly selected American higher education institutions. A major finding was that 41 percent of the students entering public community colleges in Fall 1995 were enrolled in one or more remedial courses. In private 2-year colleges, 26 percent of entering students were enrolled in a remedial course.

It is clear that remediation is a widespread necessity in U.S. community colleges. Forty-one percent of first-time community college students enroll in remedial courses. Over 1.2 million students annually participate in community college remediation, and 99 percent of the nation’s public 2-year institutions offer remedial courses.

And these estimates are conservative! According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers, only about half of U.S. states require remediation assessment and placement. Consequently, the figures include only those students who placed into remedial courses and took them, not those who may have qualified but avoided it. (Remedial Courses: Estimates of Student Participation and the Volume of Remediation in U.S. Community Colleges Prepared for The League for Innovation in the Community College, by Hunter R. Boylan and D. Patrick Saxon, National Center for Developmental Education)


Because too many high school students are not learning the basic skills needed to succeed in college or work, the nation loses more than $3.7 billion a year. This includes $1.4 billion to provide remedial education to recent high school graduates, as well as the almost $2.3 billion that the economy loses because remedial reading students are more likely to drop out of college, thereby reducing their earning potential.

Of those who enter high school in the United States, only about 70 percent will graduate—one of the lowest rates among industrialized nations (Greene & Winters, 2006). Equally important is the fact that, of those who do receive a diploma, only half are academically prepared for postsecondary education (Greene & Winters, 2005). A recent study of high school juniors and seniors taking the ACT confirms this; only half were ready for college-level reading in math, history, science, and English (ACT, 2006).

Despite these daunting statistics, the vast majority of America’s high school students are optimistic about their prospects for the future, which they anticipate includes both higher education and rewarding careers. In fact, according to a recent national survey, 81 percent of high school students expect to attend college (High School Survey of Student Engagement, 2005). This goal is wise, since 80 percent of the fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. require at least some postsecondary education (U.S. Department of Labor, 2005).

Students and their families pay approximately $283 million in community college tuition, one-fifth of the overall cost of remediation. But there’s another cost — time. Students’ time could be better spent taking college-level courses, which would advance their goals and increase their earning potential. And because many colleges do not offer credit for remedial courses, students are expending energy on study that, while necessary, delays their quest for a degree.

Individual states, and the nation as a whole, are not only paying to remediate thousands of young adults, but are risking future financial loss because students who need remediation are more likely to leave college without a degree, becoming more likely to earn less than if they had gotten a college diploma. Research shows that the leading predictor that a student will drop out of college is the need for remedial reading. While 58 percent of students who take no remedial education courses earn a Bachelor’s degree within eight years, only 17 percent of students who enroll in a remedial reading course receive a BA or BS within the same time period (NCES, 2004).

The wages of individuals with only some college experience average about $20,171 less each year than graduates. Furthermore, when students drop out, not only do they lose future income, but governments lose tax revenue, and state and national economies are deprived of additional earnings that would make them more robust.

However, the real price of college remediation is likely much higher than this. The estimate does not include the costs of remediation for students attending public or private four-year colleges, or for older community college students. Nor does it count other, non- community college-related remediation expenditures.

There are additional costs. Employers must pay for training programs to teach basic skills or purchase technology to compensate for a lack of these skills. Nonprofits and government agencies as well, pay for adult literacy training, technology, and other academic and occupational skills. (Paying Double: Inadequate High Schools and Community College Remediation, 2006)

For faster, less costly remedial education, more and more parents and adult learners are turning to self-directed courses like literacy pod to supplement what they and/or their children are not getting in the school system or through other forms of group instruction. This is especially true of reading. Too many school systems have turned away from phonics-based reading instruction to other methods that have proven ineffective.

Why Johnny Can’t Read (1955) and Why Johnny Still Can’t Read (1981), by Rudolf Franz Flesch, raised public awareness of a planned illiteracy (Chapter 2 “History of a Gimmick”, Chapter 4 “The Great Cover up”) which could never have happened had our parents known the alphabetic code. The best way to end just about anything is to let everyone know all about it.

Previous U.S Presidents poured billions of dollars and placed millions of volunteers into schools. But that won’t solve the “illiteracy scam.” The government diverted attention away from phonics in favor of the “whole language” method, by requiring it under President Clinton’s Goals 2000 program. Research in reading instruction shows conclusively, however, that the “whole language” method does not work.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development spent more than $1.2 billion in research to prove that phonics is the best way to teach reading. In fact, it has been proven repeatedly that direct, systematic instruction about the alphabetic code is the most powerful weapon in the fight against illiteracy. Any responsible linguist, teacher, parent, or cognitive scientist in the research community would agree. However, Don’t Be Fooled By Fake Phonics; but that’s another article.

Johnny is off to college, but first he may want to make a stop at a self-directed remedial course to help ensure his success.

About bcenglis

Bob Cleckler is a retired Chemical Engineer. In 1985 he read Jonathan Kozol's shocking new book, "Illiterate America." He decided to use his research skills as an engineer to see if there was a solution to the problem. He spent more than a year in his research. He read EVERY book he could find on the subject of his research. He read dozens of books from the large Marriott Research Library at the University of Utah. Based upon his findings, he developed a solution to the problem of English illiteracy. It is a PROVEN solution. Dr. Frank Laubach spent his entire adult life teaching adult illiterates around the world how to read in more than 300 alphabetic languages. Dr. Laubach proved that he could teach students, in 98% of the languages in which he taught, to read fluently in less than three months. His books, "Teaching the World to Read" and "Forty Years With the Silent Billion," never mention being unable to teach ANY of his students to read fluently.

Cleckler collaborated with Gary Sprunk, M.S. English Linguistics, to perfect his solution based upon Dr. Laubach's experience and findings. Two non-profit educational corporations were formed. Cleckler is the CEO of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and Vice Pres. of R & D of NuEnglish, Inc. Gray Sprunk is President of NuEnglish, Inc. Cleckler's award-winning book, "Let's End Our Literacy Crisis," originally published in 2005 is now available on our website, http://LearnToReadNow.org, without cost or obligation for the Second Revision, released in late 2012. This breakthrough book covers:

A. the tremendous need for improving English literacy. Cleckler found research proving (1) that 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate, defined as being unable to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job, (2) that 31.2% of these functional illiterates are in poverty, and (3) that they are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other causes combined. Furthermore he found at least 34 types of serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems that illiterates must endure every day of their lives that we would consider a crisis if we had to endure them. Cleckler also found that illiteracy costs EVERY U.S. adult -- readers and non-readers -- an average of more than $5,000 each year for government programs that illiterates use; for truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly related to illiteracy; and for the higher cost of consumer goods due to illiterates in the labor pool and in the workforce.

B. the causes of illiteracy. Before any problem can be solved, you must find the cause. Otherwise you can spend huge amounts of money fighting the symptoms of the problem without preventing the problem from recurring.

C. the preferred, proven solution to the problem. We have been fighting the symptoms of the difficulty in learning to read English for almost a century. Although numerous changes in American education have been implemented in the last century, none of them solve the foundational cause of the problem. Almost half of U.S. students never become fluent readers, and most of the ones who do become fluent readers require at least two years to learn to read well enough to continue increasing their reading skills after third grade, when most reading instruction in school ends.

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