Reading Education: A Serious Problem YOU Can Help End

This is about an idea so big that small-minded people do not want even to consider it. This is a challenge to you, dear reader: please do not be small-minded — or close-minded. There is a serious illiteracy problem affecting all 1.4 billion English-speaking people around the world — and there is only one proven solution. This article will prove it to anyone willing honestly to mentally engage with the facts presented. Whether you know it or not — whether you believe it or not — the problem explained here has varying degrees of negative effects on every English-speaking person around the world.

To help you understand, I need to use an analogy. I feel like the medical doctor who has a patient with a serious, eventually fatal medical problem for which he has treated the symptoms with an expensive home-remedy for several years. After offering to explain the simple medical solution to his illness, he only wants to know the cost of the cure. I explain the cost of the cure. I explain that his home-remedy fights the symptoms but will never cure the disease – similar to taking cough and pain medicine and decongestants instead of antibiotics to cure pneumonia. He decides that he will continue with his home-remedy because the cost of the cure is almost the cost of three months of his home-remedy.

This is a very close description of what is happening in reading education. We have been fighting the symptoms of the problem in reading education since 1755, and for various reasons only a very tiny proportion of scholars will honestly examine the problem. It is really disturbing to see the enormous amount of time and money and the multiple thousands of teachers, parents, and literacy volunteers fighting the symptoms of reading education in this country — when the solution is so simple, easy, and quick (less than three months for learners). Half-measures may reduce the symptoms suffered by some of the students, one-at-a-time, but they are not doing what is needed to help everyone at once by solving the problem.

The problem:  it is difficult to learn to read English (as explained below).

The symptoms of the problem:

  1. Almost half of English-speaking students in America (and presumably an equally disturbing number of students in other English-speaking countries) never become fluent readers in English. Almost every U.S. adult can read at least a thousand simple words learned in the first three or four years in school, but they cannot read well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job (as proven below). They do not like to read and seldom try to read. Statistics show that almost half of U.S. adults never read an entire book after leaving school.
  2. Most of those who do become fluent readers need at least two years learning to read well enough that they can continue to improve their reading skills after reading instruction in school ends. Most reading instruction in U.S. schools (other than remedial reading) ends after third or fourth grade. As a result, as teachers who are familiar with teaching reading to students in other countries know and as members of some “think tanks” such as The American Enterprise Institute know, American students are about two years behind the students of the same age in other industrialized nations.
  3. Information in following sections proves the seriousness of the symptoms.

 The first step in solving any problem: find what is causing the problem. You can spend an enormous amount of time and money fighting the symptoms of a problem. If you do not solve the problem, however, it continues to occur — undiminished (often increasing) in intensity.

 Proof that Learning to Read English is difficult:

The English spelling system is NOT a logical alphabetic spelling system. English spelling is more like Chinese writing in which specific shapes in specific positions represent a word. English spelling uses a specific combination of letters in a specific order to represent a word. This came about in 1755 with the publication of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s well-received dictionary. Dr. Johnson, in effect, froze the spelling of words instead of freezing the spelling of phonemes (the smallest sound used to distinguish between syllables and words in a language or dialect), as a logical alphabetic spelling system is designed to do. In most cases, Dr. Johnson used the words as they were spelled in their language of origin. Words were added to the original Celtic from the languages of every conqueror who occupied the British Isles: Norse, Icelandic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, German, Danish, and French. Since 1755, as explained in Henry Hitchings book, The Secret Life of Words, the English language has adopted words (and usually their spelling) from 350 additional languages.

A logical alphabetic spelling system should have a one-to-one correspondence of phonemes and graphemes (a grapheme is a letter or a specific combination of letters used to represent a phoneme). To read English, a student must only learn to spell 38 phonemes and learn how to blend them into words. There are 26 letters in our alphabet, so we could spell our phonemes with 26 single-letter graphemes and 12 two-letter graphemes. Instead, in addition to 26 single-letter graphemes, present English spelling uses at least the following: 184 two-letter graphemes, 131 three-letter graphemes, 22 four-letter graphemes, and four five-letter graphemes, for a total of 367 graphemes — when only 38 are needed! When more graphemes are used than are needed, that means that many of the graphemes represent more than one phoneme each. In fact, only five single-letter graphemes (B, K, P, R, and V) have only one pronunciation each. The other graphemes (of any length) have from one to eight pronunciations each. Adding to the confusion, however, all but six of the single-letter graphemes (H, Q, U, W, X, and Y) are doubled in some words and not in others — with no reliable way of knowing which is which. Also, all 26 of the letters in present spelling are silent in some words (reAd, deBt, sCent, velDt, havE, halFpenny, siGn, rHyme, busIness, riJsttafel, Knot, taLk, Mnemonic, autumN, sophOmore, rasPberry, lacQuer, suRprise, aiSle, depoT, bUilt, savVy, Write, fauX pas, maYor, and rendeZvous) with no reliable way of knowing if a letter is silent or not. Also, some English words do not spell all of the sounds in the spoken word or the graphemes do not show the proper order in which the phonemes are to be pronounced.

 For Reading: The student or writer must know the pronunciation of as many as 367 graphemes — with an average of 2.2 pronunciations each — by memory, for each individual word, because the phoneme that a grapheme represents can (and often does) change from one word to the next. Individual graphemes represent as many as eight different phonemes.

 For Spelling: The student must remember which graphemes — and in which order they occur — for each individual word. This is even more difficult than reading because the spelling of each phoneme varies from only (!) four spellings for two of the phonemes (H as in hat and TH as in then) to sixty or more for the U phoneme as in nut! Professor Julius Nyikos of Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania studied six standard dictionaries and found 1,768 ways of spelling 40 English phonemes — an average of 44 spellings each! Furthermore, no one can learn to read using English spelling rules. There is not even one spelling rule that does not have exceptions – and some of the exceptions even have exceptions! A computer programmed with 203 English spelling rules was able correctly to spell only 49 percent of a list of 17,000 common English words. Most adults cannot do as well.

After reading this you may say, “So what? I learned to read.” Here is the “So what:” hundreds of millions of English-speaking people do not. Does that bother you? It should. Their illiteracy costs you and me money and negatively affects each of us — and our nation — in numerous ways that you have probably never considered.

 Proof That a Phonemic Spelling System Will SOLVE the Problem:

Dr. Frank Laubach spent more than forty years going all around the world teaching thousands of adults in more than 300 alphabetic languages (other than English) to read fluently. He prepared primers for 313 languages and even invented spelling systems for 220 unwritten languages. Here is the proof: His books, Teaching the World to Read and Forty Years With the Silent Billion, never mentions even one student that he was not able to teach to read fluently. Dr. Laubach was able unfailingly to teach students to read fluently in from one to twenty days (!) in 95 percent of the languages and in less than three months in 98 percent of the languages! He was able to do this because the languages in which he taught were almost perfect, phonemically — a one-phoneme-to-one-grapheme correspondence. Confirmation of Dr. Laubach’s findings is given by comparison to the amazing findings of Dr. Rudolph Flesch. He stated on pages 167-168 of his 1981 book, Why Johnny Still Can’t Read, that Russian schoolchildren are taught to read 46 of the 130 national languages of Russia — in first grade! There is no reading instruction, as such, after first grade.

The difficulty of learning to read English is NOT because of the difficulty of the language itself, however. The English language is neither among the easiest nor among the most difficult. Axel Wijk states on pages 56-57 of Alphabets for English, edited by W. Haas, that English is a comparatively easy language to learn for foreigners, “… mainly due to its grammatical structure, which is far simpler that those of most other important languages, particularly so in comparison with French, German, Russian, or Spanish.” Sir James Pitman states on page 264 of his book, Alphabets and Reading, “No other major language possesses such a simple grammar and syntax or combines the following advantages: . . .” The first two of the eight advantages he lists, for example, are: there are no arbitrary genders and agreement between adjectives and nouns is unnecessary. The grammar and syntax of English is easier than that of many European languages, for example. In most European languages, students learn to read fluently in less than three months.

Dr. Laubach stated on page 48 of his book, Forty Years With the Silent Billion, “If we spelled English phonetically, American children could be taught to read in a week.” All those resisting change may insist that we prove it on several thousand American children in a public school. Those objecting to a proven solution are effectively trying to “reinvent the wheel.” Dr. Laubach has quite adequately proven that phonemic spelling systems are easy to learn, and it would be a huge mistake to continue expending enormous amounts of time and money when the solution has already been proven. Education researchers may want to do additional research. The reason is obvious. They will be receiving the work and the money spent on the research. Jonathan Kozol, in his book, Illiterate America, asks the obvious question about ending illiteracy, “Why should we spend additional time and money on research when the researchers will only be confirming what we already know?”

 Proof That English Spelling Causes Serious Problems:

An analysis of the Adult Literacy in America report and a 2006 follow-up report prove the shocking extent * of functional illiteracy in English. (All asterisks in this article refer to the “Read More” pages in a website that has a link in the last paragraph of this article.) The Adult Literacy in America report — from a five-year, $14 million study — is the most statistically accurate and comprehensive study of U.S. adult literacy ever commissioned by the U.S. government. The Adult Literacy in America study involved lengthy interviews of 26,049 adults statistically chosen by age, gender, ethnicity, and location (urban, suburban, and rural locations in twelve states across the U.S. and included 1,100 prisoners from 80 prisons) to represent the entire U.S. population. These documents prove that 48.7 percent of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate (defined as being unable to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job), proves that 31.2 percent of these illiterates are in poverty, and proves that they are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other reasons combined. The inability to hold a good job is the most accurate and reliable indicator of illiteracy because employers have a very strong financial interest in accurately determining a person’s ability to read and write to make sure that they will be a profitable employee. All other methods are susceptible to unintentional (or even intentional) inaccuracies because of the size, time period, and subjects of the data base used and because of the data handling, calculation, and verification methods used.

Jonathan Kozol’s shocking book, Illiterate America, proves the seriousness of the problem. Kozol describes the serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems that illiterates must endure every day of their lives, problems that we would consider a crisis if we had to endure them. Functional illiterates cannot read well enough to perform many of the simple daily tasks needed to thrive in our present complex, technologically challenging life — tasks that those of us who are literate take for granted. An informative website about ending illiteracy in English summarizes the seriousness * of the problem of illiteracy.

In addition to the seriousness for illiterates, illiteracy costs every U.S. Adult — both reader and non-reader — an average of more than $5,000 each year. This cost is (1) for government programs that illiterates use (for example: job training, unemployment payments, welfare, Medicare, and Medicaid), (2) for truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly related to illiteracy, and (3) for the higher cost of consumer goods (about $2,200 of that $5,000) because of illiterates in the labor pool (necessitating higher recruiting costs) and in the workplace. You and I both know that if the first two items were eliminated, our taxes would not decrease — the government would find somewhere else to spend the money — but at least that particular waste of money would be gone.

This pales in comparison, however, to the cost of at least two years of public education wasted by the additional time required to learn to read. The English Spelling Society on their www.englishspellingsociety.org website claims that our present spelling requires an average of three years longer to learn than if our words were spelled phonemically. The 2008-2009 cost, per pupil, (the latest available figures) for public elementary and secondary education in the U.S. is $12,643. For the millions of U.S. students, this amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars wasted. You and I both know that if our spelling was perfected, that expenditure would not stop. Instead, English-speaking students would attend school the same number of years, but they would finally be able to compete with students of the same age in non-English-speaking industrialized nations.

The (often-unrecognized) illiterates among us adversely affect our entire nation. Illiterates not only cause large expenditures for their needs, but also their inabilities harm the trade balance with other nations, and result in outsourcing and many other causes of American jobs being sent overseas as explained by Thomas Friedman’s book, The Earth is Flat.

 The Solution to Illiteracy in English:

Based upon Dr. Laubach’s experience, what English-speaking people need is English spelled phonemically. A spelling system known as NuEnglish is phonemically perfect: a one-grapheme-to-one-phoneme correspondence. It has ten beneficial characteristics * that correct all the problems in present spelling. No other known spelling system proposed from the late 1800s to the present has all — or even most — of these beneficial characteristics.

Most people want to know the “cost of the cure” as mentioned in the second paragraph of this article. When people learn the cost of the cure is spelling reform, they may think the cost is too high. This is only until they learn these thirteen important, provable facts:

  1. At present, only slightly more than half of the students become fluent readers. Most of those who become fluent need at least two years to learn to read well enough to be able to keep increasing their reading vocabulary until they become fluent readers.
  2. Learning to read a phonemically perfect spelling system will be extremely easy. Present readers can learn the ten simple NuEnglish spelling rules in less than ten minutes and read NuEnglish at almost the same rate as they read present English spelling. Persons attempting to read NuEnglish material — even before learning the spelling system — were able to read aloud with only an occasional two- or three-second stumble over some of the words. Present readers can easily return to present reading rates with a couple of months of experience in reading NuEnglish.
  3. With proper instruction, the better beginning readers will be able to read NuEnglish fluently in a week, as Dr. Laubach stated. All but the most mentally handicapped will certainly be able to become fluent readers of NuEnglish in less than three months. A month or two after becoming fluent in NuEnglish, beginning readers will be able to read at the same rate as readers who are fluent in our present chaotic spelling system — or more likely: somewhat faster.
  4. No overall statistically significant improvement in reading education in English has been made since our ridiculous spelling system was frozen in 1755. All those who object to attacks on our spelling by claiming that “English is a beautiful language” or “We should not attack our ‘mother tongue’ ” need to get serious! How many immigrants or beginning readers would call English a “beautiful language” while struggling to learn to read our present illogical, inconsistent spelling?
  5. A phonemic spelling system has been proven effective by Dr. Laubach’s work in more than 300 alphabetic languages, as explained in the section, “Proof That a Phonemic Spelling System Will SOLVE the Problem,” above.
  6. Although English-speaking nations have tried a multitude of ways to solve the problem since 1755, correcting our spelling by freezing the spelling of the phonemes instead of the words is the only solution that will ever work.
  7. In the long run, correcting our spelling will save money rather than costing! We will not have to replace the reading textbooks every five or six years when the “new and improved” teaching method comes out that addresses the symptoms of the difficulty of reading without solving the problem causing the difficulty. We will only replace textbooks when they physically wear out; and the reading textbooks will be much smaller and easier to prepare. Most of the content can simply be children’s classical literature (much of which has exceeded the copyright date) transposed into English spelled phonemically by use of a computer program.
  8. All reasonable objections * to spelling reform have been thoroughly debunked by reputable, respected scholars.
  9. Numerous benefits of finally correcting our spelling system far overbalance any objections (even the unreasonable ones) that persons resisting change may have.
  10. Dozens of scholars for the last 250 years or more have recommended spelling reform.
  11. Thirty-three nations, both smaller and larger than the U.S., both advanced and developing nations, have simplified their spelling.
  12. The need for a higher literacy rate is greater than ever in our increasingly complex world. Very few of today’s jobs do not require literacy. International trade is making most jobs increasingly competitive.
  13. Appropriate to unlucky thirteen, however, here is the kicker: comprehensive spelling reform has never been attempted in English! There are two significant reasons why this is true: (1) there are several reasons why most people do not know * the seriousness of the problem — as you now know, if you have read the “Proof That English Spelling Causes Serious Problems” section above.  (2) Most people, familiar only with the difficulty of learning present English spelling, have difficulty understanding that students can quickly, easily learn to read * with a perfect phonemic spelling system. For those who may have disbelieved the facts about the seriousness of the problem or the ease of implementing the solution, the website below addresses both of these reasons. Due to the seriousness of the problem of functional illiteracy in English, you are challenged to prove to yourself whether what is presented here is factual or not.

 What Must Be Done to Ensure Success in Ending Illiteracy in English:

No humanitarian project — no matter how worthy — can succeed unless enough people know about it. Publicity is essential for the success of almost any project. There are more than 1.3 billion English-speaking people around the world. An estimated 600 million English-speaking people around the world — more than 93 million in the U.S. alone — are desperately hoping that you and I will help them end their functional illiteracy in English. All that is needed to begin the process of definitely and permanently ending illiteracy in English is to publicize the proven solution to illiteracy. If enough people know about the seriousness of the problem and the ease of solving the problem, the problem will be solved. Otherwise, how can anyone claim to have any compassion whatsoever for the problem?

Bob Cleckler, has been working passionately since 1985 to help end illiteracy in English. A careful, honest evaluation of his ending illiteracy in English website will take only six minutes. The proofs in six of the “Read More” pages mentioned above are as follows. The shocking extent * of functional illiteracy in English (page 2), why we do not know * the extent of the problem (page 3), the seriousness * of the effects of illiteracy (page 4), the characteristics * of NuEnglish (page 8), how to quickly, easily learn to read * NuEnglish (page 10), and objections * to spelling reform (page 11). There is a “Media Page” link on our website, in the left-hand column, with an informative video about our humanitarian project. There are five blogs on ending illiteracy, all of which are available by clicking “IMPORTANT LINKS.” Gary Sprunk, M.S. English Linguistics, prepared the NuEnglish.org website that has the Respeller, a computer program — with a database of more than 617,000 traditionally spelled English words — that will quickly transpose up to 25 pages of traditional spelling into NuEnglish. Cleckler wrote the latest version of his award-winning book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, in 2012. To allay any suspicions that his passion is only to make money on his book, rather than an earnest desire to help hundreds of millions of people, this second revision is a 265-page e-book in PDF format that is available at no cost or obligation of any kind in the left-hand column of the website. It has 164 pages of text, 8 Appendixes in 46 pages, 178 extensive notes and references, a Glossary, an extensive bibliography, an index, and other features. This book proposes a plan for implementing NuEnglish, and it will answer any of the questions that our website does not answer.

The “Provable Ultimate” Spelling System

My new ending functional illiteracy in English website, covers the problems of English literacy and functional illiteracy — the extent, the causes, and the cost of illiteracy, the suffering of illiterates, and the proven solution. The home page of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc., http://NuEnglish.org, also presents valuable information about our humanitarian project of ending English functional illiteracy.

This blog covers only one important aspect of the solution to illiteracy: the proposed NuEnglish spelling system. A very natural objection to a new spelling system is the difficulty of learning the new system. Most of us learned to read as a child and have long ago forgotten just how difficult it was. Our eyes glide easily over a multitude of traps for beginning readers of traditional English spelling. Nevertheless, when the subject of a new spelling system comes up, in the back of our minds is the fear that learning any new spelling system is going to be very difficult — because of our experience with traditional English. But as you will see in reason (10) Why NuEnglish Is the Ultimate Spelling System (below) NuEnglish is extremely easy to learn, for present readers as well as beginners.

The purpose of this blog is to prove that learning NuEnglish will be very easy for YOU. I can only do that, of course, if you will carefully and honestly examine the simple-to-understand facts presented in this blog. If you do not want to be convinced because you do not want to be bothered with learning a new spelling system, you are not only doing yourself a disservice by continuing the average of more than $5,000 that functional illiteracy is costing you (and every adult American, both reader and non-reader) each year, but you are also doing our nation a disservice by doing nothing to help enable 93 million or more functionally illiterate U.S. adults to have an above-poverty-level-wage job. In addition, illiteracy has caused some American jobs to be sent overseas. Most importantly, you will be contributing to the continuance of the problems and suffering of hundreds of millions of English-speaking people around the world who are functionally illiterate in English.

Why Present Spelling Is So Difficult to Learn

  • A spelling system following the laws of logic for an alphabetic spelling system will have only one spelling of each phoneme (the smallest sound used to distinguish between syllables and words in a language or dialect) and each grapheme (a letter or a specific combination of letters) will represent only one phoneme. With only 38 phonemes needed to learn English and 26 letters in the English alphabet, ideally, a single letter would be used for 26 of the phonemes and a specific combination of two letters would be used for each of the other twelve phonemes. Instead, there are at least 184 two-letter graphemes, at least 131 three-letter graphemes, 22 four-letter graphemes, and at least 4 five-letter graphemes! There is a total of at least 367 graphemes (26+184+131+22+4) when only 38 are needed!
  • Only four of the single-letter graphemes (B, K, P, and V) have only one pronunciation, but all four are doubled in some words and not in others.
  • In total there are at least 1,768 graphemes used for forty phonemes in English because many of these phonemes are spelled with more than one grapheme! Two phonemes (H as in had and TH as in then) have only (!) four spellings; all the others have more than four. The worst of all (the U phoneme as in nut) has at least 60 spellings! We only need forty graphemes for forty phonemes — one each! (Different linguists will list different English phonemes; it is easily provable that students can easily learn to read English fluently by knowing only 38 phonemes, as in NuEnglish.)
  • Present English spelling uses hundreds of silent letters.
  • Present English spelling uses hundreds of double-letters which represent only one phoneme. All but six of the single-letter graphemes (H, Q, U, W, X, and Y) are not doubled in any of the words.
  • Present English spelling has at least 203 spelling rules and every one of them have exceptions — some of the exceptions even have exceptions!
  • Present english spelling has no indication of accent. The accent of each English word must be memorized the same as the spelling must be memorized (since you cannot be sure of the spelling by spelling rules.)
  • Some English words have phonemes which are not represented by any grapheme — you just have to learn that the phoneme is there!

Why NuEnglish is the Ultimate Spelling System

Basically speaking, NuEnglish is the ultimate in ease of learning for two reasons. First, it avoids all of the problems listed above for present spelling. Second, I have carefully examined every spelling system proposed in the last two and one-half centuries, that I could find, and no other known proposed spelling system has all of the beneficial characterisitcs listed below that NuEnglish has.

Surprisingly, I could not find any proposed spelling system that had a perfect one-grapheme-for-one-phoneme correspondence. As a result, every spelling system I could find requires a certain amount of memorization of individual words.

Beneficial Characteristics of NuEnglish

(1) No phoneme is ever spelled with more than one grapheme.

(2) No grapheme ever represents more than one phoneme.

(3) There are no silent letters.

(4) There are no double letters which represent only one phoneme except OO and TT — and EE, if macrons are not used. (A macron is a horizontal line directly above a letter.)

(5) Every sound in every word is represented (except the NG sound in words such as bank and jinx) and is represented in strict first to last order.

(6) An asterisk (pronounced “star,” when spelling aloud) precedes the vowel in the primary accented syllable unless the accent is on the first syllable, the English syllable which is more likely to be accented than any other. Knowing the accent helps considerably in recognizing (reading) words. The pronunciation of some English words, in fact, is different only in the placement of the accent, such as insight and incite.

(7) The maximum number of phonemes possible are spelled as they are most often spelled in traditional spelling (30 of the 38 phonemes, 79% of them, used in NuEnglish), based upon Godfrey Dewey’s landmark 100,000 word study of numerous representative prose samples of English usage. Every spelling of the phonemes in NuEnglish, except one (the grapheme TT), is either the most-used or the expected spelling of that phoneme in traditional spelling. The TT grapheme represents the phoneme as in the word thin. This is because in traditional spelling the TH grapheme represents both the sounds in thin and then. Many people who can already read fluently will tell you, “that is no problem,” because they know which phoneme to use anytime they see the TH grapheme. That is true, of course, but it is only because of years of experience in seeing words with that grapheme. A beginning learner does not know which phoneme the TH graphemes represent and learning the difference is just one more added thing they must learn by memory. The vowel phoneme, as in the word say, must be spelled AE or A with a macron over it because all other choices conflict with another phoneme spelling. The other seven are spelled as they are expected to be spelled.

  • The letter F is expected to have the sound as in the word fan, but more often it has the sound of the letter V entirely because of the very common word of.
  • OE is expected to have the sound as in the word doe, but it most often has the U sound as in the word nut entirely because of the common word does.
  • the letter S is expected to have the sound as in the word set, but more often it has the sound of the letter Z because of the common words is and was and plurals such as bags.
  • E and O are expected to have the sound as in the words pet and not, but most often have the sound of U in nut because of the illogical use of them in unaccented syllables.
  • IE is expected to have the sound as in the word lie, but most often has the vowel sound as in the word bee because of changing Y to I and adding ES or ED for plurals and past tenses, and
  • Y most often has the sound of the vowel in the word bee because of words ending in Y, but Y must be used for its “consonant” sound as is yet, as it is expected to be pronounced.

(8) There are 14 vowel phonemes, five of which are spelled with a single letter grapheme (a,e,i,o, and u, as in “That pet did not run.“), five are spelled with a digraph (ae, ee, ie, oe, or ue) or with a macron (pronounded as in “They eat fried tofu.”), and four others are spelled only with digraphs (au, oi, oo, and ou, as in “Haul good oil out.”). There are 24 consonant phonemes, 18 of which are spelled with a single letter grapheme (as in “Yes, Val ‘Zip’ Kim hid our big fan-jet win.“) and six are spelled with a digraph (ch, sh, ng, zh, th, or tt pronounced as in which, wishing, azure, then, and thin).

(9) There is a free computer program on our http://nuenglish.org website which will quickly convert up to about 25 pages of traditionally spelled material at a time into NuEnglish. The program has an English word database of more than 600,000 words and provides NuEnglish spelling in either General American or British dialects. It was prepared by my colleague, Gary Sprunk, who has a masters degree in English Linguistics.

(10) Due to the simplicity and logic of NuEnglish spelling, people who already read traditional spelling can learn the ten simple, unvarying NuEnglish spelling rules in less than ten minutes. In fact, I have seen several people pick up something written in NuEnglish, knowing nothing about NuEnglish and read it aloud to me at almost a normal reading speed with only an occasional two or three second stumble over some of the words. Present readers can return to previous reading speeds after only two or three months of using NuEnglish. Most of the better beginning students can learn to read NuEnglish fluently in about a week, as Dr. Frank Laubach stated. All but the most mentally challenged students can learn to read English fluently in less (perhaps much less) than three months.

In NuEnglish there is very little that must be learned other than the spelling of 38 phonemes and how to blend them into words. Traditional English requires the rote memory (or learning by repeated use) of every word in a person’s reading vocabulary, because there are no spelling rules that do not have exceptions. Most readers have a reading vocabulary of 20,000 or more words. Some readers have reading vocabularies of more than 70,000 words.

There are ten invariable spelling rules in NuEnglish ; some of them are specifically to remove the variability of spelling (due to slight differences in pronunciation by different speakers) so that the Respeller computer program could be prepared to convert traditional spelling to NuEnglish.

Most of what you need to know to read NuEnglish, besides the spelling of the phonemes, is the following. Since we have billions of dollars worth of computers and printing equipment using Q and X, which are unneeded for a spelling system, NuEnglish uses these two letters for two consonant phoneme blends. The letter X is used ONLY for the KS phoneme blend, as in exit (X also represents another consonant and three other consonant blends in traditional spelling). The letter Q (NOT QU)is used ONLY for the KW phoneme blend as in quit (Qit in NuEnglish), but the Q also represents another consonant and another consonant blend in traditional spelling.

Traditional English does not distinguish between the two “long U” sounds as in the words sue and fuel. The vowel sound in these two words is different, but they are spelled the same. This ambiguity is removed in NuEnglish by spelling the first sound as “sue” and the second as “fyuel.” This is equivalent to placing an F phoneme before the English word Yule. In short, traditional English does not show whether the Y sound is there or not.

Many, if not most, people pronounce the words watt and what (and many similar words) differently. The word what is different from the word watt by having an expulsion of air (an H phoneme) before a W phoneme. In traditional spelling this phoneme blend is spelled WH. In NuEnglish, it is spelled as it is pronounced; for example, the word what is spelled hwot in NuEnglish.

The only deviation from phonemic spelling is for numbers of less than a million. Thus: “U 3-foeld inkrees”, “1 and 1 iz 2″, “Sum-1 iz at thu doer”, and “Ie’l bee u-wae foer 4 daez”. The reasons are because numerals are universally understood, are very compact, and are easily distinguished from “won”, “to”, “too”, “for”, “fore”, and “ate”. Ordinal numbers are written as a numeral plus “tt” or “ett”: “4tt”, “10tt”, “100tt”, “20ett”, “30ett”, excepting “1st”, “2nd”, and “3rd”, and the pronunciation of “5tt” (fiftt).

The use of numerals instead of spelling the numbers is optional and should not be used when filling out forms such as bank checks which specify spelling out the numbers, or whenever the number 1 could possibly be confused with the letters I or L, or when the letter O could possibly be confused with zero. This is all you need to know to read NuEnglish. To spell NuEnglish consistently, it is necessary to follow the other NuEnglish spelling rules.

The Only Proven Solution to Our Educational Problems

This very important blog concerning ending English functional illiteracy with a very much more efficient method of teaching fluent reading can be accessed with this link. It is not posted here because of Search Engine Optimization downgrade of duplicate posts.

Don’t Educators and Politicians Know We Have a LITERACY CRISIS?

When asked about English literacy, educational and governmental officials will tell us that progress is being made in solving our literacy crisis, assuming they are knowledgeable enough and honest enough to admit that a crisis exists. In addition to our schools, there are dozens of governmental and private programs and thousands of paid and volunteer workers attempting to teach students to read English with present teaching methods. The truth of the matter, however, is that although a few programs claim to be able to teach students to read in a little over a year, no known agency has claimed that every student of normal intelligence can learn to read (without at least some of the students requiring extensive one-on-one tutoring) or that they can teach students to read fluently in less than three months, as they do in almost all alphabetic languages.

This is because English is not truly an alphabetic language. The distinguishing characteristic of alphabetic languages is that with only minor exceptions each letter represents a certain phoneme, which is the smallest sound in a language or dialect that is used to distinguish between syllables and words. Every English word, however, is represented by certain letters in a certain order, in the same way that certain strokes in a certain position represent words in Chinese writing. Although about 20% of English words are spelled phonemically — if you allow only ONE phoneme/grapheme or sound/letter(s) correspondence for every word in the entire English written vocabulary — every English word must have certain letters in a certain order to be spelled correctly, and you must look up that spelling in a dictionary or consult a better speller than yourself if you do not know or have forgotten what that “correct” spelling is.

What is desperately needed for English is some “out of the box” thinking and a revolutionary change in teaching reading! Almost a century of merely “tweaking” the existing teaching has proven that the existing teaching methods will never match the success of teaching reading in other languages. There has been no overall statistically significant reduction in the English functional illiteracy rate in more than 90 years.

There is now a solution to that desperately needed change in teaching reading. Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc., two non-profit educational coporations, have discovered and perfected a proven way to permanently end English functional illiteracy. Now, enough people need to demand adoption of this solution so that we can end English functional illiteracy. Our website (accessed by clicking on “end English functional illiteracy” above) gives a very good introduction to our solution. Due to the natural human resistance to change, a more complete and authoritative explanation of the facts may be needed. This is especially true when a revolutionary change is proposed that educators and politicians interested in maintaining the status quo may unthinkingly consider “too radical.” The book Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis will convince any open-minded person who carefully examines all of the factual evidence presented to — at long last — end our very real literacy crisis.

America’s Dirty Little Secret, II

This important link gives a very good introduction to the humanitarian project of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc. (two non-profit educational corporations) to permanently end English functional illiteracy. It is not duplicated here for SEO purposes.

The Business of Illiteracy

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The Cost to Business at $4 Billion per Year, The Cost to Canadian Society Has Been Estimated at $10 Billion per Year$60 billion annually in Loss to U.S. Companies, Experts Estimate $225 billion a Year in Loss to the American Economy If these headlines had appeared on the front page of your news outlet, they might have grabbed your attention. The reality, however, is that they appeared under the radar, in what most people would consider dull “White Papers”. The actual abstracts are:

……The cost of illiteracy to Canadian society has been estimated at $10 billion per year, the cost to business at $4 billion — Journal article YLB.

…… And if measured in terms of financial interest, it means literacy problems cost corporate America about $60 billion a year in lost productivity — National Institute for Literacy.

……Experts estimate that low literacy costs the American economy $225 billion a year in lost productivity — Carnevale, Gainer & Meltzer, The American Society for Training and Development, 1988 and The Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, U.S. Department of Labor, 1991.

North America’s business community is well aware of the implications of this data. It’s been trying to curtail these and future losses for decades with resources that have proved insufficient given the size of the problem.

In 1990, Southwestern Bell received 15,000 job applications; only 800 passed the company’s basic skills test. In Texas, which ranks second behind only California in its quantity of technology workers, an estimated 34,000 skilled technology jobs go unfilled. 500,000 Information Technology jobs in the U.S. went unfilled last year. This number is expected to surpass 1 million in two years.

The state of Massachusetts discovered that more than one-third of its 3.2 million workers are ill-equipped to meet the demands of a rapidly changing economy. Of that one-third, many have high school diplomas but lack the basic math, reading, writing and analytical skills needed to perform adequately in the workplace.
Source
: The Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth

General Motors devotes more than 15% of the $170 million it spends yearly on job training to remedial education. 50% of Fortune 500 companies underwrite remedial training for employees. The cost? $300 million a year. According to labor data, bypassing intelligent, hard working, ambitious applicants due to skills deficiencies risks running out of applicants altogether.

In 1987, Xerox Corporation chairman David Kearns foresaw the necessity of hiring unqualified employees for the sake of company expansion. According to Kearns, businesses throughout the U.S. could be forced to hire one million entry-level employees annually who are unable to read or write. Recent government statistics support Kearns’ prognosis: between 1995 and 1998, the number of companies suffering shortages of skilled labor surged.

Polaroid established the first on-the-job basic skills program in the early 1970s. Other companies followed. Still, 90% of American companies lack job training programs. An exception is Hershey Foods in Pennsylvania, which sends any employee without a high school diploma to GED classes.
Source: “Illiteracy in the Workplace”, Jane A. Malonis, Encyclopedia of Business; eNotes.com, Nov., 2008, http://www.enotes.com/biz-encyclopedia/illiteracy-workplace

Springfield, MA-based Smith and Wesson has been using the University of Massachusetts since the late 1980s as a source for training in remedial skills and English as a Second Language (ESL). In 1996, with production work diversifying, it expanded its skills training. ”We needed something more formal and aggressive,” said Bob Pion, director of training for Smith and Wesson. “So we turned to a professional organization dedicated to skills issues.” Enter Workplace Education Group (South Hadley, MA), called upon to advise Smith and Wesson on its workforce training needs.

But implementation costs can be preemptive. Start-up costs range from $2,500 to $100,000. Few companies can afford the $35 million on literacy training that Motorola, Inc. had expended by 1993. The training afforded the company the luxury of turning away job applicants whose reading and writing skills fell below the seventh-grade level.

And even though a minimum of an eighth-grade literacy level increasingly disqualifies applicants in today’s workplace, as a starting point for training, it is much more cost effective. Only 13% of American companies offer remedial training to employees in literacy and math, down from a high of 24% in 1993, according to an AMA study released last year. The decrease belies a crucial finding of the study: 38% of applicants lacked the necessary reading, writing and math skills to do the jobs they sought, a 15% increase in the past two years alone.

According to statistics published in 1998 by the National Institute for Literacy, skills deficiencies cost businesses more than $60 billion annually, an amount comparable to Mobil Corporation’s 1997 revenues.
Source
: America’s 60 Billion Problem, Dannah Baynton

The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) indicated that in 1993, 29% of adults who scored below “basic” on the prose scale of the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) were employed full-time. This number rose to 35% in 2003. Translation: 10.8 million adults were working full-time in the United States with the lowest level of literacy skills. An additional 10%, over 3 million, were working part-time at this level, a two percent increase from 1993.

The increase suggests a need to revive the federal government’s National Workplace Literacy Program (NWLP) of the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. The NWLP provided grants for developing and delivering adult literacy, numeracy, and English language educational programs directly in, or in close proximity to, places where low literacy adults work.
Source
: Tom Sticht, International Consultant in Adult Education

Outsourcing to the Top of the List

According to a United Nations survey, the U.S. ranks 49th out of 158 participating nations in adult literacy. Below are the literacy rates of three of the top ten locations where U.S. businesses outsource accounting, IT, services and manufacturing positions:

  • Russia – 98%
  • Philippines – 94%
  • India – 65.38%

Philippines, ranking high at 94%, is home to many bilingual citizens — Filipino and English are widely spoken. A study released from the University of California at Berkeley says the U.S. lost more than 1 million white-collar jobs in the 1990s and “hundreds of thousands more since the turn of the century.” The study also shows that outsourcing is accelerating.

“If you simultaneously read Indian newspapers and U.S. newspapers, you’re going to get a good correlation between layoffs here and jobs being created there,” said Ashok Deo Bardhan, a researcher for the study. He added that as many as 30,000 jobs were lost to India in June alone, and that 14 million U.S. service jobs are vulnerable.
Source
: Hiawatha Bray, The Boston Globe, Nov. 2, 2003

An emerging global economy is shaping economic conditions in the U.S. The phenomenon is profoundly altering the nature of work. Jobs that require repetitive tasks are declining and their pay rates are decreasing. The manufacturing industry is particularly vulnerable. Multi-national corporations can conduct operations anywhere in the world, often choosing locations based on optimum wage levels and productivity. Routine processes are increasingly performed in third world countries at wages inadequate for workers in developed countries.

Living wages in developed countries are earned by jobs that require advanced skills and increased productivity. Service industries, especially those that do not require face-to-face customer interaction, are following manufacturing’s lead.
Source
: Reich, 1992

The National Adult Literacy Survey (Kirsch, Jungeblut, Jenkins & Kolstad, 1993) shows that about 50% of American adults perform at the lower two of five literacy levels reported by the survey. Both are considered functionally illiterate. The 18- to 30-year-old age bracket represents the highest levels of functional illiteracy. Someone from this age group may already be working next to you. Nearly 2 million students graduating from high schools annually are in this group — functionally illiterate — a frustrating reality for American business and industry we are all paying for.

Does literacy really pay off? Companies took it upon themselves to find out. Zircoa, manufacturer of nonclay refractories in Solon, Ohio, measured the productivity and profits of 10 workers in 10 different jobs. After remedial skills training, the total profit from these workers jumped from $14,000 to $75,000.

Marine Mechanical, a Euclid, Ohio-based supplier of propulsion systems, tracked specific machine-related productivity levels during its training programs. A 60% decline in parts deviations resulted.

One company reported improved attendance and decreased worker’s comp claims. Two others reported lower scrap and waste levels. And one boasted that its scrap costs declined from $256,900 to $168,200 after just one year of training.

Over the past two decades, there has been an increase in workplace-based literacy programs. The growth is likely to continue. Workplace technology and organizational restructuring are altering the nature of jobs. Workers are learning new skills or finding employment in different areas. These changes mean more training, producing the collateral effect of improved literacy skills.

True literacy is a necessity to remain employable in an increasingly competitive job market. It gives potential employees an edge. Statistics show that pre-employment literacy training or the use of a “Self Directed” program such as the Literacy Pod, http://literacypod.com, makes candidates far more desirable and financially successful.

A look at the relationship between national literacy rates and per capita Gross National Product (GNP) suggests a strong correlation between literacy and increased income levels.

  • Literacy Rate GNP per capita below 40%: less than $600
  • Literacy Rate GNP per capita above 98%: more than $12,000

The message, at least in individual economic terms, is that literacy pays off. Illiteracy may also mean income loss for society as a whole. In 1993, according to the National Adult Literacy Survey, adult illiteracy in the U.S. carries an estimated price tag of more than $17 billion per year, including lost income, tax revenue, welfare, unemployment, crime and incarceration, and training costs for business and industry. This suggests that the price of illiteracy for society outweighs the cost of getting people literate.

Stats and More Stats

  • The military spends $70 million per year on remediation for recruits.
  • 50% of the chronically unemployed are not functionally literate.
  • An adult without a high school diploma earns 42% less than an adult with a high school diploma
  • High school dropouts have an unemployment rate 4 times greater than that of high school graduates.
  • 41-44% of adults who scored at Level I on the National Adult Literacy Survey (1992) were in poverty, compared with 4-6% of adults who scored at the highest level.
    Source
    : Ohio Literacy Resource Center

Some researchers support the view that literacy skills should be taught in a discrete, carefully sequenced way. This approach is thought to be appropriate for people at an especially low level of skills, some of whom might have learning disabilities that make traditional methods ineffective.
Source
: Shaywitz & Shaywitz, 2001

One study found that with an incremental approach, “… almost 70 % of workers reported math and/or reading improvements. They noted improved work accuracy, more confidence, a greater sense of company loyalty and, in the end, a more efficient workday. Supervisors observed a greater openness to change among employees, a general attitude improvement in teamwork, and identified broader options for promotion.”

Another study concluded the matter most persuasively: ”Experts estimate that low literacy costs the American economy $225 billion a year in lost productivity. Improved workplace literacy can increase employees’ efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity on the job. As a result, employers experience greater customer satisfaction and process improvement, a lower incident of accidents, reduced waste, and fewer errors.” That’s a cost we can live with.

English Spelling: a Case of Psychological Child Abuse

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Modification of an article by Abraham F. Citron, Ph.D.
Dept. of Educ. Sociology, Wayne State Univ, Detroit, Mi. (1913-2006)

At the portals of education we have laid, not a highway, but a labyrinth.

Brainwashed as we are, we do not perceive our spelling as difficult, irrational, deceptive, inconsistent, clumsy, frustrating and wasteful; but it is and especially so to children.

Our spelling devours hours of study for years, squanders teachers’ energy, blocks and frustrates children, renders writing more onerous and reading more difficult, strings out our words and inflates every cost of written communication. Our child-defeating spelling is one of the basic sources of academic discouragement and failure, aiding in the transformation of many children into psychological or physical dropouts.

The large majority of elementary and high school students in this country are either very poor, poor or mediocre spellers; the big majority of adults are no better. Millions of student hours are spent on spelling, millions of dollars are spent in teaching time, yet results are quite poor. Most students dislike spelling, many students abhor it.

Make no mistake about it, spelling is inextricably interactive with reading; our inconsistent spelling contributes greatly to reading difficulties.

Our culture is based on words and on power over words; our instructional system is built almost entirely of words. Every other power and expansion in academics comes through mastery of words. Even the artist, mathematician, musician, athlete finds his or her career stunted without power over words. Our system moves on words, runs on words, exists on and in words. At the narrow base of this immense system are 26 letters which we combine into hundreds of thousands of written words.

Much depends, therefore, on how we combine these letters. Note that we are working with an alphabet not at all designed for the sounds of English, but borrowed from the Romans, who had designed it to express the sounds of Latin. At the outset we are stuck with only 26 letters to express 41 (some say 44) phonemes of spoken English.

A second difficulty which has been gathering on our word system over centuries is that letters have been combined into words according to differing schemes at different times, letters have been stuck on just to justify lines of print, spellings have been borrowed from other languages. We have changed the sound of letters, we have changed the way we pronounced words while the spelling has often congealed on the old form. All this and more has evolved over centuries in haphazard ways.

The result is that we have inherited an orthographic system full of inconsistencies, irrationalities, quirks, exceptions and disorganization. And because, by the time we have become adults, we are accustomed to it, we unthinkingly force this “system” on our children.

We double-cross children in hundreds of ways as they struggle to master our unnecessarily difficult word forms.

We teach children a hard ‘c’ as in ‘cat,’ ‘can,’ ‘candy,’ and then double-cross them with words such as ‘certain,’ ‘center,’ ‘cement.’ In a word such as ‘cease,’ the first ‘s’ sound is expressed with a ‘c,’ the second with an ‘s ‘; in ‘civic,’ two different sounds are expressed with ‘c.’ Observe what a complicated mess we make with ‘necessary.’ We teach children to sound ‘k’ as in ‘kick,’ ‘kid,’ ‘klan,’ and then confront them with ‘knee,’ ‘knob,’ ‘knife,’ etc. Further, if hard ‘c’ and ‘k’ are sounded alike, why do we need them both? We teach children ‘p’ as in ‘poor,’ ‘put,’ ‘push,’ then force them to handle ‘photo,’ ‘phrase,’ ‘pneumonia,’ etc.

We cross up children with our miserable ‘ie’ and ‘ei’ combinations as in ‘believe’ and ‘receive’; and the “i before e” rule is little help since the exceptions are nearly as numerous as the examples. With ‘craze’ and ‘haze’ we use a ‘z’, but to express the same sound in ‘please’ and ‘tease’ we use an ‘s.’ We cross up the kids by spelling ‘lease’ with an ‘s’ and then ‘fleece,’ the same sound, with a ‘c.’ In both these words, the vowel has the same sound but in one we express it with a double ‘e’ and in the other with ‘ea.’

We force children to drag along outmoded and useless ‘ough’ forms in words such as ‘through,’ ‘bough,’ ‘plough,’ ‘though,’ ; and useless ‘gh’s in a host of words such as ‘light,’ ‘might,’ ‘bright,’ ‘night,’ etc. Our spelling is literally laced with these inconsistent and meaningless forms outmoded in the long, long ago.

[Professor Julius Nyikos, of Washington and Jefferson College, did a comprehensive study of the spelling of the phonemes in six standard, desk-size dictionaries. He found 1,768 ways of spelling 40 English phonemes! If he had included unabridged dictionaries in his research he would have undoubtedly found several others.] [1] [Furthermore, there 26 single letters and at least 341 combinations of from two to five letters to represent a single phoneme. There is not even one English spelling rule without exceptions — some of the exceptions have exceptions! A computerized attempt to use a set of 203 spelling rules was able to spell correctly only 49% of a list of 17,000 common words.] [2]

What would happen in our educational system with numbers if we told children that a 2 was two except when it had the value of 4 or 7? Or take a more extreme example: what would happen to children if we used red lights for ‘stop’ only some of the time and green lights for ‘stop’ some of the time? Such examples highlight the cruciality of consistency in basic education. Yet we throw orthographic inconsistencies at children all the time and wonder why so many find our written system difficult. [3]

II. Reliability, Reliability, Reliability.
Children learn most of the things they need to know, without formal training. If we look at the way they learn it “naturally” we see that, given motivation, they learn things most quickly and easily if they can rely on an environmental response, if they can discern a pattern that does not fail them.

Learning to walk is a complex matter, but doubtless one reason it is achievable is that the child can depend on the forces of gravity, distribution of weight and balance, which are constant. The child is rewarded every time balance is maintained and taught by a tumble when balance is lost. The child feels balance being maintained or being lost.

Learning to talk is enormously complex, but again surely one reason it is achievable is that certain sounds are always associated with certain objects, actions, ideas. The spoken word ‘mother,’ or ‘mamma,’ or ‘ma’ always means a given person in a given role, as does ‘pa.’ The spoken syllable ‘milk’ always means milk, ‘jump’ means jump and so on. The sounds are reliable hence learnable. We have little trouble teaching children to tell time because we are consistent on the differing jobs of the clock hands, and we are consistent on the numbers and their positions on the clock face. Learning always involves perception of a pattern – the simpler and more reliable the pattern, the quicker the learning.

A basic principle of all learning is that children need a perceived reliable and integrated world as a basis for learning. All aspects of socialization, including necessary skills, are much more readily acquired if the child has the confident feeling of being in a reliable, secure and therefore a trusted world. Such a world is integrated in that one aspect of experience builds into or reinforces another. For example, learning to walk builds into learning to run, which builds into participation in (social interaction) children’s games requiring running. This means that learning to talk will build into learning to write and read. In an integrated world, writing and reading should be as closely and as naturally as possible linked to speaking.

The principle of reliability does not mean that a child [will] never be surprised or shocked or puzzled or discouraged. It does not require a world of monotony. But it does require a regularity of pattern in the skills crucial to the culture.

III. Our Present System Constitutes Psychic Child Abuse.
What is being insisted upon here is nothing other than we have all said repeatedly over the years as a basis for the education of children. We have said, “Don’t lie to children.” The position here put forward is that our spelling is deceptive — it is one lie after another and hence it constitutes, not education, but psychic child abuse. Unnecessarily difficult and confusing word forms, which many children fail, are not helping them to “grow” — it is not “educating” them — it is child abuse.

It is no less abuse because the system is administered in the name of knowledge and culture, or because it is enshrined in tradition. It is no less abuse because the forms come down to us wrapped in the prestige of “English literature:’ It is no less abuse because the system is standard throughout the land or because we all participate in it, nor because it is curricularized and blessed with the authority of every school board of every state. It is no less abuse because children cannot manage the perspective or the courage to cry out specifically against it. It is abuse because it traps children in needless drudgery and frustration, detracts from their feelings of success and of adequacy, defies and negates their sense of logic, robs many of them of love of written forms, and forces them over a course which many fail.

IV. For the children, we should have the courage to change.
Why haven’t we long ago shifted to a consistent phonemic spelling which was and is the intent of our alphabetic system? Despite high-sounding “lexical” and etymological rationalizations, the real reason is that we are used to the forms and do not want to undergo the inconvenience of change. As one graduate student put it, “I’ve learned to operate in one system and I’ll be damned if I’ll learn another.”

But tremendous educational and monetary benefits could be reaped through such a change. Before we opt for costly pie-in-the-sky gimmicks, we should reform our child-defeating spelling. Simplified spelling could be the most fundamental and far-reaching educational innovation since the introduction of the common school.

Notes.
[1] Nyikos, Julius, “A Linguistic Perspective of Functional Illiteracy,” The Fourteenth LACUS Forum 1987 (Lake Bluff, Illinois: Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States, 1988), pp. 146-163.

[2] Kenneth H. Ives, Written Dialects N SpellingReforms: History N Alternatives (Chicago, Ill.: Prpgressiv Publishr, 1979), pp. 25, 80, 81.
[3] It is well known that experimental psychologists have induced apathy and behavioral breakdown in rats by training them in behavior leading to reward (food) and then switching the reward to punishment.

How Our Spelling Damages the Mind

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A slight modification of an article by
Frederick Atherson Fernald, Ph.D.

Learning to read the English language is one of the worst mind-stunting processes that has ever formed a part of the education of any people. Its evil influence arises from the partly phonetic, partly lawless character of English spelling. Altho each letter represents some sound oftener than any other, there is hardly a letter in the alphabet that does not represent more than one sound, and hardly a sound in the language that is not represented in several ways, while many words are written with as many silent letters as significant ones.

Frequently, there is nothing in a word to indicate in which of these ways its component sounds are represented, nothing in the written group of letters to show which sounds they stand for, and which of them, if any, are silent, so that a learner can never be sure of pronouncing rightly an English word that he has not heard spoken, nor of spelling correctly one that he has never seen written. The spelling of almost every word must be learned by sheer force of memory. In this work the pupil’s reasoning powers cannot be utilized, but must be subdued, while his memory is sadly overworked.

In the affairs of the child’s daily life, the logical following of rules is rewarded; in learning to read, it brings him only bewilderment and discomfiture. He is taught that b-o-n-e stands for bohn (not bo-ne), and t-o-n-e for tohn, but also that d-o-n-e stands for dun, that g-o-n-e spells gawn, m-o-v-e spells moov, and b-r-o-n-z-e is bronz. Now when he comes in reading to another similar word, as none, he has no means of telling whether to call it nun, noon, or non; he can only took up at the teacher and wait to be told.

The influence of the spelling class quickly drives him to repress any inclination to reason, and he quickly gives himself up to a blind following of authority. Few children learn English spelling without getting the pernicious notion that cramming is better than thinking, and that common sense is a treacherous guide. The child who can take what he is told without asking why, who can repeat a rule without troubling himself about its meaning, gets along best. On the other hand, the child who has difficulty in learning to spell, may have to suppress his logical faculties. He is constantly trying to spell according to some principle, some rule, and of course, coming to grief.

Thus a boy who had long been at the foot of his spelling class, was one day given the word ghost, and, making a desperate attempt at analogy, (with roast), spelled it goast. Thus bringing shouts of laughter from his fellow students, he said, with clenched fist and tearful eyes, “You needn’t laugh; you all spell homelier ‘n that!” Thus, so much attention is given to spelling that children get false ideas of its importance.

The spelling, or graphic representation, becomes to them the word, while the spoken word is called the pronunciation, and is only thought of as an appendage. They learn to despise the poor speller, a prejudice which is never out-grown, and above all they become so absorbed in the manipulation of words that they have little chance to grasp the significance of the ideas for which the words were intended to stand.

If our notation of numbers were as irregular as our notation of speech, so that the numbers from 40 to 45, for instance, should be written as follows: 40, 741, 420, 43, 414, 225; and if no one could tell at sight whether a number like 7,243,812 contained several figures which were “silent,” or had exceptional values, who can doubt that the study of arithmetic, instead of being a valuable discipline, would be mere enervating drudgery? If it were proposed that children should learn a style of writing music which gave different values to the same characters, similarly placed, in different pieces and added a host of “silent” notes, the evils of learning such a system would be plainly seen. Yet many people who have forgotten their own sufferings in the spelling class cannot see that children are so very much perplexed in learning to spell, or perhaps maintain that the struggle involved “is good for them.”

“I know,” says Max Muller, “there are persons who can defend anything, and who hold that it is due to this very discipline that the English character is what it is; that it retains respect for authority; that it does not require a reason for everything; and that it does not admit that inconceivable is therefore impossible. Even English orthodoxy has been traced back to that hidden source, because a child once accustomed to believe that t-h-o-u-g-h is tho, and that t-h-r-o-u-g-h is thru, would afterwards believe anything. It may be so; still I doubt whether even such objects would justify such means.” Lord Lytton said, “A more lying, roundabout, puzzle-headed delusion than that by which we confuse the clear instincts of truth in our accursed system of spelling was never concocted by the father of falsehood. . . . How can a system of education flourish that begins by so monstrous a falsehood, which the sense of hearing suffices to contradict?”

Here is a chief cause of the incapacity for thinking which college students bring into the science laboratories. This irrational process, taken up when the child enters school, occupying a large share of his time, and continuing for six or eight years, has a powerful influence in shaping his plastic mind. When at last he is allowed to take up the study of nature — at the wrong end of his school career — what wonder that he sits with folded hands, waiting to be told facts to commit to memory, that he cannot realize what a law or rule is, and does not know to use his reason in deducing the answer to a problem?

Rational education will never flourish as it should till a reformation in the teaching of reading and spelling has been accomplished. Furthermore, Mr. J. H. Gladstone, member of the English School Board for London, has computed the number of hours spent by children in learning to read and spell English to be 2,320, while, in gaining an equal knowledge of their native tongue, Italian children spend only 945 hours. The difference amounts to nearly two school years and shows under what a disadvantage English-speaking children labor.

The most striking testimony to the irregularity of our spelling is the adoption by many teachers of a sort of Chinese mode of teaching reading. (Now it is called the whole word method!) The children are not taught that the letters represent constituent sounds of words, but they learn to recognize each group of letters as an arbitrary compound symbol standing for a word. This is more of a dead drag on the memory than even the A-B-C method, and if it could be completely carried out, would be a vastly longer process. The effect on the mind is certainly not good. Minds do have a saturation point.

“But what can be done,” will be asked, “shall our children grow up without learning to spell?” No, but the memorizing of these anomalies and contradictions can be, at least, put off till the pupil’s minds are in little danger of being perverted by it. Enough of the enormous amount of time spent on this drudgery can be saved to make possible the introduction of the study of things into the primary schools, and many of the millions of dollars which we spend each year for public education can be turned to imparting real knowledge instead of the mere tools of knowledge.

These ends may be attained by the use of phonetic spelling as an introduction to the customary spelling. Children can and do learn to read English, spelled phonetically, in a very few lessons, and then learn the traditional spelling so quickly afterward that much less time is required for the whole process than is commonly devoted to memorizing the current spelling alone. Classes taught to read this way, in Massachusetts, so early as 1851, proved the advantage of the method to the satisfaction of that able educator, Dr. Horace Mann, and the method has been successfully employed in many places in this country and in the British Isles.

[Will this information wake us up? So far it is met by the educational and political authorities with complete silence!] Probably due to the scepticism in the closed minds of our hierarchy of education.

Why English Spelling Is So Illogical

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The first sentence of a recent Bridge column by Phillip Alder states, “Kenneth Grahame, a Scottish author who wrote ‘The Wind in the Willows,’ said, ‘The strongest human instinct is to impart information; the second strongest is to resist it.’” I hope that is not true of you, dear reader. Human beings, however, have the perfect right—and the ability—to believe whatever they choose.

As you know, people often believe whatever they choose in spite of the facts. It is in the short term best interests of education officials and teachers, as well as politicians, to believe that the teaching of reading in America is as good as it should be. But with the present shocking extent and serious effects of illiteracy, solving the problem of illiteracy is now more crucial than ever.

Education officials, teachers, politicians, and the media can —if they wish — ignore the proven facts in the most thorough and statistically accurate study of U.S. adult literacy ever commissioned by the U.S. government. This report is available free at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs93/93275.pdf and verified by the 2006 report http://nces.ed.gov/NAAL/PDF/2006470.PDF. They can ignore these reports because there are other reports that show the situation is not as desperate as the aforementioned reports show. They can also ignore these reports because the aforementioned reports must be analyzed carefully, as my book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, shows. Many studies — those which educators, politicians, and the media want to believe — do not reveal the seriousness of a problem because the reports use a much smaller database and much less rigorous statistical methods.

There is even a book written by someone who is part of the education establishment claiming that there is not a crisis in the teaching of reading. My book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, carefully analyzes all of the arguments in the book and thoroughly debunks all of them. By carefully choosing which statistics are included and by limiting the data to sufficiently short time spans, the author thinks he is disproving the existence of a very real literacy crisis in America. If you carefully limit the “facts” you will consider, you can prove almost anything. My book compares education data from the 1700s and 1800s with that from the 1900s to the present and examines the differences in the American culture in those eras to reach a much more accurate assessment of the true results of teaching students to read.

John Corcoran’s book, The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read, points out that many school teachers are in denial of their lack of ability to teach every student to read. John Corcoran states that although none of his teachers ever heard him read aloud correctly in the classroom, they all seemed not to notice that he could not read. He graduated from high school unable to read. (Recent newspaper reports have stated that more than one million students graduate from high school every year in the U.S. who cannot even read their diploma.) He got into college on an athletic scholarship. Although his book states that he is not advocating it, he graduated college by cheating and by having his fraternity brothers help him cheat. He then got a job as a school teacher in California and taught for many years.

One day, as John Corcoran was trying to read a new, simple, children’s book to his pre-school daughter by making up a story based upon the pictures, his wife — who thought he could read — heard his attempts to read the book and learned that he could not read at all. He then felt pressure, as a middle aged man, to get help from a tutor and at long last learn to read. It took more than a year of one-on-one tutor training and then additional years of self-study to bring himself to a college level of learning, after which he wrote his book.

Parents who see reports of the lack of success in teaching reading often think that it does not apply to their children. This is because they want to believe that their children are getting a good education. As a result, they will take pride in the school their children attend and believe that it is better than the failing schools in reports they see. Or they will see reports from educational and political sources claiming that “progress is being made.” These beliefs, however, may not be backed up by the statistics. The truth of the matter is that, as former U.S. Education Secretary Dr. William Bennett states in his books, The Devaluing of America and The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, little, if any, progress in teaching reading has been made in the U.S. public schools.

Statistics on literacy in the 1700s and 1800s (for all except the slaves who usually were uneducated) show that the literacy rate was higher than it was after the 1920s when the “whole word” method of teaching began. To a large extent, the whole word teaching method came about as both students and teachers objected to the very successful but boring and lengthy rote memory drills used previously. The objection came as a host of new distractions—both pleasurable and disheartening—began in the 1920s, as will be explained later. There have been few, if any, improvements in the teaching of reading which have had any overall statistical significance since the 1920s.

The Difficulty in Learning to Read English

Since most people reading this blog learned to read as children, they may think that changing the way we spell our English words is too radical a change. This is because they have long ago forgotten (or pridefully ignore) the difficulty they had in learning to read. Their eyes glide effortlessly over a multitude of traps for beginning readers. This is also because they do not understand how easy it will be to learn to read NuEnglish, the spelling system we are proposing and how easy it will be to implement it into our culture.

If everyone could see the difficulty that beginning readers have, however, they would quickly agree that something must be done to make learning to read English as easy as it is to learn other alphabetic languages. That is the purpose of this blog. Solving the problem of English functional illiteracy by making the spelling simple, consistent, and logical is the only way to make our students the equal of students in other alphabetic languages. As it is, U.S. students are two years behind students of other alphabetic languages of the same age. As Dr. Rudolph Flesch states on pages 76-77 of his book, Why Johnny Can’t Read,

“Generally speaking, students in our schools are about two years behind students of the same age in other countries. This is not a wild accusation of the American educational system; it is an established, generally known fact…

What accounts for these two years? Usually the assumption seems to be that in other countries children and adolescents are forced to study harder. Now that I have looked into this matter of reading, I think the explanation is much simpler and more reasonable: Americans take two years longer to learn how to read—and reading, of course, is the basis for achievement in all other subjects.”

Why Some Students Do Not Learn to Read English

There are many reasons why any one particular nonreader cannot read English. Arranged in no particular order, some of these reasons may be:

  • The nonreader or his parents or friends place little importance on learning to read;
  • The nonreader is far more involved in numerous activities than in spending the time needed to learn to read, as explained below;
  • The nonreader goes to school hungry, frightened (over gang violence or classmates who bring weapons to school, for example), worried over problems at home or with schoolwork, or embarrassed (about failing to read aloud properly in class or about his old, ragged clothing, for example);
  • The nonreader has poor eyesight, poor hearing, or learning problems;
  • The nonreader doesn’t like the teacher, or the teacher is not effective at teaching; or
  • The teaching methods or textbooks used are not effective in teaching students to read.

In today’s world, besides all of the school and societal problems which hinder learning, there are many fun, but time-consuming activities, interfering with learning, which did not exist in simpler times—before the twentieth century. Some of these pleasurable activities include movies, television, musical concerts or recordings, video movies and games, newly developed sports, profitable full- and part-time jobs, and gang and other youth activities.

There are also many negative influences today that were much less prevalent in simpler times, before the twentieth century. Some of the more obvious negative influences are: new gang activities, new drugs, and more broken homes due to relaxed laws concerning divorce in the twentieth century. Like the items in Pandora’s Box, once these time-consuming or distracting activities have been loosed upon society, they cannot be taken back.

It will be extremely difficult to get students to spend the long hours learning to read that were spent in more simple times. This is especially true if—due to teaching methods inferior to the memorization and dull drill used in prior centuries—the student is having difficulty learning. In this case, it will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to persuade the student to spend time on an unpleasant and difficult activity rather than a multitude of readily available pleasant activities.

One or more of these reasons will apply to almost every student. There is only one hindrance to learning that affects every student: the spelling of words. This is also true in other languages, but only in English is the spelling such a hindrance to learning. If students of other languages encounter problems that various experts are blaming for U.S. illiteracy, it may slow their learning. They will still learn much faster than U.S. students because they do not have the added burden of overcoming the inconsistencies, lack of logic, and undependable sound-to-symbol and symbol-to-sound correspondences that are a part of English spelling. Note that symbol-to-sound and sound-to-symbol correspondences are mirror images in languages other than English, as will be explained later.

The Foundational Cause of English Illiteracy

Our confusing spelling system is the foundational cause of illiteracy. Whatever corrections are made to the educational system—even if it could be made perfect—there will still be students who cannot become fluent readers without extensive tutoring unless spelling is made simple, logical, and consistent. Why Our Children Can’t Read by Dr. Diane McGuinness gives a thorough, scientific explanation of the logic behind written languages. It explains the extreme difficulty of learning the English spelling system because of its adoption of so many words (and usually their spellings) from about 350 other languages. Although the ideal spelling system uses symbols for syllables, this is completely unworkable with English. With its many consonant clusters, there are tens of thousands of different syllables.

Few people can effectively use more than about 2,000 language symbols. Languages that cannot use symbols for each syllable must therefore use symbols for every sound and students must be able to recognize and separate these sounds to learn to read. Since English does not use one symbol for only one sound and one sound may be represented by more than one symbol, learning to read English requires the sight-memory of every word added to the reading vocabulary—and re-learning of the seldom-used words over the years that are forgotten.

Why Learning to Read English Is So Difficult

A phoneme is the smallest sound in a language or dialect that is used to distinguish between syllables and words. A grapheme is a letter, letter combination, or symbol used to represent phonemes, syllables, or words. If a language does not hold strictly to a one-sound/one-symbol (phoneme/grapheme) correspondence, numerous problems occur. For example, a student may see a letter or letter combination when trying to read a word and—if the letter or letter combination represents more than one phoneme—not be able to recognize (read) the word, unless the word can be recognized by the context. The mirror image of this is that students may want to write a word they hear the teacher pronounce. If there is more than one letter or letter combination to represent a phoneme in the word, they do not know which to use, unless they have memorized which is “correct” spelling.

If there is not a strict phoneme/grapheme correspondence in a spelling system, there is no guarantee that if a certain grapheme represents a certain phoneme in a word (when reading), this phoneme will be represented (spelled) by this grapheme in a different word. There are far more ways of spelling a sound in English than there are ways to pronounce a letter or letter combination used in English. Even though there are at least 367 graphemes (single letters or two-, three-, four-, or five-letter combinations to represent a phoneme) in English, the worst of these have ten different pronunciations. Even though there are only 38 sounds to be spelled, the worst of these can be spelled in at least sixty different ways. This will be explained more fully later.

The number of phonemes in a language or dialect ranges from eleven in Rotokas (Indo-Pacific) and Mura (Chibchan) to 141 in !Xu (Khoisan). In a study of 317 languages, the number of vowel phonemes ranged from three to forty-six (a mean of 8.7); the number of consonant phonemes ranged from six to ninety-five (a mean of 22.8) (from page 165 of David Crystal’s book The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language). The number of phonemes in English varies depending upon which phonemes are considered both unique and essential. Some linguists may include as many as forty-five in their listing. It can be demonstrated that only thirty-eight phonemes are needed for efficient communication.

The average number of phonemes for the known languages of the world is about forty-five. Before 1755, our English words evolved as an amalgamation of the words—and spelling—of the original Celtic language and seven other languages: Icelandic, Norse, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, German, Danish, and Norman French—the language of every nation that occupied the British Isles between the first and the eleventh centuries. Prior to the mid-1700s, English people spelled words as they sounded. However, no one had settled upon a standard way of spelling the sounds (or more specifically: the phonemes).

Before the mid 1700s, most people in the British Isles, and even such authors as Shakespeare, might spell a word two different ways in the same paragraph. It was an awkward but easily readable system. Publishers wanted to standardize the spelling as a way to improve the quality of published work and to simplify the task of typesetters. Dr. Samuel Johnson was a scholar chosen by the publishers to standardize the spelling.

According to Dr. Thomas Lounsbury, in his book English Spelling and Spelling Reform, Samuel Johnson knew little about the pronunciation of words as related to their spelling and even less about the derivation of words. Johnson’s dictionary was published in 1755. Although it was not the only dictionary at the time, it was well received by Johnson’s peers, who also knew little about the relation of pronunciation to spelling. It was also accepted by the publishers—it met their need for standardization. Johnson’s dictionary came to be accepted by later dictionary publishers as the authoritative work on the subject of the correct spelling of words—based not so much upon its technical merit as upon its acceptance by his peers and the publishers.

Instead of standardizing the spelling of the sounds (or phonemes), as in other languages and as logic demands, Johnson froze the spelling of the words; he listed a specific order of letters to represent each word. In many—if not most—cases, the letter order chosen was that used in the language of origin. As a result, English words are not the same as almost all other alphabetic languages. They are logograms, more like Chinese picture writing. Chinese words are represented by certain strokes in a certain position. English words are represented by certain letters, in a certain order.

If you use the logical criterion that every phoneme must be spelled with one specific grapheme, only about 20 percent of English words are phonemic. There is absolutely no way, however, to know if a specific word is spelled phonemically or not. There is not even one English spelling rule without exceptions—and some of the exceptions have exceptions! So the spelling Dr. Johnson devised was difficult to learn from the start.

As you know, the pronunciation of words changes with time. So what was bad in the mid-1700s is much worse now. Henry Hitchings, in his book, The Secret Life of Words, states that English has now adopted words (and usually their spelling) from about 350 languages! The grapheme-to- phoneme correspondence is now quite undependable.

There may be an unconscious urge to become defensive when someone “attacks our mother tongue.” One public elementary school teacher, whom I invited to be one of the associates in my corporation, Literacy Research Associates, Inc., knowing little about my humanitarian project (only that I was proposing spelling reform), declined my offer saying, “English is a beautiful language.” I am sure, however, that if she asked a beginning reader or a person coming here from another country trying to learn English spelling, they would not think English is very beautiful.

Here is the most important point to remember, however: you or I did not invent our ridiculous spelling, so we should not feel the need to defend it. Instead of being defensive, relax and try to see the humor in some of the problems our ridiculous spelling causes. Our spelling is fully deserving of all the scorn we can heap upon it. This blog reveals just a small portion of the facts showing the desperate need for English spelling reform.

No one knows how many facts you must see before you are convinced that our ridiculous spelling must be corrected. One thing is certain: if you carefully, honestly read Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Revised Edition, available from http://www.amazon.com/dp/1589824970 you will be convinced (unless you take this statement as a personal challenge, rather than a statement of how people who carefully, honestly read the book will react).

“Johnny Can’t Read” Goes to College

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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)

Cost

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.