Child Literacy Levels Are Critically Low

\Our nation must do more to improve reading levels of children – it's absolutely critical to our long-term national security and health, writes David J. Bailey, CEO at Nemours, and Donald L. Kerrick, former deputy national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, at in a guest column.

According to the Defense Department, military service is now out of reach for the vast majority of young adults in the United States. An estimated 75 percent are unable to enlist, with most disqualified due to weight problems or poor school performance, according to a report named Unable To Serve: Why Military Service is Out of Reach for Most Young Philadelphians.

An estimated 145,000 young men and women age 18 to 24 in Philadelphia are unable to join the military largely because they cannot meet the military's education or fitness standards or have serious criminal records, according to the report.

As the Army's report Strong Students, Strong Futures, Strong Nation says:

"In the coming decade, the United States will face a significant workforce shortfall and both the civilian and military sectors may not have the skilled labor required to meet the demands of a knowledge-based economy. The effect on our ability to compete globally will be devastating if we do not act immediately and forcefully to reverse the impact."

Nationwide, 31 percent of ninth graders are not graduating from high school on time, but in Philadelphia 43 percent of students did not graduate on time in 2008.

Poor academic performance is shrinking the pool of qualified candidates for military service, writes Bailey and Kerrick. In Florida, more than 30 percent of high school students do not graduate on time.

Without a high school diploma, it is virtually impossible to enlist.

The challenges of the global economy and the opportunities offered by new technologies underscore schools' need of strong leadership for student learning. Principals today too often are not ready to meet this need, according the report Leadership for Student Learning: Reinventing the Principalship.

The report is designed to stimulate work at state and local levels.

"The next stage of the School Leadership for the 21st Century Initiative is to marshal additional resources for support, technical assistance, and guidance for state and local efforts. The following section of the report provides a collection of tools and resources to help begin this work. Please consult these materials in your work and stay in contact with the Institute for Educational Leadership for more on leadership for student learning."

Low reading proficiency is associated with dropouts, criminal activity, unemployment and poverty.

High-quality education programs can help provide children the basic skills they need to succeed in school and later in life, including giving children a strong foundation to become good readers.

High-quality programs can not only strive to achieve success in school, but also significantly lower felony arrests and incarceration rates among people who participated in these programs as children.

Clinicians at Nemours have developed an early literacy program to help pre-schoolers who would be considered risks at poor reading proficiency. In one study, two-thirds of participating struggling readers moved to the normal range in reading readiness skills.

Preserving federal investments in early childhood education, including through the Early Learning Challenge, will help ensure that our children enter school ready to learn, stay on track to graduate, and make healthy choices, writes Bailey and Kerrick.

"That's why we are calling on Florida's Congressional delegation to support funding for effective early education and literacy programs. We are asking partners throughout Florida to submit a quality application for the federal Early Learning Challenge program."

Investing in high-quality early education and literacy is a ticket to healthier generations, writes Bailey and Kerrick.

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.
09 6, 2011
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