August 11, 2013

Students need your help to improve reading skills, Arizona Daily Star

By Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Special to the Arizona Daily Star

Poverty and education are linked. Education is a way out of poverty, but being poor makes that path more difficult to take.

Children living in poverty are less likely to do well in school. They may have stresses their more affluent peers do not, like coming to school hungry, or homeless. They may lack resources many families take for granted, like books or computers at home, or a parent or relative who’s been to college.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to make a positive difference in children’s lives, individually and as a community. We can improve educational outcomes and break the cycle of poverty.

We can focus more on school attendance, because showing up to learn is half the battle. Cash-strapped schools need resources to contact families of children who don’t show up to class, resolve whatever problems are keeping them out of school and get their education back on track.

We can reach out to high school dropouts, offering programs that meet the needs of youth who are working, new parents, or both. Traditional classrooms are one way to a diploma or GED, but there are also self-paced, online and online-plus-classroom programs, like Sunnyside’s GradLink.

We can raise money to pay for GED and certification testing. Often, students have done the work, but lack the means to pay for a test to prove it. We can’t afford to let the cost of a test prevent qualified students from becoming employed.

Perhaps most important, we can help Tucson children – all of them – learn to read.

Reading affects everything else. It’s fundamental to success in school and the workplace.

As early as 3rd grade, reading proficiency is a strong predictor of academic success. Three-quarters of children who read poorly in 3rd grade continue to read poorly in high school, plus they’re four times more likely to drop out or fail to graduate high school on time.

On the other hand, children who read well report that they enjoy reading and read for fun almost every day.

This starts with a caring adult taking time to read with a child. Even babies benefit from being read to, so it’s never too early to start. We can help our own children, and we can also help other children through programs like Reading Seed or Make Way for Books.

Both are active throughout Tucson and surrounding areas. But the need is greatest where poverty is greatest. An adult’s time, patience and enthusiasm for reading are precious gifts for any child, but they’re irreplaceable for the child whose parents are busy working several jobs or can’t read themselves.

I’ve committed to help recruit 500 volunteer reading coaches to help Tucson children – and adults – who struggle with reading. Please consider becoming a volunteer, or make a donation to support a volunteer.

I’ve been visiting schools and reading to children weekly, as my schedule allows. It’s my favorite part of the week. More important, it lets the kids know that they – and reading – are important. Because the mayor said so.

These are important ways we can help our community’s children.

But we also need to hold elected officials accountable.

Our state’s educational priorities need to be on creating equitable outcomes, not picking “winner” and “loser” schools.

Policies that penalize schools in poor neighborhoods are misguided and mean. These schools need more resources, not less, because they have greater needs.

K-12 education is too important to leave to a carrot and stick approach, especially on an uneven playing field. We can’t punish our way to good educational outcomes. Withholding resources from schools in poor neighborhoods just hurts the children who go there.

And that’s unacceptable.

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