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Family Finances Often Influence Whether "Johnny Can Read"

PHOTO: A new KIDS COUNT data snapshot from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that 66 percent of fourth-graders are not reading at grade level, but that number grows to 80 percent among students from lower-income families. Photo credit: John Morgan.
PHOTO: A new KIDS COUNT data snapshot from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that 66 percent of fourth-graders are not reading at grade level, but that number grows to 80 percent among students from lower-income families. Photo credit: John Morgan.
January 28, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Educators consider reading the cornerstone of a good education and future success, but in Tennessee and across the country, more young children than not struggle to read.

A new report finds that despite progress made over the last decade, only about one-in-three students in the state is proficient at reading when he or she reaches the fourth grade.

Improving that figure will require greater effort around early intervention, says Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.

"We really have to have adequate home visiting programs, to help parents know how to prepare their children for school,” she says. “To have prekindergarten programs, quality early childhood education. To have good teaching and high standards in our schools, so we are successful for the future."

According to the study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 66 percent of Tennessee fourth graders don't read at grade-level, which is also the national average.

Of even greater concern in the report, says O'Neal, is the growing gap between students from higher and lower-income families – and nowhere is the chasm larger than in Tennessee.

"Tennessee had the highest gap in the country in terms of the percentage of higher-income students, at 48 percent who are below proficiency, compared to 82 percent of lower-income students," O’Neal explains.

Nationally, about half the students from higher-income families are reading proficiently by the time they reach fourth grade, compared to just one in five of children from low-income households.

If the trend continues, the report predicts by the end of the decade, the U.S. will not have enough skilled workers.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - TN