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The United States is facing a reading crisis

The United States is facing a reading crisis

The United States is facing a reading crisis
November 10
12:00 2022

Life is somewhat returning to normal after the pandemic changed life for most people over the past two years. Stores have reopened at full capacity, mask mandates are gone and children are back in school. This return to normalcy does not undo the damages of two years in a pandemic.

Simply put, there is a reading crisis in America. Test scores and student grades show a reality that is hard to ignore. The children of America — the future of America — are not testing where they need to be. Sixty-seven percent of fourth graders read below grade level, according to the Literacy Network, and nearly 130 million American adults read below a sixth-grade level, according to the U.S Department of Education.

Studies show about one-third of young children are missing reading benchmarks, which is up significantly from pre-pandemic rates, as reported by The New York Times.

The start of the pandemic allowed no time for teachers and students to prepare to be outside of the classroom. Online learning was unfamiliar to most but quickly became the reality for everyone. Teachers were not properly trained on how to teach classes online, so classes were not as productive as usual.

Teachers should ideally receive several days, weeks or months of in-depth preparation before launching an online learning program,  as reported by USA Today. They did not receive training at the start of the pandemic. Everyone had to quickly adapt and make it work without proper preparation.

This is not an issue only the United States is facing. While it is estimated for students in North America to be 4.3 months behind a normal school year, students in South Asia are estimated to be over a full school year behind. Schools in South Asia, along with Latin America, were closed the longest in middle-income areas. The school closures reached 75 weeks and above.

The reading crisis is not solely the fault of the coronavirus. Before the pandemic forced students into online learning, a downward trend of scores was already occurring. The average reading scores for grade four and grade eight students were lower in 2019 than the last time the test was administered in 2017, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The pandemic only worsened the problem.

As in pre-pandemic times, there are also school system inequalities to take into consideration. A report from McKinsey and Company found that children in low-income countries fell behind in education more than those in high-income countries.

There are 7.9 million low-income children in the U.S., and if the current trends continue, 6.6 million are at an increased risk of dropping out of high school if they can’t read proficiently by the end of third grade, according to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The same report stated that every student who does not complete high school costs an estimated $260,000 each in lost earnings, taxes and productivity. The issue of the reading crisis does not only affect the individual— it affects everyone. While having low literacy does not directly lead to imprisonment, there is a connection found between early low literacy and incarceration. More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.

For adults and juveniles who have already been incarcerated, it was found that adequate education and literacy training reduces the probability they will be reincarcerated.

There are efforts being made to advance reading levels in America, which in turn reduce incarceration rates and advance our society. Reading is Fundamental offers a number of programs for school-age children. Books for Ownership allows children to pick out books appropriate for their age level. Read for Success is a supplemental reading program to help children improve reading proficiency and encourages a passion for reading.

We owe it to our children to help them in every way we can. Fixing the reading crisis starts with early intervention. Support your local reading programs and work to reverse the damage that has already been done.

Featured Illustration by Isabella Alva

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Madelynn Todd

Madelynn Todd

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