Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Detroit fares poorly in ‘literate cities’ study

By YANAN CHEN

Capital News Service

LANSING–A new national study of America’s most literate cities ranked Detroit 56th among the 75 largest cities in 2010, down from 51st in 2009.

The rankings by Central Connecticut State University factored in educational attainment, Internet resources, periodical publishing resources, newspaper circulation, library resources and number of booksellers.

Newspaper circulation in Detroit ranked 19th among 75 cities, with little change since 2008. “The entire list has declined” because newspapers nationally lost circulation, said Professor Stephen Lacy, an expert on media economics at Michigan State University.

But Lacy added that “how many people are reading the newspapers online” is another factor that the study should consider in relation to the decline in circulation.

“The ability of people to read has never been as high as some people assumed,” Lacy said, “I think up to 25 percent of people in this country either cannot read or do not feel comfortable reading materials from newspapers. Many people choose to watch videos.”

Unlike Detroit’s relatively high rank in newspaper circulation, it placed only 71st in educational attainment, the percent of adults with at least a high school diploma and with a bachelor’s degree.

That was a drop from 67th in 2008. However, Jan Ellis, a communications expert in the Department of Education, said students’ reading ability is not decreasing. “This education subcategory is just an indicator, and it cannot directly relate to how the students are performing in school.”

“The basic level of students’ reading ability actually increased. We are currently making students more college and career-ready to meet basic skill levels and encouraging both teachers and students to reach higher goals,” Ellis said.

Andrew McCullough, an adult education expert at Michigan Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages in Ann Arbor said, “I do agree that Americans are reading less in recent years. Before World War II students left high school with a vocabulary of 30,000 to 40,000 words. By the 1970s, high school graduates only had 20,000 word vocabularies. The level has gone down and down.

“More than 15 percent of students did not finish high school in Detroit,” said McCullough,. “Uneducated parents, separated or divorced parents, are the problems that lead to children either not ready to be educated or not supported by their parents to be educated.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2009, only 24.6 percent of Michigan residents had earned bachelor’s degrees or higher, compared to the 27.9 percent national average.

The number of bookstores in Detroit ranked 72nd in 2010, among the bottom five in the ranking. One factor is online companies like Amazon provide lower prices.

Library resources in Detroit also dropped from 37th in 2008 to 48.5th in 2010. That reflects the number of branches, volumes in the collection, circulation and professional staff.

The study by Professor John W. Miller, president of Central Connecticut State, found Washington was the most literate city and Stockton, Calif., was on the bottom.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Education

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