By Daniela Raymond
From an early age, I have always been taught that knowledge is power, and the best way to obtain that knowledge has been through reading. Growing up, books were a staple in my life, learning to read In English, Haitian Creole and French, I was entering new worlds through words at a very early age.
Today, thousands of students in seventh and eighth grades are struggling to read at a fourth or fifth-grade reading level. America has a serious reading problem.
Across the country, teachers are seeing more of their students struggle with reading, spelling, and grammar this school year more than ever. Before the pandemic, nearly two-thirds of U.S. students were unable to read their grade level. Now post-pandemic, we’ve seen an even larger decline in reading levels.
Second-grade teacher Mackenzie Woll at Abby Kelley Foster Charter Public Elementary School said that diagnostics tests on her students showed they were reading at kindergarten or first-grade levels.
It is obvious why reading levels have dropped after the pandemic. It is simply harder to learn when there is no school. Kids returning back to school were learning to read behind a mask and at a distance, making an already bad situation worse. The reason for the decline in reading before the pandemic is where the real problem lies. Researchers and educators currently have three theories that could result in the decline: instruction, money and reading alone.
There is no doubt that budget cuts have played a role in this issue.
Right now state budgets are in trouble, and with tax revenues in freefall and increases in spending for social welfare programs, unemployment benefits and emergency services, public school funding has taken the biggest hit. With the lack of funds, schools are not only unable to afford more teachers but lack vital resources that are crucial to students learning the basics. A study by the Center for American Progress found that students in schools with higher budgets show major increases in both mathematics and reading.
With budget cuts, we are seeing changes all across the country in every single classroom. As the number of students in each class begins to grow, the number of teachers remains the same. Pre-K programs are being eliminated, allowing for less learning time and exposure.
For many years, the foundation of reading education in American classrooms has been a faulty hypothesis about how reading functions. This theory was disproved by cognitive scientists many years ago, yet it is still firmly ingrained in curricula and teaching methods. Consequently, many beginning readers are taught in school the same tactics that struggling readers employ to get by: memorization of words, guessing meanings based on context and skipping words they don’t know. Many youngsters find it more difficult to learn to read as a result, and it can be challenging for kids who don’t get off to a solid start to ever master the skill.
The lack of reading at an early age doesn’t make the skill any easier to develop in later years. As younger students grow into young adults and enter higher education, reading is no longer optional.
“I really had to force myself to become a better reader after entering college, not only was it more difficult to understand the material but I struggled with getting through it quickly enough to complete assignments on time,” Anna Caesar, a political science major, said.
Today, kids are spending seven to 10 hours a day using social media, according to the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance — another major factor in the decline in reading levels. Nearly a third of teens today say they would choose YouTube as a website that they couldn’t live without. This claim is something I would never have imagined as a child. We are growing up in an era when children are exposed to so many new things at such young ages, propelling them from seeking out new knowledge themselves. How can kids want to learn through reading if the information is already at the tips of their fingers?