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A crisis we must address

College & Career Readiness | 09/22/2017

Rebecca Gau
Stand for Children Arizona Executive Director

It’s easy to point and say, “those kids” are the problem. This can be especially true when it comes to our schools. It’s easy to point at students who are falling behind in school and simply dismiss them as lost causes. It doesn’t take any work, and often we believe it doesn’t affect our lives.

However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a crisis affecting every single school and community in Arizona, and it’s not just “those kids.” In many cases, it truly is our own children. Trust me, I know this can be a hard pill to swallow, but it is one we must accept and take action to remedy.

Based on the latest test scores, only around 44 percent of third-grade students are reading at grade-level. More than 55 percent of our students are falling behind in reading. That’s not just in a few schools. This is true for almost every school.

In fact, only a handful of schools in the state pass more than 70 percent of their students. If we used the same grading metric we use in our schools, since the vast majority are passing fewer than 70 percent, they would be earning a D or F. Though your child might be one of the 30 percent who are passing, what does it mean for the 70 percent of your child’s peers who can’t read?

Years of research have found that students who struggle to read on grade-level are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Literacy deficiencies coupled with poverty make this problem even worse. It means lower paying jobs, neighborhood instability, and lower state and local revenue. It’s the opposite of a “rising tide lifting all boats.” Rather, it creates a cycle of low-wages, decreasing employment, and decreasing economic investment from new businesses, industry, and employers.

Ultimately, this costs businesses and taxpayers around $20 billion every year across the country. While there is no one silver bullet to “fix” the reading crisis, one thing is clear: inaction is not an option. There are some realistic ways we can begin addressing this crisis.

First, the new Early Literacy Grant should be increased beyond the $20 million it’s slated to get for its first two years. It needs to be refined to target strategic investments and ensure that what schools are doing is working.

Second, we need to ensure schools have the capacity and resources to support kids in the earliest grades. Along the lines of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” funding reading intervention is much more cost effective than remediation. That leads us to our third priority: We must have a plan for every struggling reader to overcome their particular obstacles. Colorado has launched a state-led focus on prioritizing the lowest readers, and it is working. If we really want to improve education in Arizona, if we really want to improve Arizona’s economy, helping struggling readers is where we need to start. It’s an issue that impacts every Arizonan.

Ultimately, we are all in this together. Struggling readers are not “those kids.” They are Arizona’s kids, and they are our future.

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