Children spend many years in school, but they are not all equal. Recent research shows that the first few have a disproportionate effect on how much the student can be expected to achieve.

A child who is not a proficient reader by the third grade can expect to have continual problems throughout his schooling and a higher drop-out potential than a classmate who learns the basics.

According to a report by the Annie E. Casey foundation, this is not only a national problem, but a problem here in Maine as well. Nationally, 68 percent of children beginning 4th grade were not reading proficiently. In Maine, it was 65 percent, which meant Maine ranked 17th in the nation and the worst in New England.

Equally troubling as the number of children who are not getting the foundation they need to succeed in school is the correlation between low scores and poverty.

If current trends hold true, the study’s authors conclude, 6.6 million low-income children now between birth and age 8 can be expected to drop out before getting a high school diploma. That all but eliminates them from the kinds of jobs that provide a living wage, and usually require some post-high school education.

This report should be a wake-up call for Maine policymakers. Children in day care, particularly if they come from low-income families, should be given early childhood exposure to books and reading that will get them to kindergarten ready to learn.

Parents and families also need to be reminded about the importance of reading with their children and the benefits that could result.


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