Most Texas cities move up slightly in annual literacy study

02/06/2014 10:59 AM

02/06/2014 4:59 PM

Most Texas cities inched up a few pages in an annual literacy study of the nation's 77 largest cities released Thursday by Central Connecticut State University.

Austin moved up two spots into a tie with Nashville for No. 21, while Dallas jumped 10 spots to No. 37. Plano went up by two to No. 43. Fort Worth climbed by three to No. 49 and Arlington moved up one to No. 63.

But Texas cities also dominated the bottom five of the rankings. San Antonio slid two spots to No. 73. El Paso at No. 74 and Corpus Christi at No. 76 each fell by one spot. Bakersfield, Calif., closed the book at No. 77.

For the fourth straight year, Washington, D.C. and Seattle were Nos. 1 and 2 respectively. Also at the top of the “America’s Most Literate Cities” list were Minneapolis at No. 3, with Atlanta and Pittsburgh tied at No. 4.

Now in its 11th year, the annual survey of cities of at least 250,000 people is conducted by CCSU President Jack Miller.

“This study isn’t about how well people can read, it’s about if they do,” Miller said Thursday.

The survey rates cities based on research data for six key indicators of their residents’ use of literacy: booksellers, educational attainment, Internet resources, library resources, newspaper circulation, and periodical publishing resources.

The generally lackluster showing by Texas cities comes as no surprise, said Gloria Meraz, director of communications for the Texas Library Association.

Meraz notes that Texas is ranked 40th among all states in per capita spending for library support at 30 cents per resident. By comparison, Ohio tops the state spending list at $30 per person.

Nineteen percent of all Texans can’t read a newspaper, according to a 2009 adult assessment of literacy by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Lori Donley, director of Literacy Texas, who was attending a statewide adult literacy conference on Thursday, said low literacy is a huge problem in the state.

“The reality is, we will never have enough money to solve the adult literacy problem. We believe we need to build grassroots community systems to help adult learners and give educational support to parents and children,” she said.

With 14 percent of the adults in Tarrant County lacking basic reading skills, the Fort Worth Library has made improving literacy a priority, said library director Gleniece Robinson.

Last year, the library turned its 40-year-old summer reading program into a year-round program called “Worth Reading: 365.” Over 3,500 people enrolled in the pilot chapter from January to May and at the end of December more than 10,000 were participating, she said.

“It not only includes adult education, but it also includes an early literacy component because the statistics show that 40 percent of the kids in kindergarten are not prepared,” Robinson said.

Texas cities fared well in Internet connectivity, with Austin ranked No. 6 and Fort Worth and Dallas tied at No. 17.

Fort Worth’s lowest scores were No. 63 in education and No. 54 in booksellers.

For the first time, Miller’s study offers a regional outlook, and he found major regional differences in reading habits and resources for reading.

Topping the six regional rankings of literate behaviors were the Mid-Atlantic states and New England, where nearly 90 percent of the cities are above the median for all cities studied.

By contrast, the least literate region was the Southwest (Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico) where 86 percent of the cities are below the median of all the cities ranked.

“Wherever there are large populations of low-income, non-English speakers —Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California — literacy becomes an issue,” Miller said, noting that poor people are far less likely to use libraries, subscribe to newspapers and purchase books.

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