Here's some of what we were told:
According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 42 million adult Americans can't read; 50 million can recognize so few printed words they are limited to a 4th or 5th grade reading level; one out of every four teenagers drops out of high school, and of those who graduate, one out of every four has the equivalent or less of an eighth grade education.
According to current estimates, the number of functionally illiterate adults is increasing by approximately two and one quarter million persons each year. This number includes nearly 1 million young people who drop out of school before graduation, 400,000 legal immigrants, 100,000 refugees, and 800,000 illegal immigrants, and 20 % of all high school graduates.
I've had some experience working as a writing tutor with college students at a local performing-arts college. These kids were amazingly poor writers, even though they had graduated from various urban school systems. At the time my daughter was in fourth grade, and she wrote much better than these high-school graduates.
This is another topic I brought up with my Japanese teacher today. I understand that English spelling is a mess. However, I know from experience that Japanese "spelling" is at least as difficult. So I asked her whether there was a literacy problem in Japan.
Her answer was no. It is simply assumed that every healthy Japanese child will learn to read.
Now it could be that my teacher is exaggerating slightly. And of course, kids who attend many suburban and certain rural school systems in America (including the rural state where I grew up and the white-collar suburb where my daughter went to school) are pretty well-educated.
But all in all... I suspect that the Japanese education system is less screwed up than ours.
The Elephant's Child.