In 1987 a World in Action programme revealed that six million adult Britons could not read. The problem was least among old people and worst among school leavers, of whom 25% were so illiterate that they floundered even when simply faced with forms to fill in.
A 1997 study showed that hard-core school-leavers' illiteracy had risen to 33% and other research highlighted the additional seriousness of functional illiteracy. The Basic Skills Agency estimated that total adult illiteracy had grown to nine million.
Old people are rarely illiterate because their teachers knew how to promote literacy effectively. They were skilled in the phonic method of relating letters to sounds and building up successive letter-sounds into words. This was the normal approach before World War II and it produced virtually universal reading ability.
[W]hen Alice Coleman taught 1200 secondary modern school pupils during the 1940s, only one, a brain-damaged child, was unable to read. That was an illiteracy rate of 0.01%. Today, on average, at least 30 of those children would be in special schools for the learning disabled and a further 300 would be illiterate, with many more destined to lapse into illiteracy soon after leaving school. At that time, Kent's 24 special schools for backward children did not exist and the secondary moderns took all, except for the blind and profoundly deaf, and a few going to grammar or independent schools.
Critics of phonics will probably leap to protest that Alice Coleman must have been teaching in an affluent leafy suburb, but this was not so. It was a working-class area of Thameside with mainly blue-collar employment in cement, rubber and paper factories. Furthermore, every child had experienced between four and six years of wartime disturbances to their education, including evacuation to safer areas, winter schooling reduced by an hour to avoid travelling in the blackout, frequent lesson interruptions to rush down into the air-raid shelters and numerous nights disturbed by air-raid warnings. The school itself had been bombed. Those children were indeed disadvantaged but not by their teachers. They could read.
The Great Reading Disaster by Mona McNee & Alice Coleman
My district uses balanced literacy, aka whole language (pdf file), aka mix and muck the children up.
Also, we have 4.5 remedial reading teachers in K-5; 150 students per grade.
Only we don't call them remedial reading teachers.
We call them literacy specialists.