Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Reading Equals Success In Life

Several months ago, I had the opportunity to speak to children at an inner-city tutoring center in Chicago, Illinois, called By The Hand. They work primarily with at risk kids after school. Here is what this organization says about the importance of reading.

Reading is one of the best predictors of a student’s academic success. Poor readers tend to read less. They lack motivation and confidence in the classroom, which can lead to a devastating and downward spiral in a child’s life. Yet, one-third of fourth graders in Chicago are not reading at grade level and live in neighborhoods with little to no access to books.”

Here’s a link to their video which makes the point better than I can:

If we’re going to assert that reading leads to success in life, then statistics surrounding our prison populations should cause us to do everything we can to encourage children to read early and often.

            Literacy statistics and juvenile court from Literacy and the National Reading Statistics:

85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.

More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.

Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help. This equates to taxpayer costs of $25,000 per year per inmate and nearly double that amount for juvenile offenders.

Illiteracy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, "The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure. Over 70% of inmates in America's prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.

And consider these numbers.

Many of the USA ills are directly related to illiteracy.

*       Literacy is learned. Illiteracy is passed along by parents who cannot read or write.

*       One child in four grows up not knowing how to read.

*       43% of adults at Level 1 literacy skills live in poverty compared to only 4% of those at Level 5

*       3 out of 4 food stamp recipients perform in the lowest 2 literacy levels

*       90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts

*       16 to 19 year old girls at the poverty level and below, with below average reading skills, are 6 times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than their reading counterparts.

*       Low literary costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs. A recent study by Pfizer put the cost much higher.
When the State of Arizona projects how many prison beds it will need, it factors in the number of kids who read well in fourth grade (Arizona Republic (9-15-2004)). Evidence shows that children who do not read by third grade often fail to catch up and are more likely to drop out of school, take drugs, or go to prison. So many nonreaders wind up in jail, Arizona officials have found they can use the rate of illiteracy to help calculate future prison needs.           

The majority of inmates in America’s prisons have low levels of education and some can barely read, write, or use a computer. These are all skills that are necessary to make it on the outside without returning to a life of crime. Prison libraries offer inmates the chance to learn all of these things and more. Additional information on this subject can be found at

Interesting statistics have emerged from prison programs where inmates have been exposed to a prison library. One of the best ways libraries benefit prisoners is by helping make it less likely that they’ll end up back in prison again. Studies have shown that education helps to reduce rates of recidivism, and libraries can play a big part in that, with access to books, educational programs, and computer training.
One study of inmates found that participation in education programs while in prison helped reduce rates of re-arrest, re-conviction, and re-incarceration by significant amounts, with only 21% of those who participated in education programs ending up back in prison versus 35% of non-participants.

So, what can we do to ensure that the children around us don’t fall through the cracks and become such negative statistics in the future?

            Parents: Monitor your children’s time spent on TV, computer, and video games. Lay down strong rules concerning reading time. These other activities can easily be included as rewards, once the reading requirements are met.

            Teachers: It may be difficult in the classroom, with other students who need your time, but encourage students to become readers. The earlier they master this skill, the better they will perform in the classroom. When you identify students with reading problems, alert the parents.

            Grandparents: Increasingly, grandparents are stepping in to help raise their own grandchildren. Last year, my wife and I began looking after one of our granddaughters while her mother teaches. I’m already spending time helping this little one to embrace books and reading.

            Students: Take reading and your future seriously. Don’t just complain that reading is boring or you can’t find anything that interest you. Reading doesn’t always have to be a book. Look for other short articles and information in the areas where you are interested. But whatever you do, start reading today! Reading exercises your brain just like physical exercise improves your physical strengths and skills.

In the final analysis, it’s clear that not knowing how to read, or reading very little, has direct, negative consequences on children as they grow up, while knowing how to read, and doing it well has the complete opposite effect. As a nation,  let’s make it our priority to see that children around us are reading early and often. Their very futures success depend on it.


Kelly Robinson said...

These statistics are staggering. Thanks for sharing.

max said...

Thank you Kelly

J. Arthur Moore, author and retired teacher said...

I just read your article in today's copy of our local Pennysaver paper. I have attempted to serve this need through my work, Journey Into Darkness, from which Up From Corinth was recently published. It takes young readers into the Civil War as they share the experience of Duane Kinkade as he enters the war in search of his father, at the Battle of Shiloh. It's one thing to write the story and to finally get it published, but the challenge is to enable people to become aware of the story's existence. It's at with a Facebook link. Any suggestions or reactions would be welcome.

max said...

Thanks J. Arthur, I've sent you a direct message through your web site.