Only about 25 percent of third-graders in Wichita public schools are on track to be prepared for college-level reading. From 2016 to 2017, the number of Wichita public school students who scored below grade level on state reading tests increased by 19 percent.
Those statistics are sobering, for sure. But your kids read just fine. Same for your neighbors’ kids. Or maybe your kids are grown and leading successful lives. Maybe you don’t have kids. Why should you care? This isn’t your problem, right?
The fact that an increasing number of children in Wichita public schools are behind in reading when they reach third grade is a threat to our entire community. And it costs us a lot of money — for remedial programs, for law enforcement, for health care and for prison cells. The price tag of the problem nationwide is in the hundreds of billions of dollars, researchers estimate.
A child who can’t read at grade level in third grade is four times less likely to graduate high school by age 19 than a child who reads well, research shows. The same child is 13 times less likely to graduate on time if he lives in an impoverished home. High school dropouts are 63 times more likely to land in jail than college graduates. People who can’t read well are also more likely to have poorer health.
So this is a problem for our school system to fix, right?
The school system ends up dealing with the problem, yes. But the root is in Wichita’s homes. The reality is that if a child shows up for kindergarten who hasn’t been read to, he is already behind and may never recover. That’s because most of a child’s brain development happens by the time he’s 3. The chances for a child who hasn’t been read to at home are even worse if he has gone hungry, been neglected or been around violence.
This is a problem that everyone in Wichita needs to recognize. It is a problem that everyone — from the mayor, to the county commission, to the school system, to business leaders, to churches, to nonprofit organizations — should address.
The Wichita Community Foundation recognizes that. So does The Wichita Eagle and Kansas.com. That’s part of the reason we received a $50,000 grant from the Community Foundation to fund reporting like this story on Kansas.com. Watch for more stories in our Read ICT series through the first half of 2018.
The good news is that there are organizations and programs that are effectively attacking illiteracy among our children, and there are opportunities for you to help. Our reporting will highlight some of those programs and opportunities.
They include The Opportunity Project, a network of preschools for impoverished children, and Read to Succeed, a program coordinated by the United Way that provides volunteers who work with third-graders who are behind in reading. Both have documented records of success. Seven Wichita Eagle/Kansas.com employees are participating in Read to Succeed this year on paid company time.
The goal of our initial reporting is to generate wider recognition of the problem.
The goal as we move forward is to involve everyone — including you — in the work on solutions.