Opinion: To address literacy, understand link with poverty

December 18, 2019
By PAULA HERBART/President – Michigan Education Association

Some of us remember the old “Reading is Fundamental” ad campaign, which encouraged parents to read to their children. Today, that fundamental is even more critical, especially in light of how poverty and lagging literacy levels intersect.

Too often, lawmakers look for “silver bullet” solutions — like the reading law that threatens to retain third graders who do not meet literacy benchmarks this spring — rather than understanding more complex needs, like building a strong foundation of literacy skills to ensure future success.

Front-line educators have a deep understanding of the problem. Colby Sharp, a nationally-recognized literacy expert and a fifth grade teacher in Jackson County, put it this way:

“We have a poverty issue more than anything. Children from high poverty areas are less likely to live in homes with 100 or more books, or to attend schools with rich library collections. Research shows that kids surrounded by books are more likely to succeed at reading than those who are not.”

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