The arrival of March brings with it thoughts of spring and a season of growth and hope.  Leo Tolstoy wrote “spring is the time of plans and projects.” This month, high school seniors and their parents anxiously wait to plan their futures based on the letters they will receive notifying them of their acceptance or denial into colleges nationwide. Here at Reading Is Fundamental, we plan all year for March, which is National Reading Month. Dedicated to the promise and opportunity that reading provides, we know that without the foundational blocks of reading taught at the elementary school level, kids are not set up for success in junior high, high school and beyond.

I recently read an article about a 57-year-old man named Willie Nolan who received a high school diploma yet couldn’t read what it said. As someone who is passionate about education, the headline struck a nerve with me. It said, “I couldn’t even read the diploma.” To many of us, a diploma represents an educational foundation. Mr. Nolan’s experience was different. He states that he faced continual challenges and his opportunities were severely limited because he couldn’t read. It’s time that we ask ourselves what we can do as a society and as individuals to make sure Mr. Nolan’s story isn’t the shared reality of millions of young people.

Falling behind

A few facts help to put our country’s literacy challenges into perspective. Did you know that only 37% of high school graduates in America today are reading at or above proficiency? This is a trend that starts much earlier in a child’s education. It might surprise you to learn that third grade reading predicts high school dropout. Students who cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade very rarely catch up in later grades and face mounting negative consequences as they grow older. Third graders who are not proficient in reading are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than those with proficient reading skills.

These young adults are entering the workforce without the fundamentals that literacy provides to enable them to learn a trade and to grow in their careers. A recent Business Roundtable survey of CEOs found that 95% indicated that their companies suffer from skills shortages. My daughter is one of the millions of high school seniors holding her breath for those college letters to arrive. And like many parents, my husband and I are hopeful that with hard work and perseverance she will soon take that next step to a successful career of her own. Unfortunately, there are millions of other high school seniors that are unable to submit a college or job application because they cannot read the contents. If we can find a way to address the literacy gap starting in early childhood education and at the elementary school level, we will take an important step in helping to set up our future generations with the skills they need.  

What we can do

It’s time that we ask ourselves what we can do as a society and as individuals to make sure Mr. Nolan’s story isn’t the shared reality of millions of young people

Reading is the main fundamental building block for life’s journey. When kids develop strong reading skills, they aren't the only ones who benefit. We all do. Readers are far more likely to thrive as they are better prepared to contribute positively to their families, the economy and society at large. As we march into National Reading Month, I hope you will join us in our goal to ensure that every child has the tools they need to read and succeed. We are working with partners including the National Education Association, the National PTA, the Department of Education and CEOs from leading companies to celebrate reading and to provide accessible solutions to America’s literacy problem.

This month, we are encouraging children nationwide to read at least one book and count it on our website. Working with our partners, Reading Is Fundamental has set a goal of one million books read by the end of the month. I encourage you to visit our website at rif.org/millionbookmarch to find out how a child in your life can participate and to download free support resources.