We have an equity problem in California that impacts 65% of students who do not read at proficient levels by the end of 3rd grade. The 65% are overwhelmingly low-income students of color who are dyslexic and/or are entering the school system in a state of trauma. By end of 3rd grade non-proficient readers rarely reach their academic potential and their life outcomes are irreparably negatively altered. Without sufficient literacy skills by age eight, a non-white student is unlikely to graduate from high school and go to college. For black and brown male children the life outcomes are even more grim. Many experience depression and addiction and often end up in prison.
To date, difficulties with acquisition of reading and writing skills in early readers has been widely framed as an education problem requiring an education solution. However, the lens through which literacy is currently understood is widening. Emerging research from the fields of neuroscience and trauma highlight the roles that mal-protective factors – frequently associated with low socio-economic status such as trauma, anxiety and chronic stress – play in a student’s ability to learn and read. It’s time to defeat California’s literacy issues not only with educational solutions but also with aligned interventions including social-emotional and mental health approaches across child-serving agencies that together support the whole child in achieving positive life outcomes for themselves, and positive economic and social impact for California.
As drastic as the repercussions are for the individual child, they are equally so for the state of California. Closing the literacy gap that separates mostly Black and Latino from more privileged kids is the single most effective way of also narrowing the income gap by equipping them with the skills for well-paying employment and/or higher education. A 2020 study completed by the Boston Consulting Group found that the cost to the State of not addressing dyslexia is $12B annually and $1T over the lifetime of today’s elementary school children. In the end analysis, not addressing literacy will mean a California workforce that is underprepared to compete in an increasingly competitive job market.