According to the most recent report by the National Association for Educational Progress, 64% of all fourth grade students in America are unable to read proficiently. The number increases to 78% in low-income areas. When children do not learn to read, they become illiterate adults, thus limiting opportunities in work and life.
As schools are closed across the country in response to the Coronavirus crisis, teachers are tirelessly preparing and providing digital resources for their students and families who have now transitioned to remote learning.
However, current research shows that 35% of lower-income households with school-age children do not have access to the internet. Therefore, the students who are already significantly behind their peers in reading do not have access to these online learning tools. Many of their homes do not have any children’s books at all.
Research shows that students who are not reading on grade level by the end of third grade are more likely to drop out of school. Eighty-five percent of juveniles in the juvenile court system are functionally low literate.
In many states, children will not return to school until the fall. So, what will happen when schools finally resume? Will every child be passed on to the next grade? Will every teacher receive the reading support they will need to effectively support these vast gaps while maintaining their designated grade level literacy objectives?
I have had the opportunity to teach in public education for over 15 years. As a national urban literacy specialist and consultant, I work alongside incredible inner-city school principals and teachers to help their students become successful independent readers and help turn schools around.
This unprecedented event forces us to seriously think about how we are going to help all students and schools succeed in the next school year. It cannot be with the same practices that are in place today. We will need to support teachers as they learn how to balance the intervention, remediation and new instruction that students will need.
One to two hours of daily language arts instruction will not be enough in the fall. If remote learning continues we need to consider how to provide differentiated reading instruction for our students in small groups of students or if needed, one-on-one. Literacy needs to be at the forefront of instruction through all content from pre-K to fifth grade. This means we need to incorporate the five pillars of reading instruction or the “science of reading” into every lesson—including math, science and social studies.
There is a lot of work ahead for school and district leaders. When we instill a school culture that puts developmental reading practices, reading research, and literacy at the forefront of the instructional design for the 2020-2021 school year, it will make the greatest impact on the lives of every single child.
Kathryn Starke is a national urban literacy consultant, reading specialist, author of "Amy’s Travels" and "Tackle Reading," and founder of Creative Minds Publications, LLC, an educational publishing company. She created the annual Tackle Reading day supported by the NFL and NFL Alumni.