Lifelong Success Starts With Reading, Says New Report

Posted May 18, 2010
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Newsrelease earlywarningspecialreport 2010

Two out of every three fourth graders over­all are not pro­fi­cient in read­ing accord­ing to the most recent Nation­al Assess­ment of Edu­ca­tion­al Progress (NAEP). Worse, four of five fourth graders from low-income fam­i­lies are also not pro­fi­cient in read­ing. The fail­ure to help chil­dren from low-income fam­i­lies reach this mile­stone cements edu­ca­tion­al fail­ure and pover­ty into the next gen­er­a­tion. The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion is focus­ing atten­tion on the crit­i­cal impor­tance of achiev­ing grade-lev­el read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy for all chil­dren by the end of third grade. The abil­i­ty to read is cen­tral to a child’s suc­cess in school, life-long earn­ing poten­tial, and the abil­i­ty to con­tribute to the nation’s econ­o­my and its security.

This call for a renewed empha­sis on read­ing suc­cess is intro­duced by a spe­cial KIDS COUNT report, Ear­ly Warn­ing! Why Read­ing by the End of Third Grade Mat­ters, and is sup­port­ed by a broad coali­tion includ­ing, America’s Promise Alliance, Mis­sion: Readi­ness and Unit­ed Way World­wide.

Until third grade, chil­dren are learn­ing to read. After third grade, they also are read­ing to learn. When kids are not read­ing by fourth grade, they almost cer­tain­ly get on a glide path to pover­ty,” said Ralph Smith, exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion. Poor read­ing test scores are pro­found­ly dis­ap­point­ing to all of us who see school suc­cess and high school grad­u­a­tion as bea­cons in the bat­tle against inter-gen­er­a­tional poverty.”

Although NAEP scores have shown incre­men­tal increas­es over the past 15 years for most stu­dents, dis­par­i­ties in read­ing achieve­ment per­sist across eco­nom­ic, racial and eth­nic groups. The share of low-income black, His­pan­ic and Native Amer­i­can stu­dents who score below pro­fi­cient on the NAEP read­ing test is much high­er (89%, 87% and 85%, respec­tive­ly) than the share of low-income white or Asian/​Pacific Islander stu­dents (76% and 70%).

The stres­sors fac­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble kids and fam­i­lies include more health prob­lems that inter­fere with ear­ly learn­ing, few­er ear­ly inter­ac­tions that fos­ter lan­guage devel­op­ment, plus lim­it­ed access to high-qual­i­ty ear­ly child­hood and pre‑K pro­grams,” said Patrick T. McCarthy, Pres­i­dent and CEO of the Casey Foun­da­tion. The par­ents of chil­dren who attend low-per­form­ing, under-resourced schools may be less able or com­fort­able inter­act­ing with schools on their children’s behalf. They may be dis­tract­ed by hunger, hous­ing inse­cu­ri­ty and fam­i­ly mobility.”

Alma Pow­ell of America’s Promise Alliance not­ed that the num­ber one pre­dic­tor of a young person’s suc­cess is whether they grad­u­ate high school, and ear­ly read­ing skills are essen­tial to achiev­ing that mile­stone. The Nation­al Research Coun­cil has shown that a child who is not at least a mod­est­ly skilled read­er by the end of third grade is unlike­ly to grad­u­ate from high school,” said Pow­ell. Pay­ing atten­tion to risk indi­ca­tors like this and oth­ers, such as atten­dance and tru­an­cy rates, allows us to inter­vene ear­ly when we can make a real difference.”

Brigadier Gen­er­al Vel­ma Richard­son, U.S. Army (Ret.), of Mis­sion: Readi­ness said the pool of high school grad­u­ates is nei­ther large enough nor skilled enough to meet our nation­al secu­ri­ty needs. The Defense Depart­ment esti­mates (MORE)75% of Amer­i­cans aged 17 to 24 are inel­i­gi­ble to join the U.S. mil­i­tary because they are poor­ly edu­cat­ed, involved in crime, or phys­i­cal­ly unfit. Even with a high school diplo­ma, 30% of poten­tial recruits fail the entrance exam due to inad­e­quate math and read­ing skills,” said Gen­er­al Richard­son. We must get today’s kids on track to become tomorrow’s leaders.”

McK­in­sey & Com­pa­ny esti­mates that the U.S. GDP in 2008 could have been $1.3 tril­lion to $2.3 tril­lion high­er, if the U.S. stu­dents had met the edu­ca­tion­al achieve­ment lev­el of high­er-per­form­ing nations between 1983 and 1998.

Unit­ed Way wants to change that real­i­ty, and ful­fill every parent’s dream for their chil­dren to suc­ceed in school, work and life. We look for­ward to work­ing with the Casey Foun­da­tion and orga­ni­za­tions rep­re­sent­ed here today to help our chil­dren achieve their full poten­tial,” said Stacey D. Stew­art, Exec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent, Com­mu­ni­ty Impact Lead­er­ship and Learn­ing at Unit­ed Way Worldwide.

A child’s expe­ri­ence in a high-pover­ty school plays a huge role in deter­min­ing how like­ly that child is to be a grade-lev­el read­er by the end of third grade. This fail­ure of high-pover­ty schools is sim­i­lar across all groups, but espe­cial­ly pro­nounced in high-pover­ty schools serv­ing Black, His­pan­ic and Amer­i­can Indi­an kids.

The extent of the prob­lem will be the sub­ject of a May 18 pan­el dis­cus­sion at which pan­elists will iden­ti­fy a host of issues and chal­lenges that con­tribute to stu­dents falling behind the read­ing curve. For many chil­dren, these chal­lenges begin at birth and include poor health or nutri­tion, lan­guage bar­ri­ers and lack of ade­quate parental super­vi­sion. For oth­ers, the prob­lem might be due to chron­ic absen­teeism from school, sum­mer learn­ing loss, or low-per­form­ing schools.

Rec­og­niz­ing these and oth­er chal­lenges, the Casey Foundation’s Ear­ly Warn­ing! Why Read­ing by the End of Third Grade Mat­ters has iden­ti­fied four steps to close the gap and raise the bar:

  1. Devel­op a coher­ent sys­tem of ear­ly care and edu­ca­tion that aligns, inte­grates and coor­di­nates what hap­pens from birth through third grade so chil­dren are ready to take on the learn­ing tasks asso­ci­at­ed with fourth grade and beyond.
  2. Encour­age and enable par­ents, fam­i­lies and care­givers to play their indis­pens­able roles as co-pro­duc­ers of good out­comes for their children.
  3. Pri­or­i­tize, sup­port and invest in results-dri­ven ini­tia­tives to trans­form low-per­form­ing schools into high-qual­i­ty teach­ing and learn­ing envi­ron­ments in which all chil­dren, includ­ing those from low-income fam­i­lies and high-pover­ty neigh­bor­hoods, are present, engaged and edu­cat­ed to high standards.
  4. Devel­op and uti­lize solu­tions to two of the most sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tors to the under-achieve­ment of chil­dren from low-income families—chronic absence from school and sum­mer learn­ing loss.

Because grade-lev­el read­ing is such a strong pre­dic­tor of future prob­lems, phil­an­thropy is putting a stake in the ground on ensur­ing that chil­dren are able to read at grade lev­el by the end of third grade,” said Michael L. Eskew, Casey Board Chair and for­mer CEO of UPS. The research is clear and com­pelling. And it affirms what com­mon sense tells us. In a knowl­edge-depen­dent world and glob­al econ­o­my, no city, no region, no nation — includ­ing our own — can com­pete suc­cess­ful­ly with­out attend­ing to the basics. And that starts with reading.”

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