Is there a link between reading ability and incarceration? Statistics point to yes. More than eighty percent of students who fail to complete high school struggled with reading in third grade, and seven out of every ten inmates in prison are not able to read above a fourth grade level.
Once these children drop out of school the statistics only seem to get worse. Almost eighty-five percent of teenagers in the juvenile justice system unfortunately are functionally illiterate, and individuals that drop out of school account for 90 percent of individuals on government welfare in the united states.
The evidence seems to be overwhelming that Illiteracy has a significantly detrimental effect on people’s lives. An even more alarming fact is the small window of opportunity in which we are able to do something about children’s literacy skills.
Once children have reached the third grade, school students must make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. If they do not, they cannot do their coursework. And so each year as the grade level demands go up, they fall further behind, becoming outsiders inside their classrooms.
School can become an increasing source of frustration for students who are illiterate or have poor literacy skills. School loses its relevance as they cannot keep up with the rest of the class and are unable to read the information they are being provided with. Consequently, they end up dropping out.
This makes K-3 reading the most critical of all education reforms for millions of students. If we don’t effectively deal with it, then no other education reform matters. We must demand that every child who sits in a classroom for four years enters fourth grade as a competent reader. If not, then what is the purpose of the classroom?
These literacy goals can be met using a number of strategies. These includes improving teacher training and certification in literacy instruction, teaching of early literacy skills such as phonemic/phonological awareness prior to kindergarten, ongoing literacy screening, and additional intensive intervention. This can be done within school or through other sources such as Speech Pathology intervention for poor readers.
Intervention needs to be at an early stage, before children advance on to the later years where reading is essential to learning.