Massachusetts has the best public schools in the nation, but it also has one of the worst achievement gaps – that chasm that exists between the education students receive in our wealthiest and poorest school districts. One major factor contributing to the achievement gap is the significant number of students who are unable to read effectively by third grade.
Currently, 53 percent of Massachusetts third graders do not read at grade-level. The numbers are even bleaker among our minority, poor and ELL students – with over 70 percent of Black and Latino children, 71 percent of poor students, and 80 percent of ELL students unable to read proficiently by the end of third grade.
Poor literacy has lifelong social, health and economic consequences. Students who can’t read are more likely to drop out of school, be unemployed, pay less in taxes, have substance abuse problems, and end up in prison. It also has major workforce implications. Simply put, if you can’t read, you can’t succeed.
There is a solution to this crisis. The Early Literacy Act filed by Sen. Joseph Boncore and Rep. Michael Day provides a blueprint to stop the decline in literacy and catch struggling readers before they fall too far behind.
The bill establishes a competitive grant program to improve literacy rates among Massachusetts students in grades K-5, focusing on the highest-need districts. It provides much-needed funding for the initiatives research shows are most effective to improve literacy and help students – such as reading coaches, teacher home visits, literacy consultants, advanced literacy technology, summer literacy and academic programs, vision and hearing screenings and adjustment councilors.
“Literacy is the single most critical education issue, and one that impacts every student in Massachusetts,” said Ranjini Govender, executive director of Stand for Children Massachusetts. “Unfortunately, literacy is often overlooked and school districts are in dire need of more resources to support teachers and help students learn to read effectively. This legislation is crucial to address this major inequity and to ultimately help close the achievement gap.”
While the legislature is considering the full bill, immediate and meaningful action can be taken in the FY19 budget cycle. By increasing funding for a key line item, the Commonwealth can begin the process of providing grants to help Massachusetts elementary and middle schools improve literacy rates.
Govender discussed the literacy crisis and legislation with community advocates in recent op-eds in the Worcester Telegram and Salem News. To learn more about the Every Child Reads campaign and how we can tackle Massachusetts’ literacy crisis, visit https://everychildreadsma.org/home