This is a fascinating example of how a statistic takes on a life of its own once it hits the news.
The original report was the 80% of students entering the New York City community college system required remedial reading/math classes. From there it grew (via "Sultan Knish," who is usually sharper, among others) to "80% of NYC high school graduates." Now we're getting "80% of graduates in New York State can't read or write."
Just because I'm a bore, I will elaborate. The original "80% of new students at City College of New York facilities" who need remedial courses does not include NYC students who go to other colleges/universities after graduation. It does not include those who go to no college. It does include some students from other school systems, even out of state. It doesn't include most of the very significant number of NYC students who don't graduate, but it does include some students who never graduated from high school: those with GEDs or education from other countries.
Additionally, needing remedial courses does not equate to illiteracy or innumeracy. My own daughter, the outrageously excellent Gunner Anoreth, had to take remedial algebra in community college, because in spite of several computer languages, a comprehensive knowledge of history, political science, and classical literature, and great hand-eye coordination, she just had a b8tch of a time getting a handle on algebra.
In other words, it's an interesting statistic, but far from the totem it has become in only a few days.
It becomes easier to believe when I read that 40+% of ALL the residents of Detroit and New Orleans cannot read or write.
Christian friends of mine that went to NO to help out with Katrina recovery say that much of their time was spent filling out simple forms for residents to get FEMA supplies/help/support.