“The link between academic failure, violence, and crime
is welded to reading failure”
—The Department of Justice
There are probably more than a hundred studies on the connection between reading and incarceration—and the results are never good for those who can’t read. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that 66% of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.
It sounds like an unfair sentence has been levied on every child who has trouble reading, but like so many things in life, one event, one experience that happened or didn’t, can change a life. When learning to read well didn’t happen, that life is at risk.
Here's the risk: Studies report more than 70% of inmates in America's prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level, 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts, and 16-to-19 year old girls at the poverty level, with low reading skills, are six times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children.
To give kids a better chance at success in life, some cities are taking action. When it was found that 72% of Baltimore grade school students could not read at proficiency levels, a volunteer group called The Experience Corp was formed to provide tutors. While a community response is fantastic, I am always surprised that these studies never challenge the people who brought the child into the world.
Education starts at home. A child isn’t ever going to get persistent one-on-one attention with 30 kids in a classroom, and when he or she is having trouble reading, individual tutoring is necessary. Parenting is work, but the reward of a happy, successful child far exceeds the effort parents can ever expend.
A low reading score is just an indicator, like a lump that shouldn’t be there, or a thunder clap when you didn’t expect rain. For parents, a low reading score should be a flashing red light to get the books out and be the teachers they are meant to be, because a child with proficient reading skills has the best chance of being able to negotiate this world on an equal and even exceptional basis.