The release Tuesday of Early Reading Proficiency in the United States, a new statistical snapshot taken by KIDS COUNT® of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, should serve as yet another wake up call that while reading proficiency rates have improved over the last decade, large disparities still exist by race, income and disability status and for dual-language learners that could impair their and the nation's future.
Children who read proficiently by the end of third grade are more likely to graduate from high school and be economically successful in adulthood, a wholesome outcome everybody wants.
Based on the Casey Foundation's reports "Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters" and "Early Warning Confirmed," the end of third grade marks the point when children transition from learning to read to reading to learn other subjects.
Among the things that worry Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation, is that 80 percent of low-income fourth graders and 66 percent of all fourth graders—estimated at about four million 8-year olds—are not proficient in reading, based on the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress data.
Responsible for KIDS COUNT, which the Casey Foundation launched in 1990 to track the well-being of children at the national and state level, Speer says that by 2020, the United States is expected to face a shortage of 1.5 million workers with college degrees, but will have a surplus of 6 million individuals without a high school diploma who are unemployed because they lack necessary educational credentials.
"If we do not make sure all children gain the needed reading skills to be successful in school, their future educational and economic prospects will be dim, and our economy will lag," Speer said in a telephone interview with CGE.
Asked if the report can also be viewed as an editorial comment on the growing recognition of the role income inequality plays in America today, Speer agreed that perspective is there. "I really think it is. Improvement hasn't been dramatic in ten years, and in addition to that gap between reading proficiency between lower income and higher income, it's become very difficult to have a job and raise a family without having a higher education."
Speer said the nation needs to pay attention to the message of the report, because these children cannot be left out of the educational system and eventually the economy.
While measuring reading proficiency is the at the heart of the Casey Foundation's release today, Speer believes that much more is also involved, from parent engagement to quality instruction to economically stable families.
"Parenting in the family is so critical," she told CGE, adding that learning problems start early and are often accompanied by stressed families who as a result of job loss are more likely to be "mobile, bouncing around due to housing issues, trying to piece together child care, as they struggle with social and emotional issues."
future? 25th year for Kids Count, gotten worse over time, poverty rate not changed, income equality got dramatically bigger,higher income kids here competing well with others, 8-10% return on early childhood investment, smart investment,
Speer, who serves as liaison to a national network of state advocacy organizations that produce their own KIDS COUNT reports and promote data-based policies and communication strategies, was unable to comment on charter schools and the growing role they play in educating children.
She said that reading scores are generally higher where teachers are paid more, but looping into parents is important, too. Summer learning loss, especially for low income kids, she said, makes a community's effort that much more important. "It's not just schools," Speer said.Connecting schools to communities can make a huge difference."
Bright spots for Speer going forward include Promise Zones, an initiative of the Obama Administration designed to enable the federal government to partner with local governments and businesses to provide tax incentives and grants to help combat poverty. The project is part of efforts by the White House to address income inequality, a topic many expect the president to include in his State of the Union address Tuesday.
On Jan. 8 the White House announced the first five Promise Zones: San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
KIDS COUNT Overall Rank: Ohio: 24th
It the Casey Foundation's ranking of all 50 states in Early Reading Proficiency in the United States, Ohio is 32nd on the list, ahead of Wisconsin but behind Virginia.
Based on poverty statistics compiled by the Children's Defense Fund, the percent of children living in poverty in Ohio has risen from 18.5 percent in 2008 to 23.6 percent in 2012, an increase of 28 percent.
Measured by the percentage of fourth graders reading below proficient levels, by family income, in every state, lower-income students are less likely to be reading proficiently than their higher-income peers.
Nationally, in 2003, 70 percent of all students read below proficient levels. By 2013, a four percent improvement was realized .
In Ohio, in 2003, 66 percent of all students read below proficient levels. In the next decade, a three percent improvement  was achieved.
According to KIDS COUNT date, the percent of Ohio students graduating from high school has dipped slightly from 84.6 percent in 2008 to 81.3 percent in 2012.
The challenge is large and there are many remedies, and prominent among them is encouraging parents, families and caregivers to be coproducers of good outcomes for their children, and holding schools and policymakers accountable for results-driven solutions "to transform low-performing schools into high-quality living learning environments.
Communities, as Speer pointed out, are critical, because they must work with schools to ensure that more children show up at school ready to learn, attend school every day and maintain their learning over the summer months.
The value of working together to develop a coherent system of early care and education that aligns, integrates and coordinates what children experience from birth through age 8, the report concludes, cannot be underestimated.
Ralph Smith, senior vice president of the Casey Foundation and managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, said all states need to do whatever it takes to get all kids, especially in populations that are struggling, on track with this milestone.
"As the nation continues to become more racially diverse, the low reading-proficiency scores of children of color are deeply concerning for the nation’s long-term prosperity," Smith said.
The news article Casey's Early Reading Proficiency report reveals dim future for many 4th graders appeared first on Columbus Government Examiner.
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