DENVER, Co. — If words carry weight, then the inability to read them is a burden holding our children back.
"Literacy is a tool of protection, it's a tool of cultural protection. It's a tool of protection across the different disciplines," said Dr. Alfred Tatum, provost and education professor at Denver's Metropolitan State University.
He’s passionate about literacy because he says it is so much more than the ability to read.
"Literacy disparities overall early on lead to economic disparities, health disparities, academic disparities, and there have been some studies that even says it impacts life expectancy rates," he said.
In America, literacy rates have remained flat for decades, and they’re not sitting at a good number. Sixty-five percent of fourth-graders are not reading at a proficient level. As surprising as that statistic may be to some, Dr. Tatum says there’s another alarming stat: out of all 35 million elementary students, only 10% are reading at an advanced level.
"Our grand dilemma as a nation is we focus on basic and proficient reading and we no longer think about ways to move students who are advanced levels of reading and writing, and as a result of that, our instruction is missing the mark. The quality of education that students are experiencing in reading, writing, and literacy classrooms has been diminished," said Dr. Tatum.
He believes not all students are given the opportunities to achieve higher in school. One of the ways to combat that is to give those opportunities to children at home through books.
"Young people have to fall love with words, with ideas," he said.
"If you can't read then your opportunities to do other academics just aren't there," said Dawn Rocky.
Rocky works with the Boys and Girls Clubs in the metro Denver area, but the group is nationwide and serves kids from low-income families. Part of their service is pairing up kids with books, including through the Scripps' "If You Give a Child a Book" campaign.
She says, on average, by the time kids reach 6th grade, middle-class students get 6,000 more hours of learning than lower-income kids. By letting children from low-income families pick their own books for free, the hope is that helps close that gap in education.
"We see them really pushing themselves to achieve their greatest potential, give back to the community and have a plan for their life and their future," said Rocky.
Meanwhile, experts like Dr. Tatum say the only way to unburden our children of low literacy rates is to expose them to reading as much as we can and to make sure there’s no ceiling for how far they can rise.
"As a nation, it is critically important for us to make sure that. The discussion of moving kids toward advanced levels of reading and writing is not taboo," said Tatum.