Changing Illiteracy in the U.S. With Early Initiatives
Imagine not being able to read the news or never being able to feel the joy of immersing yourself in a good book. For 20-23% of adults in the U.S., those scenarios are real.
Literacy is the bedrock of communication and impacts all areas of our lives. It affects the way we learn, work, and interact with those around us. But childhood illiteracy makes life significantly harder for individuals.
But Where Does Childhood Illiteracy Stem From?
Unfortunately, low early literacy and illiteracy are challenges that stem from early childhood and have a long-lasting impact throughout adulthood.
For example, students without grade-level appropriate reading comprehension skills will have a limited ability to understand essential information that will help them obtain higher education and enter into the workforce. It can be significantly harder to apply for jobs as an adult. In fact, the unemployment rate is 2-4 times higher among those without a Bachelor’s degree.
The quality of life of an individual is greatly impacted by their inability to read, which in turn has a ripple effect on society, negatively shaping our economy as a whole. Poverty and illiteracy go hand in hand and illiteracy keep people trapped in a cycle of poverty.
In order to break the cycle of low childhood literacy and ensure children today reach their full potential, it’s important to understand the issues surrounding illiteracy and how we can break the cycle.
So today, we’ll be doing a deep dive on the importance of reading, highlighting facts about childhood illiteracy and how it affects adulthood, and how together, we’re working to fix the entrenched problems that can lead to illiteracy.
72% of Children Start off Behind in Early Literacy
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves.
Childhood poverty is intergenerational and connected to the educational level of parents and caretakers; in fact, 73% of children whose parents have less than a high school diploma live in low-income families. A child’s parents and home environment are linked to illiteracy. The number of words a child hears before entering school and whether or not a child has access to books in the home really matters.
As you can see, reading comprehension starts at home and the earlier children read or are read to, the less they are at risk of falling behind and not graduating. According to The Department of Education, students who read at home scored 25% higher in reading. These kids will also go on to score higher in math and other subjects. Without books at home, it’s a real challenge to set up children for success.
To overcome the effects of poverty caused by low-literacy, we’ve been able to partner with Ounce of Prevention to provide high-quality early childhood education programs for children and families from low-income homes. With your support, we’re able to level the playing field so that kids can come to elementary school ready to learn.
Here’s one example: In Milwaukee County, nearly 19,000 families with children under the age of five live in poverty – that’s two in every five families. But working closely with our partners, we’ve been able to eliminate that gap and provide a better life for a mother named ShaLaya and her family, and many others like them.
Kids Who Lack Books at Home Can Face Life-Long Repercussions
The National Commission on Reading says the single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school.
Illiteracy is a multi-generational issue that begins at home. Parents with low-literacy who live in low-income homes are less likely to provide books for their families because they can’t afford them. This is due to the fact that other expenses, like medical bills and food, may take higher priority. When children lack access to books at home, the negative impact can be long-lasting.
This is the case for nearly two-thirds of children living in low-income families. 60% of low-income families living in the United States can’t afford books, which means children living in those families don’t have access to them at home. These families often need to choose between buying food, paying bills, or covering their medical expenses, so buying books for their children don’t always make the cut.
Reading comprehension is an essential skill to understand other subjects, and without a solid foundation, students are at risk for falling behind and not graduating. In fact, kids who aren’t successfully reading at grade level by third grade are four times less likely to finish high school.
With your support, we’re bridging the gap for students who lack these essential tools at home to get up-to-speed with their reading. For instance, with our partner Save the Children, your donations are bringing in-school programming to boost literacy growth to children who need it most.
Meet Katlynn from South Carolina. Katlynn comes from a town where 35% of the children do not read at their grade level... and she used to be one of them. Today, Katlynn is scoring perfectly on reading quizzes, which has led her to excel in other subjects.
Reading at a Third Grade Level Can Be a Game Changer
36 million adults in the United States cannot read above a third-grade level which means 1 in 7 adults in America experiences literacy issues. The third-grade level is a critical marker for literacy because children are still “learning to read”. However, once they reach the fourth-grade level, they are “reading to learn”.
In fourth grade and beyond, children are expected to use their mastery of reading to learn other subjects. Therefore, a child’s reading proficiency at the end of third grade is a critical indicator and predictor of their educational development and future scholastic achievement. At this stage, it is critical for a student to keep up academically with what is being taught; if a student is unable to keep up, their challenges increase exponentially. Children who reach fourth grade without being able to read proficiently are more likely to struggle academically and eventually drop out of school.
The stress and pressure for children that are behind to keep up with the pace of learning in school can be intense. For children that are behind their peers in reading skills they need extra support and guidance, but often schools in high-need communities aren’t designed to provide it.
But a caring mentor can help set these students up for success and break the cycle.
Because of your support, we’ve partnered with City Year to fund a program that connects City Year Members with at-risk-youth in high-need schools. These members build strong, “near-peer” relationships with students and provide academic and social-emotional support while providing resources that help boost student learning and achievement. For children who have fallen behind during elementary school, these programs in middle school provide life-changing support to help students get back on track before entering high school.
And in 20 high-need communities across the country, your Red Nose Day donations are helping make that difference. Just take a look at how one student was able to thrive with the help of one special mentor.
So, how can I help?
As you can see, your contributions to Red Nose Day are hard at work helping break the cycle of illiteracy, and keeping children safe, healthy, and educated.
Here are some quick ways you can help:
Give what you can
Your donations power all the efforts we fund to give children a chance at a better future. So, give what you can. Support Red Nose Day by donating here.
Do what you can
There are so many fun ways you can show your support to Red Nose Day. You can tell a joke, start a livestream, or get really creative by starting your own fundraiser. So, grab your friends, family, and anyone else you know to get involved.
Spread awareness wherever you can
Awareness is the first step to change – so share this blog with your friends on Facebook or Twitter, and help start the conversation about the different issues children living in poverty face.
Spread the word about our free reading websites for kids resources post by sharing on social media or emailing your friends and family!
We cannot thank you enough for joining us on our mission to end child poverty. Together, we raised $200 million (and counting) over the past 5 years which has gone to support programs for nearly 25 million children. And that’s all possible thanks to YOU!