DENVER The governors office is making a push to make sure young children learn to read, an effort that might include keeping students in third grade until they know how.
One out of four Colorado students cant read by the end of third grade, a crucial year that often determines childrens success into adulthood. Last year, 16,000 third-graders failed to pass reading tests.
That means we have 16,000 kids who are going to have a harder time, said Gov. John Hickenlooper at a literacy meeting his office sponsored last month. The probability that theyre going to end up in jail, the probability that theyre going to drop out, the probability that there will be significant additional costs to your taxes, all that goes up dramatically just by the simple fact that we cant get them reading.
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia took a statewide bus tour to talk about ways to get kids reading, a sign that the Literacy Matters effort is emerging as one of the major initiatives of the Hickenlooper administration.
Garcia hopes to engage parents and teachers and also maybe state legislators, who would need to approve legal changes.
Garcia said he will not start pushing changes to the law until he reaches out to more people, but one of the many strategies he and allies are considering is to stop promoting kids who cant read to fourth grade.
The option is listed in a 26-page Draft Literacy Action Plan that is labeled Confidential Work Product for the Lieutenant Governor.
In an interview, Garcia confirmed that the idea is being considered, but it is not the core of his plan.
I think we need to have a more comprehensive approach that provides the right interventions to students identified well before theyre in third grade, Garcia said.
The effort starts even before children enter school, Garcia said. Literacy researchers say that by age 3, children in talkative families hear 30 million more words than kids in non-communicative families.
We need to remind parents that they are the most important teachers their kids will ever have, Garcia told people at a Literacy Matters meeting in Denver.
Educators see third grade as a critical turning point. A mantra of the literacy group is that until third grade, students learn to read; after third grade, they read to learn.
Garcias Literacy Matters team is working with charities such as United Way to spread the word and recruit volunteers who can help kids learn to read in school or in after-school groups.
Although the state is cutting its school budget, financial resources matter, too, Garcia said, noting that wealthy towns are more likely to support preschools and full-day kindergartens.
The gap is obvious when comparing Durango, where just 13 percent of third-graders cant read, with the poorer town of Alamosa, where 30 percent of third-graders cant read.
Among the middle-class white population, its a given that kids will be reading by third grade, Garcia said.
But children in some of the fastest-growing groups in Colorado, including Hispanics, are less likely to be successful readers.
If what we care about is having a well-educated workforce in Colorado, we need to concentrate on those demographic groups we have not served very well through our public education system, Garcia said.