The Times West Virginian

October 4, 2013

We’re failing our children by not preparing them to be good readers

Times West Virginian

— If you can read this, thank a teacher. Thank your parents. Thank whoever was a part of your life at an early age who taught you phonics, how to sound out words and how to string them together in your mind for comprehension.

But for more than seven out of 10 third-graders in West Virginia, the preceding sentences may have been difficult to understand.

According to a study conducted by National Assessment of Educational Process, 73 percent of students in the Mountain State are not reading proficiently by the end of the third grade. Compare that to the national average of 68 percent of American third-graders who fall under that same classification.

“We are failing our youngest children by not preparing them to be good readers and successful learners,” said Margie Hale, executive director of West Virginia KIDS COUNT, a group that studies education, physical and mental health and environments for children. “We can and must do better.”

We wholeheartedly agree.

The most unsettling part of the report is that through the third grade, students are learning to read. From fourth grade on, students are reading to learn. With such low proficiency among West Virginia students, what does that say for the learning capabilities of this generation?

Without a firm grasp on the foundation that reading provides for the educational process, our children are destined to fail at mastery of core subjects in the coming years. It paints a bleak picture for the future of higher education and a workforce prepared to compete on a global scale, too.

Hard numbers? It translates to 1 in 6 not graduating from even high school, much less pursuing higher education, degree programs and advanced training.

There are some reasons for these kinds of issues that occur outside the classroom. Risk factors for being a poor reader are having a mother with a lower education level, problems at birth, low family income, lack of high-quality pre-school programs and poor nutrition.

Though there are many school and state programs that combat these issues, the effects linger. There are so many solutions out there, but they are associated with a price tag: expanding Pre-K programs to 3-year-olds, funding Birth through Three so that it can accommodate older children, making better-quality daycare more affordable.

Experts say that for every $1 invested, there’s the potential for a $7 return.

But it shouldn’t be about the money. This is not a problem that’s isolated in West Virginia. What this state and this country needs is an overhaul in its educational system that takes startling statistics like these and turns them around.

Words are powerful, but we’re raising a powerless generation if they don’t have command of our language.