Under the Radar: A Closer Look at a Surprising Underlying Cause of Unemployment

On October 23rd, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute hosted an event, entitled “Common Core & Curriculum Controversies,” it featured a series of discussions regarding Common Core math myths, Common Core aligned texts, and Common Core implementation. During one session Dr. Tim Shanahan, Professor of Urban Education at the University of Illinois Chicago, noted that most teachers (roughly two-thirds) place students according to reading levels and not grade levels. Furthermore, he elaborated that students’ rankings are often decreased by one or two levels.

Far too often, students are assigned to reading levels that are below their current grade levels and are rarely given the opportunity to catch up with other students who are consistently progressing within the areas of literacy and reading comprehension. Due to this phenomenon, countless students are not offered opportunities to interact with challenging materials and concepts that they may be capable of learning and understanding, because most of them are promoted throughout the years without gaining the necessary basic literacy and reading comprehension skills (for examples, look at the New York City Department of Education, the Saint Louis Public Schools, or a new law in Florida). Ultimately, this practice brings about issues within the spheres of workforce development and education which lead to further problems pertaining to employment.

Students who graduate high school lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills are likely to encounter difficulties when entering the workforce– in fact, many individuals with low literacy skills are more prone to drop out of school prior to graduation. Concerning unemployment, studies show that approximately 27 million American are unable to complete forms necessary for employment, such as job applications. In addition, people with literacy-related deficiencies are more likely to have limited job options and lose their jobs.

Many workforce development and education organizations, while directly assisting individuals with low literacy skills in obtaining employment, are tasked with the responsibility of helping individuals to improve their literacy and reading comprehension skills as a means of helping them to effectively and efficiently join the workforce. Due to funding structures and reporting requirements that emphasize impossibly quick gains, organizations with the goal of catching individuals with low literacy skills up to sufficient literacy levels are finding that their objective is hampered from the start.

In many cases, even when individuals with low literacy skills do obtain jobs, they are often categorized by employers as individuals of lower qualification and skill levels, therefore often earning lower wages. This is partly a result of the fact that individuals with a limited number of qualifications and skills are often hired to perform low-paying jobs that don’t revolve around complexity and skillfulness. Furthermore, in the long run, people with low literacy skills are 16.5 times more prone to rely on welfare and other forms of income support. They are also more likely take on jobs that lack social benefits, to experience more barriers when attempting to exercise socio-economic mobility, and to be victims of poverty. In fact, 43% of adults who live in poverty are of low literacy.

Many of the potential issues that individuals face, in regards to employment, could have been avoided in the early stages of their adolescence. It is no secret that one’s life is often decided for them by their educational placement in elementary, middle, and high school. In order to prevent the future generation from experiencing these reoccurring dilemmas, it is pivotal that parents, teachers, policymakers, and other organizations work together to ensure that every student is able to reach their full potential and showcase their abilities before they are assessed and placed incorrectly.

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3 thoughts on “Under the Radar: A Closer Look at a Surprising Underlying Cause of Unemployment

  1. Reblogged this on Human Services Policy Network and commented:
    The National Youth Employment Coalition shared a report that links unemployment and poverty to literacy.

    “43% of adults who live in poverty are of low literacy… Furthermore, in the long run, people with low literacy skills are 16.5 times more prone to rely on welfare and other forms of income support.”

    While this by itself may not be surprising, an explanation for why students in the same grade have different reading abilities is.

    ” Professor of Urban Education at the University of Illinois Chicago, noted that most teachers (roughly two-thirds) place students according to reading levels and not grade levels… Due to this phenomenon, countless students are not offered opportunities to interact with challenging materials and concepts that they may be capable of learning and understanding, because most of them are promoted throughout the years without gaining the necessary basic literacy and reading comprehension skills.”

    It is disappointing to think that children who are placed in the lower-level reading groups have a higher chance of earning lower wages later in life. Hopefully this can inspire new educational practices to increase the reading levels of all students.

  2. Pingback: Under the Radar: A Closer Look at a Surprising Underlying Cause of Unemployment | Human Services Policy Network

  3. Pingback: History Repeating Itself: Social Promotion Making a Comeback | NYEC Blog

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