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Gary SMITH
January 15, 2022
Reading success is a civil right

Reading success is a civil right

The current educational paradigm is failing most students

Reading success by 3rd grade is generally accepted as foundational to academic and career success. Given such importance, is reading success a civil right? Is there a significant disparity of outcomes based upon income or race in the current educational paradigm?

The best long-term measure of reading progress across the U.S. is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This test is given every two years with 2019 data being the most recent.

In 2019, 66% of 4th grade students scored below proficient in reading on the NAEP. When scores are reported by family income, 79% of 4th grade students who qualify for the school lunch program scored below proficient vs. 50% for those students who did not qualify for the school lunch program, a 29% disparity. Family income makes a big difference and children in poverty face a large disparity.

When scores are broken out by ethnicity, 80% of American Indian, 45% of Asia or Pacific Islander, 82% of Black or African American, 77% of Hispanic or Latino, 60% of two or more races, and 56% of White 4th grade students did not score proficient. American Indian, Black or African American, and Hispanic or Latino students face a significant disadvantage.

Why does reading success matter? Consider the following information listed on the website, https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-literacy-america.

1. 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.

2. 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read.

3. Students who don't read proficiently by the 3rd grade are 4 times likelier to drop out of school.

4. Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60% of all inmates are functionally illiterate.

5. 75% of Americans who receive food stamps perform at the lowest 2 levels of literacy, and 90% of high school dropouts are on welfare.

I hope the above information serves as a wakeup call for many. This is a serious issue that impacts national security and the economy. I argue it also affects individual freedom, equity and civil rights since the system is clearly biased according to income and race. It may also perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Although the scores are reported in mainstream media on occasion, too many are complacent and allow the status quo to continue. Clearly the education system does not have the answer given the longstanding challenge.

• Why are so many students failing in the current instructional paradigm?

• Why do some students succeed while others fail in the same school and same classroom using the same curriculum?

• Why on average do students from low-income families and certain ethnicities have a significantly higher failure rate?

There are basically two approaches to reading instruction: phonics and whole language. Scientific evidence suggests phonics is the better approach. But even when phonics is used, the failure rate remains high.

The state of Colorado conducted a large study on the effectiveness of phonics. They passed the READ Act in 2012 and have invested over $200 million dollars to date in phonics instruction statewide. Schools are required to only use approved phonics curricula. Despite this massive investment and rigid guidelines, scores have not improved. https://co.chalkbeat.org/2019/11/20/21121741/colorado-has-spent-hundreds-of-millions-to-help-kids-read-now-it-will-spend-up-to-5-2-million-to-fin

It is time to acknowledge that the current instructional paradigm is not working for most students. Reading proficiency requires the development of a specific skill set involving many elements. Students who entered kindergarten with a strong foundational skill set generally learn how to read easily. Students who struggle entered kindergarten with a deficit in foundational skills and most never catch up—the Skill Gap. The Skill Gap explains why so many students are failing.

I prepared an information website that explains why phonics is not working for most students and provides more details on the Skill Gap. https://www.scienceofreading101.org. All the information presented is factual, not opinion. Yet, most who embrace the current paradigm ignore this information and continue to do more of the same. As in most cases, we cling to what we know and find it hard to change.

For the sake of the students facing this inequity, it is time to reassess the paradigm. All students have the right to succeed, and the education system needs to find better ways to accomplish this goal.

We are launching a Movement to demonstrate Black Students can become the highest performing group. We hope this will serve as model to lead the country in a solution to the reading crisis. Please join us in the journey. All students are welcome. https://www.blackyouthsuccessmovement.org

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