At this time in the evolution of education it is not too visionary to predict that the next major emphasis will be addressing the shortfall in preparing children to be ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. That is the purpose of the K-Ready program announced elsewhere in the Pal-Item today.

Any shortfall in kindergarten reading readiness was not always considered serious. The general belief has been that even if a child is not “up to speed” by age 5, the schools will close the “achievement gap” in a short time.

Educators have known for at least 50 years that it doesn’t work that way.

Unless intensive and expensive remediation is applied, the deficiency continues for many students through the grades. But it didn’t used to matter that much.

By high school years, a young person could drop out of school and often get a good job in industry. It doesn’t work that way anymore. We have moved into the “Information Age” and if a child does not learn to read well at an early age, he or she will continue to fall behind in education and have limited prospects for a good career.

Changes in public awareness have come slowly. Four years ago, some of us in Richmond recognized the crucial dividing-line at the third grade level, when all children should be able to read at grade level or — as research shows — at least 70 percent never catch up.

So the Third Grade Academy was started to address the problem and has been successful to the extent of providing remarkable improvement by means of a four-week summer intensive instruction period for those who have fallen behind.

It is interesting that in just the last year, public awareness of this critical “moment of truth” has spread across the country. That is why the Indiana Department of Education has mandated that at least 90 percent of third-graders should be prepared to read at grade level.

But now a new awareness has appeared. Elementary teachers often lament, “Hey, you have given us a problem starting in kindergarten that is increasingly difficult to correct.” Researchers tell us that lack of pre-kindergarten readiness is the main source of future reading problems — yet, so far, no overall solution has been found.

How do we know there is such a problem? Experience has established that, on the average, a typical entering kindergarten class contains about 40 percent (two out of five) children who are two or three years behind what they should be in readiness to learn. The latest figures for Richmond’s entering kindergarteners is 56 percent who are not ready.

This sorry plight is not to denigrate present efforts to close the gap. Several organizations are attempting to serve as many as they can, but obviously, the ones who need it most are not being reached – the ones causing the 40-56 percent deficiency.

And agencies now working in Richmond — Birth- to-Five, Early Childhood Learning Centers, and Head Start — are costing more than $1 million a year. In spite of these efforts, we are now allowing hundreds of our children to slip into failure at this earliest level.

Citing this shortcoming should not be viewed as criticism. Most importantly, we need to be aware and concentrate on one overriding fact: Children learn more from birth to age 2 than any other time in their life. The pattern is set at that point. However, by focusing more efforts on solving the problem there, we might be able to build a better foundation for the future success of our children.

Rick Ahaus and Vic Jose, retired Richmond businessmen, are the co-founders of the Third Grade Academy in Richmond, currently in its fifth year of providing summer reading assistance.

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Source: Palladium-Item –