Finley: We shouldn’t rest until every kid can read

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Addie starts school Tuesday, taking that big, bittersweet step toward growing up. I asked my granddaughter what she was going to do in her kindergarten class, and she gave me a Christmas Eve smile and answered, “I’m going to learn to read.”

I’m confident she will. Not just because she’s a bright child. She will be attending a good school, with the resources and committed teachers necessary to deliver a quality education. And she’ll be supported at home by educated parents who will stand by her throughout her school years.

But I also know there are many other children starting their first day of school just as hopeful and excited as she is, who will never learn to read as well as demanded to be successful in life.

For many of them, before they get through the first three grades, they’ll already be so far behind that catching up will be nearly impossible.

New statistics on reading achievement were released for Michigan last week, and they should sicken us all. We can look away from the failure, but we can’t pretend not to know what it will mean to children who don’t develop adequate reading skills.

The number of state third-graders who passed the English language arts test (reading, writing and comprehension) fell to 44.1 percent this year, down nearly six percentage points over the past three years.

More than half of our youngest students are not proficient in reading. Think about that for a minute, and ask yourself what return Michigan is getting on its more than $14 billion annual investment in public schools?

A spokesman for the state education department called the test results “disappointing.” Try disgusting.

State School Superintendent Brian Whiston had the gall to say “we keep moving forward on our goal to be a Top 10 education state in 10 years,” based on slight improvements in math and science scores.

We are not. All we’re doing is moving that 10-year goal post further into the future. We start the decade countdown over every year. At this pace, we’re 100 years away from the Top 10.

Every educator knows that without improving reading skills, the progress that can be made in other subjects is limited. Reading truly is fundamental.

The results are even more distressing for minority and poor children, whose only route to opportunity is education. Yet only 38 percent of low income eighth-graders are proficient in reading.

In the recently disbanded Education Achievement Authority, Gov. Rick Snyder’s experiment with turning around Detroit’s worst schools, not a single fourth-grader tested proficient in science. This is failure on a colossal scale.

The kids could absorb more knowledge sitting at home watching the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse than they are in the classroom.

These numbers should shame us. We are not meeting our basic obligation as a species to give the next generation the skills needed to survive, let alone advance.

Forget about political, racial and economic divides. We have to pull together as a people to do better by our children — all our children.

It’s not enough for me to feel certain that Addie will learn to read. I shouldn’t rest —none of us should — until we have that certainty about every child.

Starting Tuesday, listen to the Nolan Finley Show from 7-9 a.m. Monday-Friday, on the 910AM Superstation.