Not learning to read is life threatening

Pam Good

The tragic truth is we are failing many of our children in America and if they do not receive some badly needed intensive care they may never recover.

One of the great strengths of our country historically was our ability to teach most of our children well if they reached our public schools.

Reading was and is the key to education. A good public school education was the great equalizer that created huge opportunity for those who made it to class. Our founding fathers thought an educated populace was essential to our representative democracy.

March is national reading month and yet we have hundreds of thousands of children who cannot read and therefore cannot receive the education they need to succeed in life. We know a child who struggles to read becomes an adult who struggles. And right now too many children and adults in Detroit and elsewhere in Michigan are struggling.

Only 7 percent of students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District can read at or above grade level. Nearly half of all adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate meaning they cannot read their child a bedtime story even if they had a book and wanted to read to them. Hearing words and being exposed to books before school begins is a huge advantage for children from more affluent families. When entering kindergarten, a child from a poor family has heard 30 million fewer words on average than his or her peers from wealthier families.

This is a huge but not insurmountable deficit. All is not lost. There is a solution. At Beyond Basics we teach children, even those facing the biggest challenges, to read. Our system is proven. It works and it is scalable. Give us six to 12 weeks with a student and one of our trained tutors and we can turn a third-grader, a sixth-grader, even a twelfth-grader and all grades in between into a reader. Our challenge has been that we haven’t had the funding to teach every child to read who needs our help.

Elijah Craft is a great example of a student we’ve helped. In October 2016 we met Elijah; a 6 foot 6 17-year-old high school senior who could run football plays but could only read at the first grade level and was at the bottom of his class.

Before he learned how to read, he was afraid to go any farther than a few blocks from home. After completing our one-on-one tutoring program, he graduated 25th in his class and is now volunteering at Life Remodeled’s Durfee Community Innovation Center and working at the Boys and Girls Club. Elijah attended Waldorf University in the fall and plans to transfer to Oakland Community College to be close to family. Learning to read transformed his life. Last week, he participated in our literacy summit to encourage students to do the hard work to learn to read. His powerful words have more students coming forward to get help. We’ve helped many Elijahs. There’s a success story for every child who is tutored by Beyond Basics. Our goal is to help each and every child who needs it.

An increase in per pupil funding from the state alone will not address this problem. One-size-fits-all education does not work. Some have greater need. Intensive care costs more but only for a brief time. Once a child has learned to read and has caught up to grade level, every other education dollar spent on them becomes a true investment.

While we must help all children learn to read by third grade — we can and must do right by all those children who make it to high school unable to read. Illiteracy need not be a lifelong affliction. We must reach these students and turn them into readers now. Their futures and ours depend on it.

Pam Good is president and executive director

of Beyond Basics.

March is all about reading

Beyond Basics held a Literacy Summit at Mumford High School on March 1 to kick off National Reading Month that included students, teachers, community activists, foundations, the Detroit Public Schools Comuunity District Board and local journalists, including The Detroit News. Here is a highlight reel from the summit discussion: https://vimeo.com/258340708.