GUEST VIEW: Literacy needs our attention now

By John Trischitti III, MLS

Today, the majority of the counties in the Permian Basin rank among the lowest literate and least educated in the United States. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, both Texas and New Mexico rank in the bottom 25th percentile in literacy nationally, with several Permian Basin counties ranking near the bottom of state averages.

Through the generous support of the Abell-Hanger Foundation, FMH Foundation, Permian Strategic Partnership, and the Brown Family Foundation; The Literacy Coalition of the Permian Basin (LCPB) was founded in 2021 to address the literacy challenges prevalent in the Permian Basin, which includes nineteen counties in Texas and three in New Mexico, with the mission to increase the literacy levels and skills of all people in the Permian Basin improving their quality of life.

One challenge is that literacy is historically underfunded and under-researched in our part of the world, with no real data being available for Adult and Family Literacy. To that end, the Literacy Coalition commissioned the American Institute of Research (AIR) to do a Literacy Needs Assessment specifically for the Permian Basin region. The full LCPB Adult Literacy Needs Assessment, Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy National Action Plan, and Economic Impact Report are all available on the LCPB website for your review at

Perhaps the most important takeaway from this needs assessment is that adult learners, service providers, educators, foundations, and public officials all share a vision of individuals and families having the knowledge, skills, and resources that they need to thrive now and in the future. By working together and building on one another’s strengths, the members of the Literacy Coalition of the Permian Basin are well-positioned to help make this shared vision a reality.

The Texas state average for the lowest literacy proficiency levels, approximately 2nd/3rd grade, amongst the adult population ages 16-74 is 28%. Ector County’s low literacy percentage comes at 36%. What this means on a practical level is that 1 out of 3 adults in Ector County have literacy skills at a 3rd-grade level or below.

Also specific to Ector County, an estimated 39,000 adults have low literacy skills, again, reading at or below a 3rd-grade level, yet it is estimated that only 1,200 individuals are currently participating in some form of adult education programming.

Improving literacy rates would have a transformative economic impact on the Permian Basin and its residents. If the Permian Basin were able to match the current average literacy rates in Texas and New Mexico by 2040, the annual earnings gain would be approximately $353 million, with more than $242 million in new gross product each year and over 6,725 new jobs. A well-rounded education is THE key to upward mobility. A study by the Pew Charitable Trust shows that for people starting at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, a college degree can QUADRUPLE their chances of making it to the top. There is a correlation between illiteracy and income at least in individual economic terms, in that literacy and education has payoffs and is a worthwhile investment. As the literacy and education rate doubles, so doubles the per capita income.

All of these factors do not even begin to scratch the surface of the social and cultural dynamics that have an impact on an individual reaching adulthood without adequate education or literacy skills. Many of the students that are underperforming in the school setting have outside factors at work that can make the learning experience all the more difficult. A one-parent household, little to no parental involvement, access to basic food and nutrition, inadequate books in the home, and lack of access to reliable internet to do schoolwork are only a fraction of the influences that can negatively impact learning and contribute to a child becoming a low literacy adult. We must begin to change the narrative when it comes to literacy and identify that it is not just an education issue but a social issue as well.

Literacy clearly matters to the region, its institutions, its people, and its future. The data in these assessments spans generations and so too will the efforts to improve adult literacy rates in the Permian Basin. Our overwhelming impression from our conversations across the region is that leaders and the funding community have the will to embark on such an epic journey. The hope is that LCPB and this assessment will spark dialogue between stakeholders in your community and guide your first steps to join the coalition and help us tackle the pressing problem of literacy in our region.

John Trischitti III, MLS, is the executive director of the Literacy Coalition of the Permian Basin.