Literacy in Twin Cities is top-tier

Minneapolis came in second to Seattle, and St. Paul tied with Cincinnati for ninth.

by Cati Vanden Breul

Minneapolis and St. Paul rank among the most literate cities in the United States, according to a study released last week by Central Connecticut State University.

The study ranked the country’s 69 largest cities “those with populations of 250,000 or more ” on six measures of literacy. Minneapolis came in second behind Seattle and St. Paul tied with Cincinnati for ninth.

The first version of the study came out in 2003 and ranked cities on newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources and educational attainment. In 2005, the availability of Internet resources was added as a criterion for measuring literacy.

Minneapolis made the top 10 in each of the categories and earned its highest individual ranking in newspaper circulation, where it tied for third with Boston. St. Paul did the best in the bookseller category in which it ranked ninth.

The researchers collected data from publicly available sources such as the American Booksellers Association, the United States Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics, according to the study’s Web site.

The author of the study, Central Connecticut State University President John Miller, designed the study to evaluate literacy on a deeper level than previous studies had done, said Mark McLaughlin, spokesman for the university.

“He wanted to capture something that is a little more complex than a standard literacy test ” more than whether someone can read or not,” McLaughlin said.

Miller focused both on how and what people read, which is why he looked at the percentage of a city’s population that reads newspapers, books or goes to the library, he said.

Because so many people get their information from the Internet and do their reading online, the researchers decided to add the Internet as a factor in their rankings, McLaughlin said.

“We wanted to see how literacy has expanded to online media,” he said.

Researchers looked at the number of Internet connections in libraries, the city’s wireless access and even the number of book orders city residents placed online.

The study’s findings showed that cities that ranked high on Internet literacy also ranked high in overall literacy. Minneapolis ranked 10th for its availability of Internet resources.

But Dana Lundell, program director for the University’s Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy, said research that focuses on ratings often misses the big picture.

“I think rankings like that can oversimplify things; you have to take a study like that into context,” Lundell said.

Although Minneapolis took second in the study, the findings ignore the large achievement gap between socioeconomic groups within the city, she said.

“There has to be attention paid to the missing side of a study; perhaps we aren’t the most literate because of the gap in achievement,” Lundell said.

The researchers said they hope the study ” which they plan to do repeat each year ” will direct cities to target problem areas and improve the literacy of their communities, McLaughlin said.

After El Paso, Texas, ranked last in the 2004 study, it instituted a reading program and distributed 95,000 free books to the population, he said.

“The hope is cities will look where their weaknesses are, and perhaps act on them,” McLaughlin said.