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Kimberlin: Texas must improve child literacy rates

Daily Toreador
October 13, 2014

By Kendra Kimberlin

This may be preaching to the choir, but since when has it been deemed appropriate for children to advance through grade school without the capacity to read past a fourth-grade level? I realize this is not just a problem with the education system that struggles to keep kids focused and attending classes. The root of the issue, unfortunately, comes from a lack of help from home.

As citizens of Texas, we have a great responsibility to help fellow Texans advance literacy with some profound impacts that will in turn improve our economy. Recent studies have shown there is a link between literacy and employment, crime and health care.

Our great Lone Star State has been slipping down the rankings for literacy in the past and it is hurting us as a right-to-work state. According to an article by The Economist, “A rise of 1 percent in literacy scores leads to a 2.5 percent rise in labor productivity and a 1.5 percent rise in GDP.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “50 percent of the chronically unemployed are functionally illiterate.” We need more than ever to have a handle on this situation as we head into the information age, when jobs are increasingly concerned with levels of education.

Crime has also shown a correlation to illiteracy. 63 percent of prison inmates can’t read, according to the Department of Education. Reducing this statistic would not only mean potential lowered crime rates, but less money being poured into the Criminal Justice System.

Health care is not something that comes to mind as a natural byproduct of illiteracy, but in fact is more detrimental than the others. The Institute of Medicine estimates as many as 90 million adults do not have the literacy skills needed to navigate the U.S. health system, costing the country billions each year in unnecessary and preventable costs.

Others have said that in addition to filling out paperwork, the ability to comprehend basic medication doses is a costly situation as well. People who misread prescription labels may end up paying the ultimate price for the impairment of reading accurately.

It all starts with children. One of my favorite quotes is a movie scene from “You’ve Got Mail,” when Meg Ryan tells Tom Hanks, “When you read a book as a child it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does … I’ve gotten carried away.”

I feel we should all be carried away in helping children understand that reading can be more than words on a page, but it can also open ideas and help them create a unique identity like no other medium ever will.

No matter what stage of life you’re in, there are plenty of outlets that will help combat this problem. For parents and relatives, the simple act of reading to your child at least once a week from a small age will boost their motivation for reading.

For others who may not have that opportunity, there are plenty of nonprofits that would love nothing more than to help a person read a couple hours out of a week. Some of these include Literacy Lubbock, Big Brothers and Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Club.

If we could shrink this issue over just a few years, then maybe not as many crimes, depression or other psychological issues would arise and ultimately help the economy in the process, all from the simple act of helping an at-risk child see the glories of reading a book on his or her own.