Posted on March 4, 2022

California, Shockingly, Has the Lowest Literacy Rate of Any State

Will Shuck, Capitol Weekly, February 28, 2022

Decades of underinvestment in schools, culture battles over bilingual education, and dizzying levels of income inequality have pushed California to the bottom of the pile, making it the least literate state in the nation.

Nearly 1 in 4 people over the age of 15 lack the skills to decipher the words in this sentence. Only 77 percent of adults are considered mid to highly literate, according to the nonpartisan data crunchers at World Population Review.

In New Hampshire, the most literate state in the country, only about 5 out of 100 lack English reading and writing skills. Its literacy rate hovers near 95 percent.


California, currently sitting on a surplus bigger than many states’ entire budgets, has for years spent less – about 13 percent less – than the national average on K-12 schools. Recent research shows that even high-performing California students score lower on standard tests than their counterparts in better performing states.

School spending, of course, is only one factor shaping California’s dismal literacy rate. The state has the most diverse population in the country, more than 200 languages are spoken here. California also has the biggest wealth chasm.

And programs to teach English to children whose parents speak another language at home have shown little success. Only 10 percent of students in English acquisition programs display grade-level proficiency. That’s a significant problem in a state with 1 million English learners among a student population of about 6 million.

“There’s only so much schools can do,” said Gao.


Parental education might be the biggest factor. But income disparity – which is linked to parental education –  plays a role as well. A big role. States with large percentages of highly literate parents unsurprisingly had highly proficient 8th graders, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.