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November 27, 2017

Why I'm a Reading Tutor

By Geri Spieler. Originally posted on Huffington Post

I found a post on my Facebook page about a program called Reading Partners, funded by AmeriCorps, and it explained that there were schools in my neighborhood that were looking for volunteers to be reading tutors for kids in the elementary schools.

Reading. I take it for granted that I can read and have been reading for I don’t remember how long. I don’t recall if I had any reading challenges as a child.

English was our first language. My mother took my brother and me to our local library once a week to check out new books. I remember as a little girl I went through my “horse-loving” stage and every book I checked out for year was all about horses and my brother was interested in World War II history.

Reading. How could live in the world if I couldn’t read? How could I read the morning paper? What about street signs? I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. It would take me a very long time to list all the things I couldn’t do in life if I couldn’t read. And, how about just not reading well.

Reading. Reading is so basic to the fundamentals of our lives, who is not learning to read? A lot of people, according to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That translates to about 14 percent of the U.S. population. It also means that 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read.

That’s awful. The impact on daily life is staggering. And the statistics are not changing in favor of more people learning to read than those who don’t.

How does this happen? How do children get through school without learning to read? Very often the student will be graduated in something called “Social Promotion” in that a student may be several years older and gets promoted to the next grade more because of age rather than ability.

This type of policy sets up years of struggle. We have done enough research to know that poor literacy leads to academic failure, violence, delinquency, and crime. The statistics verify this claim in that 85 percent of juveniles who interact with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over 70 percent of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth-grade level, according to

Society and democracy counts on an educated workforce. These basic skills are essential to the prosperity and wellbeing of our country. They are what drives our economic growth and advancement. Unfortunately, in the U.S., we score well below the international average in the basic skills which are considered most important for our world-wide and economic strength and competitiveness such as in math, reading and problem-solving.

A 2013 study by the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competenciesdiscovered that 1 in 6 adults have low literacy skills and nearly one-third have weak numeracy and problem-solving skills. In the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, from 2015, the US placed an unimpressive 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. Among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which sponsors the PISA initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science.

We have the resources to turn this around, yet the problem continues to deteriorate. Why, with such a rich country, do we lag behind most all other industrialized nations? What is wrong with our priorities?

For one thing, we have very few programs, such as Reading Partners, to help students, one-on-one, get the reading assistance they need. But it may not be around much longer if Washington has its way. The White House has proposed a 2018 budget that wipes out AmeriCorps and all the many the programs it funds, including Reading Partners.

Ending AmeriCorps harms the poor communities where literacy is challenged in the home. It also discourages people from public service, and attacks our values in the basics of reading and learning.

No wonder our literacy rates have not improved in over ten years. Looks like they will only get worse as we chip away at everything that improves the lives of those who need help.

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