There is no greater risk to our nation than illiteracy and low reading rates. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) estimates that 21% of adults in the United States (about 43 million) fall into the illiterate/functionally illiterate category. Low levels of literacy result in $225 billion in U.S. workforce productivity losses, and directly correlate to increased juvenile and federal crimes, welfare dependence, lack of workforce opportunity, and poor physical and mental health.
Dr. Terrie Noland and Dr. John Wyble, President & CEO of The Center for Literacy & Learning, Louisiana, recently released a literacy leadership podcast where they discussed literacy in America. Dr. Wyble described the Center’s work to bring cross-functional stakeholders together to “sit at the long table” with families, educators, business leaders, entrepreneurs, community activists, university leaders, and legislators, to find sustainable solutions to improve literacy rates.
Literacy Begins In Our Own Communities
“I feel our charge and responsibility to improve reading attainment for all people is to elevate the literacy conversation. It’s not just about the classroom model, but how it affects the broader community and our nation.”
Dr. Wyble believes there are many innovative approaches to learning, especially with involved parents and highly qualified educators at the helm. Yet, at the heart of literacy is the family unit, and to take into consideration external factors and influences happening outside the classroom that may impact learning potential such as race, generational poverty, trauma, and mental health.
Long table discussions address questions like these:
How do we have meaningful conversations about literacy and economic poverty?
What are the financial costs to our society? Health related costs? Emotional costs?
What factors keep American families marginalized and disconnected from the benefits of economic, workforce, and social opportunities?
How well do we connect literacy to participating in the democracy process?
How are we prioritizing credentials and training for educators?
What skills should we teach to prepare children for the 21st century?
How do we end generations of poverty that keep families at risk?
How well do we support, nurture, and grow highly qualified, highly motivated educators?
How do we prioritize putting a qualified educator in every classroom?
Family Engagement and Early Childhood
Dr. Wyble: “One of the most important parenting responsibilities is to discover what interests your child and encourage exploration of that topic through authentic literature and experiences. Early childhood is when learning development happens, or it doesn’t. To increase literacy, educators must have an in-depth knowledge and understanding of brain-based learning, or how we learn to read.”
Research tells us that it is critically important to stimulate brain development at the infancy stage with toddlers and emerging readers. Dr. Wyble asks, “Are we taking reading for granted? Children who struggle to read have far less opportunities for academic and economic prosperity. They endure more physical and mental health issues and feelings of failure.”
Sixty-five percent of fourth graders in the U.S. read below proficiency levels. These students are 400% more likely to drop out of high school. For the most vulnerable populations – Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), low income, multilingual learners, and students with learning disabilities – the crisis is even more acute and persists for decades.
Explicit Teaching of Decoding and Word Recognition
Dr. Noland and Dr. Wyble agree language and vocabulary development can happen anywhere and anytime and should begin at home. Literacy opportunities can be found everywhere, including playing peekaboo, cooking or baking, walking down the street, at the park, bath time, bedtime -- all these situations are rich learning environments for neuron growth.
“As a society, we can transform literacy by helping all children learn to read and write well, so they can be proud of their unique selves. We must do a better job of helping disadvantaged youth explore what they want to be and could be. What are their strengths and talents? What are their goals? How can we help them create a vision board and acquire the skills and knowledge they need for careers and jobs? There is a lot to say about giving all kids a vision to aspire to and the affirmation that they can do it!”
Do Something Good
Literacy influences our daily lives and livelihoods, and it affects our communities, our state, and our nation. Yes, literacy is about dollars and cents, but as fellow humans, we can do better. Literacy is for all people. Generation after generation of poverty correlates to lack of education attainment. Struggling readers are less likely to vote, to access good healthcare, to make important decisions about their personal wellness, their nutrition, their finances. Let’s keep the momentum going to tackle this challenging issue. Let’s bring more people to the literacy long table. We can help more children read and lift them out of poverty so they can enjoy academic success and equitable economic prosperity.
About Dr. John Wyble
Dr. John Wyble is an accomplished, nationally certified executive with 28 years of service as an advocate for education, healthcare, quality of life, and economic independence for all citizens. He has spent 30 years in community programming, enrichment programs and grassroots mobilization. He has engaged partners in multiple disciplines to take a deep dive into how we equip individuals, families, and communities to succeed academically and economically.
As President & CEO of The Center for Literacy & Learning, Dr. Wyble is bringing forward an aggressive vision where all students receive a foundation for lifelong learning through literacy comprehension and fluency, beginning in early childhood. His vision, leadership, and genuine regard for all people are core strengths that distinguish him as a consummate professional in literacy leadership and transformation.
In 2019, The Center for Literacy & Learning led an effort in partnership with the Louisiana legislature to create an early literacy commission and to develop a strong legislative agenda around literacy based on the science of reading. Every classroom teacher in grades kindergarten through third grade will go through the science of reading training in the next three to five years. The Center will deploy regional literacy specialists and coaches. Teachers will receive resources and tools. The Center also advocates for education majors at the university level to be certified in the science of reading.
Valerie Chernek writes about educational best practices through the use of technology and the science of reading in support of children and adolescents who struggle with learning differences.