Measuring the Success or Failure of Public Education in the United States through Literacy: Part 3 of 3

19 Nov

In Conclusion, in case you are wondering why I included Mexico in this comparison, the PEW Research Hispanic Trends Project reports that “The number of Hispanic students in the U.S. public schools nearly doubled from 1990 to 2006, accounting for 60% of the total growth in public school enrollments over that period. There are now approximately 10-million Hispanic students in the nation’s public kindergartens and its elementary and high schools; they make up about one-in-five public school students in the United States. Most if not all of these students come from the poorest population in Mexico, and they bring with them the same attitudes toward education they held before they came to the United States.

Ranking functional literacy in English speaking countries and Mexico

1st Place: In the United Kingdom, 80% read at Level 3 or above.

What explains the UK having such a low functional illiteracy rate? The reports that the “UK publishes more books per capita than any other country.” Does this translate into the UK being a more literate society? If this is one reason, it might be a cultural difference between the other major English speaking countries with similar cultural heritages.

2nd Place:  In the United States, 65% read Intermediate Level or above.

3rd Place: In New Zealand, 55% of adults read at level 3 or above

4th Place: In Australia, 53.6% of adults read at level 3 or above

5th Place: In Mexico, 64% of adults do not have a high school degree or its equivalent, and the The World Bank estimates that in 2012, 52.3-percent of Mexicans lived in poverty in their home country compared to 15% of the U.S. population, who live in poverty— and 25.6%, or about 12 million are Hispanic, and 35% or 6 million of the 16 million children who live in poverty in the U.S. were also Hispanic. In fact, in Mexico, over half of Mexican youth at age 15 are functionally illiterate and cannot solve simple equations or explain basic scientific phenomenon.

In addition, the New York Times reports that many of these children who come from Latin America are boys between ages 15 and 17 when they arrive in the United States, and they come from some of the poorest regions in those countries. Do you think these children arrived in the U.S. functionally literate in their own language?

Return to Part 2 or Start with Part 1

View as Single Page


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).


His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”


Tags: , , , ,

4 responses to “Measuring the Success or Failure of Public Education in the United States through Literacy: Part 3 of 3

  1. disappearingwoman

    November 19, 2014 at 05:50

    This was an extremely interesting essay. I taught third grade in a small suburban district in the DC/Metro area. The school that I was assigned to had a larger Hispanic population than most in the district that I taught in. The majority of these students had non-English speaking parents who were socioeconomically and educationally challenged. How I loved these children and their parents! Their level of interest in education was phenomenal, as was their level of respect towards me as their teacher. They understood that receiving an education in their new country was the ticket to success and the majority of them truly flourished. They were so interested in reading and utilized my classroom library on a regular basis. They were thrilled on RIF days when they got their own books, or on days when my daughters would donate boxes of their books to be given to any child who wanted them. Most of them had never had books of their own at home.
    The odd dichotomy of my classroom was that I had these poor Hispanic children mixed in with upper-middle class children whose parents had moved to my area to build $800K McMansions and enjoy lower property taxes. It was the upper-middle class children who were too busy with activities in the evening to complete their homework. They were the ones who drew pictures on their free RIF books, or tore the covers off, because what’s one more book when you have a bunch at home? Of course, not all of my upper-middle class students were this way, but they were often the ones who showed the least gratitude for their education.

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      November 19, 2014 at 07:46

      I can’t say that my experience was the same but it was similar in some ways. For the thirty years I taught in the same district in an urban area of Southern California in Los Angeles County, 27 of those years was in schools that served a mostly Hispanic/Latino community that was dominated by a multigenerational street gang culture that came with drugs, violence, inter-rival gang warfare, killings, etc.

      We didn’t have the $800k McMansions but in the 1980s, the hills east of the school district, that was mostly a cattle ranch at the time, was sold off and developed into middle class homes over a period of years. In addition, the school district was split by an industrial belt, a railroad and a freeway. West of this belt in Rowland Heights was the blue collar middle class communities and east of the belt in La Puente and West Covina was the barrio.

      The schools where I taught for 27 of the 30 years had about a 70% Latino/Hispanic population with a matching childhood poverty rate as measured by free or reduced breakfast and/or lunch. A small percentage of that Latino/Hispanic population were immigrant children and what you described working with those children matches my experiences with that small population, but the children who grew up in the gang culture with parents who also grew up in the same gang culture were usually the most difficult to work with and offered daily challenges that I cover in my memoir, “Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé.”

      The high school where I finished the last 16 years of my career as a public school teacher had an 8% black student population, 8% white and 8% Asian. The rest were mostly Latino/Hispanic.

      Most of the white, black and Asian children came from the new middle class homes in the hills east of the barrio. The Asian students were great to work with and some of the black and white too but some of the black and white middle class students offered different challenges from those that came from the children who grew up in the multi-generational Latino gang culture.

      The odd three years out of the thirty that I was a teacher was spent in one of the district’s middle schools on the West side of the freeway and industrial belt. It was mostly white middle class with a growing Asian middle class, and what you described about your McMansion children matches almost perfectly with what I experienced—except for the few Asian children—and that explains why I transferred east back to the barrio to work with the gang and immigrant children the last 16 years at Nogales High School in La Puente, California. It was while I was teaching at Nogales that I witnessed with my own eyes drive by shootings after school in the street on the other side of the HS’s fence.

      Three different towns converged on the HS campus, so all three police departments had jurisdiction when the HS called for help. Hardly a day didn’t go by that we wouldn’t see squad cars from West Covina, La Puente, Walnut or the county sheriffs department parked out front of the main office picking up students (boys or girls) wearing handcuffs. At lunch, the West Covina police sent a squad car to the HS to drive on campus and park in the grass area next to the library that overlooked the lunch area and the officers would sit there as another effort to keep the rival gangs from going to war with each other during lunch. The HS also had its own six-man police force (CPOs) that were considered the same as state marshals. The CPOs were linked by walkie talkies and used bikes to get around the campus faster to put out gang uprising and revolts in classrooms.

      • disappearingwoman

        November 19, 2014 at 19:13

        Wow! It certainly does sound like you had some real adventures in teaching. I’m going to have to read your book!
        Fortunately, 99.999% the children that I taught had very little gang exposure at ages 8 or 9. (or if they did I wasn’t made aware–and little kids tell you nearly everything!) I did have one young boy whose father had been killed in a gang related shooting in DC. He moved to our area to live with his grandparents. Thank you for such an interesting and informative reply.:)

      • Lloyd Lofthouse

        November 19, 2014 at 19:27

        Your welcome.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: