The arrival of March brings thoughts of spring and a season of growth and hope. Leo Tolstoy wrote that “Spring is the time of plans and projects.” This month, high school seniors (and their parents) anxiously wait to plan their futures based on the letters they will receive notifying them of their acceptance (or denial) into colleges nationwide. At Reading Is Fundamental, we plan all year for March, which is National Reading Month, dedicated to the promise and opportunity that reading provides. We know that without the foundational blocks of reading taught at the elementary school level, kids are not set up for success in junior high, high school and college or career.
A Nation in Crisis
I recently read an article about a 57-year old man who recounted how he had received a high school diploma—yet couldn’t read what it said. As someone who is passionate about education and devoted to helping kids everywhere learn to read, the headline alone struck a nerve. It said, ‘I couldn’t even read the diploma.’ To many, a diploma represents an educational foundation. This gentleman’s experience was different. He couldn’t read his high school diploma because he never learned to read. He faced continual challenges and his opportunities were severely limited because he couldn’t read. It’s time that we ask ourselves, what can we do to make sure this story isn’t the shared reality of millions of young people in our country?
A few facts help to put our country’s literacy challenges into perspective.
- Did you know that only 37% of high school graduates in America today are reading at or above proficiency?
- It might surprise you to learn that third-grade reading predicts high school dropout. Students who cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade very rarely catch up in later grades and face mounting negative consequences as they grow older.
- Third graders who are not proficient in reading are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than those with proficient reading skills.
These young adults are entering the workforce without the fundamentals that literacy provides to enable them to learn a trade or skill and to grow in their jobs and careers.
Be Part of the Solution
My daughter is one of the many high school seniors holding her breath for those college letters to arrive. And like many parents, my husband and I are hopeful that with hard work and perseverance she will take that next step to a successful career of her own. Unfortunately, there are many other high school seniors that are unable to submit a college application, or a job application, because they can’t read the contents. If we can find a way to address the literacy gap in this country, starting in early childhood education and at the elementary school level, we will take an important step in helping to set up future generations with the skills they need. And ultimately, hope to bridge the skills gap that CEOs are so concerned about for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
Reading is the fundamental building block for life’s journey. When kids develop strong reading skills, they aren’t the only ones who benefit. We all do. Readers are far more likely to thrive as they are better prepared and able to contribute positively to their families, the economy and society at large.
As we march into National Reading Month, I hope you will join in our goal to ensure that every child has the tools they need to read and succeed. We are working to celebrate reading and to provide accessible solutions to America’s literacy problem.
During the month of March, we are encouraging children nationwide to read at least one book and count it on our website RIF.org/MillionBookMarch. Reading Is Fundamental has set a goal of one million books read by the end of the month. You can find out how a child in your life can participate and download free support resources. If your child is a struggling reader, you will find tools that can help at Literacy Central, RIF’s digital portal that includes thousands of free supplemental resources for PreK-6 children, parents and educators.
I hope that one of your favorite spring projects this year is to help a child learn to read because reading is truly fundamental.
Alicia Levi is the president and CEO of Reading is Fundamental. Join the conversation on social media by using #EveryBookCounts or #RIFMillionBookMarch.