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Chris Loucks: Everyone in Idaho wins when kids gain reading skills

Chris Loucks
Chris Loucks

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Frederick Douglass referred to freedom from slavery, but his words ring true today. Reading proficiency is a means toward economic freedom, which fuels our state and nation’s economies now and in the future.

All of Idaho’s children should have the freedoms and opportunities that come with reading well. Unfortunately, we are falling short of this goal. Only 33 percent of Idaho’s children are reading proficiently, according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Up to third grade, children learn to read. From fourth grade on, children need to read to learn, or they risk falling behind and never catching up.

What do we have to gain if we improve reading proficiency?

First, we increase the success of children in school. Children who do not read proficiently by the end of the third grade are less likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college. “Basic” readers are more than twice as likely as “proficient” readers to fail to graduate from high school. “Below basic” readers are almost six times as likely to fail to graduate. Thus, if we want more students to “go on,” we need to increase third grade reading proficiency.

Second, we increase the ability of our children to be productive citizens. Reading proficiency leads to higher incomes. Those with a college degree can expect to earn over 60 percent more in their lifetimes than those with a high school diploma. In Idaho, only 32 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 have an associate’s degree or higher, but by 2018, it is estimated that 61 percent of the jobs in Idaho will require post-secondary education. Recent research shows that in the past three recessions 87 percent, 89 percent and 93 percent, respectively, of job losses have been in routine occupations that have been replaced with technology. To fill the jobs of the future, our children must be able to compete in a global world that demands an advanced skill set.

Third, we prevent the costs we incur from lost potential. Each high school dropout costs our country an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and productivity.

Fourth, we strengthen national security. An estimated 75 percent (26 million) of Americans ages 17 to 24 cannot join the U.S. military, most often because they are poorly educated, involved in crime or physically unfit. Stronger readers can become prepared recruits for our armed services.

There is encouraging news. The National Governors Association wants all states to ensure that all children read proficiently by the end of the third grade. The Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education recently recommended Idaho adopt policies to ensure all children in Idaho reach this goal. Idaho Voices for Children and Idaho Kids Count, along with Idaho Business for Education, the Idaho Commission for Libraries and other groups, have formed the Idaho Third Grade Reading Task Force to facilitate community-based discussions and remedies to increase reading proficiency for all third-graders in Idaho. A jointly sponsored Idaho Reading & Literacy Summit will be held Nov. 15 at Boise State University. Contact Diana Lachiondo with Idaho Business for Education, for more information. The event is free and open to the public.

As business leaders, parents and concerned community members we all have a role to play in ensuring our children read well, to build Idaho’s economy of tomorrow.

Freedom — for our third-graders, it’s spelled R-E-A-D PROFICIENTLY!