3rd Graders with Weak Reading Skills May Face a Future of Unemployment, Poverty, Prison

Posted on May 9, 2011 by


Life in the U.S. of A:

For a Winning Future Our Children Need

Reading Excellence Here & Now!

By Bro. Mxolisi


“We will never close the achievement gap . . . solve our dropout crisis . . . break the cycle of poverty that afflicts so many children if we don’t make sure that all our students learn to read.”

These words come from Ralph Smith, executive vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which participated in a study released last month (4/2011) entitled, Double Jeopardy: How Poverty and Third Grade Reading Skills Influence High School Graduation. “This research confirms the compelling need to address the underlying issues that keep children from reading,” Smith added.

This report served to remind us – again – of the urgent need for our children to become proficient in reading by the time they reach third grade. Why third grade? Because the general assumption at the foundation of education in the U.S. is that third grade is the pivot point where children shift from learning how to read to becoming capable of putting their reading skills to use – to read to learn.  However, two-thirds (66%) of the nation’s children in fourth grade are not reading on grade level. For low-income students, as many as four-fifths (80%) of these fourth graders are reading below grade level. Black and Hispanic students, disproportionately represented in these stats, find it difficult to keep pace, lose enthusiasm and interest over time, and fail to graduate high school on time (if at all) at increasingly troublesome rates. Most despicable is the fact that certain forces in this society (including state and local governments, and others) begin allocating funds to accommodate significant numbers of these children in juvenile and adult detention – jail/prison – on the basis of their 3rd grade performances!

What’s to be done? Who is to Do it?

Without a doubt, there must be improvements in the schools where these children are learning to read, with the required adjustments of local, state and federal policies and resources to facilitate those improvements. This would include, as the 2025 Plan for Black Men and Boys urges, the employment of teachers who have proven records of success with the type of students in need. But that is not a new battle. What is new is the depth of the niggardly attitude that currently exists among certain politicos — be they Republican, Tea Party, Libertarian, or Democrat – who would include cuts in funding for education – local, state and national – while giving increased tax cuts to the wealthiest segments of the population. But we must continue to wage that battle, if this is ever to be “one nation, under GOD, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

More importantly, while that battle is continuing, there is serious need for parents, elders and others in our families and communities to take good looks at ourselves: Are we doing all we can in every way we can to nurture and develop the potential for excellence – the least of which is the ability to read well — that exists in each of our children? Or are we too busy, too distracted, too dysfunctional, too cool, or too mesmerized by television and celebrity to fully appreciate that we are the first and foremost teachers and influences in their children’s lives? It’s from us that they get inspiration (or not) for nearly everything, including an appreciation and zest for excellence in reading. If we are too busy, too distracted, too cool, etc., they will be, too.

“Each one, Teach one” / Ujima!

While significant numbers of our young people are getting the message from parents, teachers and others, and are reading satisfactorily, the statistics cited above tell us that more must be done. Parents, Elders, Preachers, Imams, Missionaries, Everybody! – every house and apartment, every church, temple, mosque or masjid, in addition to the schools, needs to reflect a priority commitment to helping our children learn to read well! In the spirit of that African wisdom, “Each one, teach one,” as well as the Ujima principle of solving our community and peoplehood problems together, we need to pursue this objective diligently, consistently, militantly! Additionally, because many of our children are in homes where there the adults don’t feel competent or comfortable enough with their own reading skills to guide the children, we must reach out! “Each one, teach one” / Ujima.

We need to be on top of the reading programs in the schools that our children attend, to ensure that dedication to this priority mission exists within them. Some of the steps for this task are outlined under the topic, “How Do I Know a Good Early Reading Program When I See One?”The 13 suggestions listed there include: having teachers who are prepared and excited for the task; 90 minutes or more of reading instructions per day (60 minutes for kindergarten), with 60 extra minutes daily for students who are behind; daily spelling practice and weekly spelling tests; daily opportunities to read silently and aloud from a diverse variety of books; and more. See the complete list at (http://www.abc-read.com/reading-program.html). Go to your child’s school and classroom; get to know the teacher; exchange phone numbers; ask questions; get answers; be involved; get positive results. Complain and/or protest if things are not right.

“How Can I Help My Child Be Ready to Read and Ready to Learn?” This lists over 9 measures to be taken in the home and other facility where there is willingness and commitment to this mission. These steps include: engaging your children from infancy on up with words and their meanings; reading to your baby every day from six month of age and up; not allowing television to substitute for YOU – your voice, gestures and rhymes; making your home (and other designated facility) a learning space, with the posting of words and pictures that stimulate word power; take children’s reading and/or writing materials along whenever you leave home. See the list at(http://www.abc-read.com/learn-reading.html). Implement these measures in your home; share them with your extended family, your neighborhood group and spiritual community; aim for and expect their cooperation and assistance. Start something!

Free Help Available Online!

If you put “free learning to read websites” into your search engine you will find a number of web sites dedicated to this objective. One of those sites is http://www.starfall.com/ where you will find interactive programs to help your child with recognizing alphabets and their sounds, constructing and reading simple words and stories, and discovering his or her own personal being. And it is fun (I think).  Another free site is this long one —http://www.abcmouse.com/landing/sem:lsf-free site?utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=adwords&utm_campaign=General+-+Free+Test&utm_extra=dim1/Reading+-+General//dim2/Phrase&utm_term=free+learn+to+read — where you will find equally interesting and helpful interactive exercises to help you get your child on the road to reading excellence:  There is enough FREE stuff on these sites to help you launch the children toward the reading excellence that they must have, if the achievement gap is to be closed, the drop out crisis eliminated, and poverty – and worse – is not to be their destiny; if they are not to be easy prey for those who plan for their imprisonment.

In “Destruction of Black Civilization,” ASAR Dr. Chancellor Williams wrote of the unity that we need if the achievements required for our greatest good are to be realized. That unity, he wrote, “will be achieved not by preaching, pleading or exhortations, but almost unconsciously as people work together for mutual benefits to each other and the advancement of the race as a whole. Meaningful, practical activities which involve even the children . . .” Are not these words from 35 years ago pertinent even now!?

In “The Re-Birth of African Civilization,” in his assessment of the educational needs of the world African community, Dr. Williams wrote, “The success of all that is done . . . will be largely determined by what is done in elementary education. . . . We found no greater need in primary education than the need for emphasis on reading comprehension.”

Finally, some often repeated words from “Destruction of Black Civilization” seem to be right on target for this moment, for this issue: “The task we now face will test thegenius of the Black race. . . .If we fail to accept this challenge at this critical turning point in our history, we will have proved ourselves unworthy of having any descendants, and our very names should be forgotten by them — or cursed by the farthest generation.”

The hand writing is on the wall. We must teach our children to read!

(The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization, dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States. It was established in 1948 by Jim Casey, one of the founders of UPS, and his siblings, who named the Foundation in honor of their mother. The primary mission of the Foundation is to foster public policies, human-service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families. In pursuit of this goal, the Foundation makes grants that help states, cities and neighborhoods fashion more innovative, cost-effective responses to these needs.)