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Is Congress getting dumber?

Posted by on May. 22, 2012 at 8:16 AM
  • 15 Replies

Is Congress getting dumber?

By Mike Krumboltz

Think members of Congress act like a bunch of high school students? You might be on to something. A recent study from the Sunlight Foundation found that members of Congress tend to speak at about a 10th-grade level.

The Sunlight Foundation analyzed every word spoken by every member of Congress on the floor of the House or Senate. Sunlight imported the words into a searchable database and then "ran them through an algorithm to determine the grade level of congressional discourse," according to a buzzy story from NPR.

The finding: Congress is speaking at a lower academic level. Back in 2005, members of Congress spoke at a level equal to a high school junior. Now, the numbers have dropped off. Congress talks like a bunch of sophomores. Sunlight used something called the "Flesch-Kinkaid" scale to determine speech level. Longer sentences and words with more syllables equal higher grade levels.

Some interesting factoids from the Sunlight Foundation's study:

-"Prior to 2005, Republicans on average spoke at a slightly higher grade level than Democrats. Since then, Democrats have spoken on average at a slightly higher grade level than Republicans."

-On average, Congress members who are moderate speak at a higher level. Those on the far right and left speak at a lower level.

-Don't assume you speak at a higher level than your representative. The average American speaks between an eighth- and ninth-grade level.

It is tempting to see these results and say, "Congress is getting dumber," but a piece from the Atlantic suggests another theory. Perhaps Congress is just getting better at getting its points across. After all, why make an issue or speech or anecdote more complicated than it has to be? 

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/upshot/congress-getting-dumber-184032926.html 

by on May. 22, 2012 at 8:16 AM
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Replies (1-10):
Juanita679
by on May. 22, 2012 at 8:18 AM
bump


Lissa0985
by Bronze Member on May. 22, 2012 at 8:21 AM
Not surprising.
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krysstizzle
by DeepThought on May. 22, 2012 at 8:24 AM
Ha, I read about this on npr. Interesting.
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candlegal
by Judy on May. 22, 2012 at 8:28 AM
2 moms liked this

If the rest of the country is dumbing down, why would congress be immune?

Quoting Lissa0985:

Not surprising.


Veni.Vidi.Vici.
by on May. 22, 2012 at 9:32 AM

I read an article some time ago that stated the average america has an 8th grade reading level. I'm not sure if the comprehension level is the same. I'll look it up.

Veni.Vidi.Vici.
by on May. 22, 2012 at 9:36 AM

Demographics -> Overall

Average Scores

  • No Significant change in prose and document literacy between 1992 and 2003
  • Increase in quantitative literacy
Average prose, document and quantative literacy scores of adults: 1992 and 2003

Average prose, document and quantative literacy scores of adults: 1992 and 2003

* Significantly different from 1992.
NOTE: Adults are defined as people 16 years of age and older living in households or prisons. Adults who could not be interviewed due to language spoken or cognitive or mental disabilities (3 percent in 2003 and 4 percent in 1992) are excluded from this figure.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey and 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy.

By Literacy Level

  • Fewer adults with Below Basic document and quantitative literacy in 2003 than in 1992
  • Fewer adults with Proficient prose and document literacy in 2003 than in 1992

Nonliterate in English

  • 11 million adults
    • Two groups:
    • 7 million who could not answer simple test questions
    • 4 million who could not take the test because of language barriers
Percentage of adults in each prose, document, and quantitative literacy level: 1992 and 2003

Percentage of adults in each prose, document, and quantitative literacy level: 1992 and 2003


* Significantly different from 1992.
NOTE: Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.Adults are defined as people 16 years of age and older living in households or prisons. Adults who could not be interviewed due to language spoken or cognitive or mental disabilities (3 percent in 2003 and 4 percent in 1992) are excluded from this figure.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey and 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy.

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Number of Adults in Each Prose Literacy Level

Prose Literacy

  • Below Basic:
    • no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills
  • Basic:
    • can perform simple and everyday literacy activities
  • Intermediate:
    • can perform moderately challenging literacy activities
  • Proficient:
    • can perform complex and challenging literacy activities
Number of Adults in Each Prose Literacy Level


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Adults With Below Basic Prose Literacy

Performance in 2003

  • Several population groups are overrepresented in the Below Basic level.
    For example, 55 percent of adults with Below Basic prose literacy did not graduate from high school, compared to 15 percent of adults in the general population.
  Percent in Prose Below Basic Population Percent in Total NAAL Population
Did not graduate from high school 55 15
No English spoken before starting school 44 13
Hispanic adults 39 12
Black adults 20 12
Age 65+ 26 15
Multiple disabilities 21 9

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stormcris
by Christy on May. 22, 2012 at 10:01 AM
1 mom liked this

I think we have an education problem and it is getting worse.

heidimoose134
by Momma Moose on May. 22, 2012 at 10:31 AM

I'm about to jump in the shower so I didn't read the article yet but to answer your question, yes. 


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SLTmom
by Bronze Member on May. 22, 2012 at 1:16 PM
3 moms liked this
When you're pandering to the crazy fringe element, of course you have to dumb down your rhetoric.

"I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief"  Gerry Spence

LindaClement
by Linda on May. 22, 2012 at 1:26 PM
3 moms liked this

Any collection of people has the IQ of its least-intelligent member, divided by the number of people in the group. It's why mobs are so dumb.

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