There is an old saying that says if you keep on doing the same thing expecting to get different results is the definition of insanity. Is it possible that this could apply to the nation’s schools when it comes to reading scores? According to the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), America’s poorest-performing students in grades 4th and 8th scored worse in reading in 2017 than they did in 2015. In addition, African-American students lag behind the Caucasian and Hispanic races, according to the NAEP data.

Why are our children illiterate in reading when we are a nation where there are books just one click away with online libraries and bookstores that can be accessed from your cellular phones or a computer? Whose fault is it? For centuries, most politicians have earned their local or national political seat on the latest cure for education reform programs. While politicians have yet to deliver true education reform, unfortunately, our schools in America will never improve to a satisfactory level until we focus first on eradicating illiteracy.

What is the answer to our nation’s illiteracy challenge? I am glad you asked. You must first learn to read before you can read to learn. Despite reading being fundamental for 80% of our population, unfortunately the other 20% needs an expert to teach them. If I was sick, I would go to a doctor. If I had heart issue. I wouldn’t just go to any doctor, I would see a specialist like a cardiologist. If I had foot problems, again I would see a specialist like a podiatrist. Our assumption in education is that a teacher or educator can teach a child how to read. Wrong! The teachers have their plate full and in some cases they weren’t appropriately trained to teach a child how to read. This is where a Certified Academic Language Therapist or Licensed Dyslexic Therapist steps up and teaches a non-reader how to read like a cardiologist who treats a patient with a heart issue.

The highest level of reading issues are found in communities of color. If our country is going to improve its educational system, African American and Hispanic communities must spearhead the change by declaring war on illiteracy. Those of us who are trained and highly qualified must not only initiate the narrative but we must control the narrative. After receiving that urgent call from my brother, I didn’t just go back to school to get an education but I studied and I was trained in a specialized reading program for four years. I became the only African American male Certified Academic Language Therapist in the country. Accomplishments like these should be the norm, not the exception. I am now using this training to leverage change to set the minority communities free to love and embrace reading as the norm. I believe we will never become free until we learn to read. I believe the penal system is evidence of this when a disproportionate number of African Americans are not only incarcerated but they are illiterate.

Overall, while the data suggest that America’s schools are delivering educational programs with a decent return on achievement results, but what is happening to the 40% of students who are below basic proficiency in reading? I believe the minority communities must speak up for more research based reading programs that will help dyslexic students as well as non-readers. Our schools must be about accommodations, modifications with appropriate remediation so that Sammy can learn to read. Anything short of this would be a violation to that child’s civil rights.

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