Original publish date: January 19, 2012
According to national data, 8 to 10 percent of Colorado third graders cannot read a basic children’s book, such as Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat, because they are functionally illiterate. As part of the business community in Colorado, we must take the initiative to change these statistics.
The Colorado business community is broad and diverse, but there are constants for all of us. As business professionals, we bring the best talent we can find to forward our initiatives, ideas and projects and provide the best service we can to our customers. We use rigorously tested, research-based methodologies, and we don’t take new concepts to our customers until we know that they work. That is how business is done in Colorado.
In Colorado, we know that we have one of the best educated workforces in the nation, but we also know that we are not succeeding with our students: Our homegrown children are not being academically prepared. At the rate we are moving, in 20 years, we will not have enough educated kids to keep up with the business demands of a knowledge-based economy. We need a workforce that can meet our needs.
Colorado must take immediate steps to bring our literacy rates up. Students who can’t read in the fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, and high-school dropouts from the class of 2008 alone will cost Colorado $4.3 billion in lost wages over the course of their lifetimes. Colorado can’t afford to not teach our children to read.
We are focused on literacy in the primary grades because we know that children learn to read through third grade and, after third grade, they read to learn . Those children who haven’t learned to read by third grade will miss the critical transition into reading to learn in fourth grade and beyond. We cannot expect students to graduate from high school, much less succeed in college when they can’t read the class schedule they are given in sixth grade. Colorado has had a focused literacy program since 1997, and it is clearly not working.
It’s time to make a change. We are proposing a strengthened early literacy program and we are asking the legislature to approve it.
This program will contain the following key points:
• Beginning in Kindergarten, students who are at risk of being functionally illiterate in third grade will be identified and they will receive targeted literacy instruction to assist them in working toward basic literacy.
• The parents of children who are identified as having significant reading deficiencies will be notified early in their children’s educational career. They will have an opportunity to be involved and will be encouraged to participate in their child’s reading instruction. If the student has a significant reading deficiency at the end of the school year in grades K-2, it will be recommend that the student should not advance to the next grade level. The teacher and parent will participate in making this decision.
• If the student is identified in the third grade as having continued reading deficiencies, the school districts must consider investing an additional year in a student. If the student is finishing third grade, and the parent and teacher decide the student will advance to fourth grade even though the student has a significant reading deficiency, the decision is subject to approval by the superintendent of the school district.
• A student who does not advance to the next grade level will receive increased reading interventions and supports to improve his or her reading competency and address his or her specific reading skill deficiencies.
• School districts will track data on these students that will enable us to determine the success of these interventions. This data will be directly related to the accreditation of school districts and public schools.
• Teachers and administrators will have access to the resources they need, based on the science of reading, to effectively assess students’ achievement and implement reading intervention plans.
We are asking you to sign on to this plan with us. We need to improve on our current literacy program that is failing many Colorado students. This improved program will provide incentive for parents, teachers, districts and the students to be engaged a students learning. This program will hold all of these stakeholders accountable to making progress.
Early literacy is a cornerstone to a well-educated workforce. As the business community, we have a responsibility to make sure that our workforce is best in class. We are not giving our children the education they deserve and in doing so, we are in turn are hurting our ability to compete globally. We ask you to stand with Colorado’s children and stand with us. Join us in this effort.
Simply go to our website at www.denverchamber.org/coalition, read our message and add your name and organization to the list.