To understand how school districts across the U.S. are failing to help students develop critical literacy skills, you must understand which school districts are more likely to pass kids on without the appropriate literacy skills. and how students enter those particular school districts in the first place.
A quick look at the data shows that students who attend both private schools and suburban public school districts are far more likely to develop the literacy and they consistently score higher on standardized tests. Students who attend rural or urban public schools are far more likely to not develop the necessary literacy skills per grade level and they consistently do not score as well on standardized reading and writing tests.
This achievement gap is perhaps most noticeable in the early elementary years when students are learning the foundational skills they need to communicate effectively and comprehend early reader texts.
It’s important to look at when students are expected to master each of these critical literacy skills. For reading, students should have a good grasp on skills:
- Phonemic Awareness: Kindergarten and 1st grade
- Phonics: Preschool ages 3 and 4
- Fluency: 2nd and 3rd grade
- Vocabulary: Birth through age 3
- Comprehension: 1st and 2nd grade
This means the basics of literacy are learned very early in life and then built on as students move through the school system.
This brings up several questions:
- Are the students who attend rural and urban school districts inherently dumber than their peers who attend suburban and private school districts?
- Are kids in rural and urban school districts getting less educational attention and communication from their family members than those in suburban and private schools?
- Do students who attend rural and urban school districts begin their formal education with less previous knowledge and skills than their peers?
- Do rural and urban school districts have fewer resources and less qualified teachers than suburban and private school districts?
The answer to the first question is an obvious no. Kids who attend rural and urban school districts are not any less intelligent than their peers nor do they have any less potential when they enter the school system.
The reason these schools are more likely to produce underperforming students when it comes to literacy is linked to a combination of factors:
- Rural and urban school districts serve more students who are below the poverty level.
- Poor students are much more likely to start school already behind because they do not get the necessary educational attention and communication from their family members.
- Rural and urban school districts employ more inexperienced teachers and have fewer resources than private and suburban school districts.
To solve this problem, better resources and more experienced teachers are needed to help students struggling with literacy in head start programs and early elementary classrooms in rural and urban areas.
Will getting these kids in virtual schools where they can access experienced teachers and can get one on one instruction help? Will President Biden’s recently passed infrastructure bill be a solid solution for these kids? By breaking the cycle of illiteracy, will we be able to break the cycle of poverty?