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See Dick Run

Updated: Sep 18, 2022

Most everyone has heard of the Dick and Jane readers. They were written by Zerna Sharp and published in the forties. For the next 30 grueling years they were widely used in schools from the first through nineth grades. My dad used them. He said that even when he was in the first grade he disliked them. To him, they didn't go anywhere. No plot, though he didn't know what plot was. Dick, pulling his wagon down the sidewalk wasn't riveting literature, even to a 5 year old who wanted one of those wagons. He wasn't ready for War and Peace, but somehow in his own little-kid way, he knew nothing was going to happen in these books. By his reckoning, nine years of Dick and Jane should have been classified as cruel and unusual punishment. However, the sleep induced coma brought on by the "adventures" of Dick and Jane eventually lost their medicating effect. He went on to discover literature he could love like "Cosell, by Cosell" (takes all kinds), and so in spite of it all, he developed a great love for reading. Sadly, that has not been true for most students or adults.

What is Our Reading Level Among Children?

In the U.S., two-thirds of all children and 82% of children in low-income families read below grade level. Children who can’t read proficiently by the 4th grade are up to 15 times more likely to drop-out of school.

More than six million children in the United States will experience negative academic, personal and social outcomes every year because of poor reading skills. (Annie E Casey Foundation & NAEP)

How About Among Adults?

"Literacy in the United States was determined by the National Center for Education Statistics to be at a mid to high level in 2019, at 79%, with 21% of American adults categorized as having "low level English literacy," including 4.1% classified as "functionally illiterate". [1]

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 54% of adults in the United States have prose literacy below the 6th-grade level.[2] It appears 'high level' translates into adults able to read at a 5th or 6th grade level.

(1 "Report on Adult Literacy in the United States" (PDF). United States Department of Education. July 2019. Retrieved October 16, 2021.) (2 Nietzel, Michael T. "Low Literacy Levels Among U.S. Adults Could Be Costing The Economy $2.2 Trillion A Year". Forbes. Retrieved 2021-10-16.)

Where Does Arizona Rank?

Among 4th grade children, Arizona ranks 40th in the nation with 72% unable to read at a 4th grade level. This is important because up to the 4th grade children learn to read. After the 4th grade they read to learn.

And there is a huge disparity between upper and lower income students who are unable to read at proficient levels, 57% verses 82% respectively. It is easy to see why students become discouraged and are dropping out of school at such alarming rates.

To the right is a graph representing reading scores in Arizona compared to national averages. Notice the state has always fallen below the national average.

While there is much debate around the definition of literacy, a common thread seems to be that if one is able to read and write at a level that allows them to function in society, they are literate. That's setting a low bar, yet we barely clear it. So, when 3/4 of the adults cannot read higher than a sixth grade level, we should expect profound consequences.

What are the Effects of Higher and Lower Literacy Skills?

There is no lack of studies demonstrating there are more advantages to reading than most of us consider. Advanced readers accrue personal, professional, and social advantages. These result in significantly higher income levels and greater satisfaction with goals and accomplishments, impact in relationships and social benefits.

In contrast, a study titled "To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence", by Dana Gioia, former Chairman of National Endowment for the Arts, wrote: “The story the data tells is simple, consistent, and alarming… There is a general decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans. Most alarming, both reading ability and the habit of regular reading have greatly declined among college graduates. These negative trends have more than literary importance. As this report makes clear, the declines have demonstrable social, economic, cultural, and civic implications.”

Unfortunately we should expect these effects to deepen. A study published by the National Literacy Trust shows that in 2019 just 26% of under-18s spent some time each day reading. This is the lowest daily level recorded since the charity first surveyed children’s reading habits in 2005.

Why Is This Happening?

This is not a matter of intelligence. It is a systemic defect. Children attend a school system that has been designed to be a production machine. It moves at the same rate every year, regardless whether students understand or not. It moves children down the line, to the next higher grade, whether they are ready or not. As a result, significant learning gaps are created.

Because they are forced to move on anyway, gaps get larger and literacy cannot improve. It happens because that's the way the system is. It is designed like a production plant with no QC manager to act as a safety net. So on the first of June every year, children must step up a grade level. And with the current 'no fail' policy, it will only become worse.

As the system annually stamps out students, the time necessary for most children to become proficient readers cannot be afforded. At a young age, discouragement and resignation often dowse the spark of curiosity that exists in every child. Many give up.

The problem could be resolved if the school system adopted a personalized learning process in which student progress was measured by level rather than A - F grading systems. That way they could stay with their age group but do work at their own level and at their own pace, whether rapid or slow.

Things Don't Seem to Get Better With Years

Low proficiency experienced when children are young rarely improves for adults.