As California’s schools reached the end of the class year in June, 474,000 eighth grade students headed out for their summer vacations. However, over the next four years, 39 percent of those students will be at risk of dropping out of high school because they will not read well enough to understand the material in their textbooks or complete their assignments.
Nationally, over six million eighth graders read significantly below grade level. These students are 20 times more likely to drop out of high school than are their highest achieving classmates.
“There’s clearly a connection between literacy levels and staying in school,” according to Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor and member of Congress from West Virginia. “Students who struggle with reading and writing quickly fall behind in their studies and become frustrated. The next step, too often, is for them to drop out, totally unprepared for further education or a good job.”
As a first step in improving the literacy skills of older children and teenagers across the nation, Congress appropriated funds for a new “Striving Readers” initiative – an Alliance supported program to improve the reading skills of middle and high school students. Funded initially at almost $25 million, the competitive grant program supported about 10 demonstration sites in 2005. President George W. Bush has asked Congress to increase the funding level to $200 million for 2006, allowing the U.S. Department of Education to significantly expand the reach of the initiative and put effective literacy intervention programs and reading coaches into many more schools across the nation that are in dire need of them.
“We are facing a crisis in this country,” said Wise. “A third of our young people aren’t graduating from high school, and another third graduate without the skills they need to succeed in postsecondary education or the workforce. In California, only 32 percent of entering ninth graders will graduate in four years with the basic knowledge they need for college. But we know how to solve this crisis – through effective literacy programs, better training for teachers, and by helping students to plan for their futures and giving them the supports they need to reach their goals. It’s in our national interest to put programs like Striving Readers, which can make a real difference to these students’ success, in place across the country.”
The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington-based policy, research, and advocacy organization that works to make every child a graduate, prepared for postsecondary education, and success in life. It is funded by the Leeds Family, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Daniels Fund, and the New York Community Trust, as well as by concerned individuals.For more information about the Alliance for Excellent Education, please visit: www.all4ed.org.