Why Can’t Kids Read?


On its face, “Why Can’t Kids Read,” is a pretty crazy question to be asking in this day and age, but a necessary one nonetheless.


The Nation’s Report Card reflects that the 2017 reading proficiency rates remain at an exceptionally troubling 37 percent for 4th graders, 36 percent for 8th graders, and 36 percent for 12th graders. That means that 64 percent of high school graduates cannot read proficiently. https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/


This is beyond tragic and should be of great concern to all parents. Anyone who cares about children needs to ask themselves, Why Can’t Kids Read?




I’ve been following these statistics for several years now since my initial desire to acquire more knowledge about the whole process of how children learn to read. I could never understand how our nationwide schools can be failing so miserably to teach this critically essential skill. As an author, through my own research prior to publishing my Alphabet Anatomy books, I discovered the emphatic drive to improve early literacy opportunities in the preschool years, and the focus on parents to facilitate the groundwork in order to maximize their toddlers’ future academic potential.


That’s all wonderful and beneficial of course, but the implied lack of such early learning foundations as the reason for a national reading failure still didn’t make sense.


Why didn’t it make sense? Because I think back to my own kindergarten and elementary school years – during the 1960’s – when the term, “early literacy,” was non-existent; when preschools were barely thought of and certainly not the “norm.”



Actually, the first preschool (Head Start) wasn’t created until 1965, mostly for families with lower income, but only 10 percent of children were enrolled nationally. During the 1980’s, a few states began programs for low-income families; however, it wasn’t until 2005 that the number substantially rose to 69 percent of 4-year olds being enrolled in some type of preschool program. https://www.k12academics.com/systems-formal-education/preschool-education/history-preschool-united-states


I don’t recall my parents ever reading books to me or my siblings (2 sisters and 3 brothers), or deliberately engaging us in any “early learning” activities. We simply entertained ourselves with the little amount of toys that were available and through our own imagination and initiative. My mother even worked full-time and we were mostly left to amuse ourselves with minimum supervision from grandparents.


Despite the lack of any preschool preparation or parental literacy involvement, I and my siblings mastered reading extremely well. I can attest to the same for my husband and his siblings (1 brother and 3 sisters). All of our formal schooling began in public kindergarten. Although my sisters and I attended Catholic school from 1st through 8th grade, my husband and his siblings attended public school through high school graduation. One thing I know for sure is that classrooms were much stricter back then. Teachers were to be respected and obeyed, and there were consequences for any misbehavior.


And the question remained: Why Can’t Kids Read?


Not surprisingly, I recently came across this article: “Why Aren’t Kids Being Taught to Read?” https://www.apmreports.org/story/2018/09/10/hard-words-why-american-kids-arent-being-taught-to-read


And then this whole disparity made sense, because the article stated, “Most teachers nationwide are not being taught reading science in their teacher-preparation programs because many deans and faculty in colleges of education either don’t know the science or dismiss it.”



But it is equally horrifying to realize that all these teachers, who no doubt choose this profession because they love kids and want to make a positive difference in their lives, have not received proper training themselves in order to effectively perform their jobs. I think everyone would agree that learning to read is by far the most basic and vital of all educational quests.


I can’t help but feel so sorry for these millions of kids that the school systems have failed. As the article notes, “Research shows that children who don’t learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to remain poor readers for the rest of their lives, and they’re likely to fall behind in other academic areas too. People who struggle with reading are more likely to drop out of high school, to end up in the criminal justice system, and to live in poverty.”



How could such a disaster occur?


Whose bright idea was it to change the way reading had obviously been successfully taught just a few decades ago?


Somewhere along the way, a battle of teaching methods arose between systematic phonics and “whole language.”


According to the above article, “Whole language was a movement of people who believed that children and teachers needed to be freed from the tedium of phonics instruction. Phonics lessons were seen as rote, old-fashioned, and kind of conservative. The essential idea in whole language was that children construct their own knowledge and meaning from experience. Teaching them phonics wasn’t necessary because learning to read was a natural process that would occur if they were immersed in a print-rich environment. Whole language proponents thought phonics lessons might actually be bad for kids, might inhibit children from developing a love of reading by making them focus on tedious skills like breaking words into parts. By the early 1990s, the idea that kids didn’t need phonics had taken hold in many schools and teacher preparation programs…”


As a result of the pathetic failure of “whole language,” there arose a band-aid type of remedy called “balanced literacy,” which included a little bit of phonics here and there, but not too much. As could be expected, that approach also failed to significantly improve reading proficiency nationally.


As it turns out, there is a specific science to effectively teach reading that has been universally omitted from the standard curricula. Once this scientific phonics-based method was utilized by a Pennsylvania school district, “84 percent of its kindergarteners met or exceeded the benchmark score. At three schools, it was 100 percent.”




Common sense then dictates that children must be instructed on how to connect the alphabet letters with their corresponding sounds in order to read.



Still, quite unbelievably, resistance to phonics-based reading instruction remains high among many university professors and teachers even though findings are consistent that “children become better readers when they get explicit and systematic phonics instruction.”


So, it appears this matter is still in a state of limbo and children will continue to suffer lifelong effects of this enormous injustice. Parents should be righteously outraged, as we naturally assume our kids are receiving a quality education that will enable them to become successful adults. Every child deserves that opportunity! I think most parents just take for granted that this is what happens at school.


There are some who believe the education system has been deliberately modified to “dumb children down.” Certainly many parents and teachers are upset over Common Core, which has also proven to drastically reduce student math scores on a national scale. Unfortunately, that suggestion may not be too far off the mark considering these alarming statistics.


As with any problem, the first step to a viable solution is the awareness of its existence. Parents must then hold their schools accountable and demand that they function efficiently in order to ensure the successful performance of their utmost important job – effectively teaching our kids. Their futures depend on it! And it appears at this point that we must step up and advocate for them, so that laborious question — Why Can’t Kids Read — is forever put to rest.






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