“Education drives the economy. Almost a decade into the 21st Century, America faces a choice: We can invest in the basic education and skills of our workforce and remain competitive in today’s global economy, or we can continue to overlook glaring evidence of a national crisis and move further down the path to decline.” Reach Higher, America: Overcoming Crisis in the U.S. Workforce
As grade level reading continued to gain attention on the national stage last week, we also experienced draconian cuts to literacy programs that help our kids. My colleague, Jen Kobrin wrote last week about the Grade-Level Reading symposium at our own Beyond School Hours conference, which was followed by a gathering of literacy funders in Washington, DC, hosted by The Annie E. Casey Foundation. As reported in an Education Week blog entry, one of the speakers at the funders’ forum was Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who said, the country has to “get out of the catch-up business,” whether it be at the university, high school, or middle school level. “If we want to get out of the remediation business,” he said, “we have to get our babies off to a good start.”
The next day, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a stop-gap funding measure, which the President has signed, to avoid a government shutdown. Among the cuts included for this fiscal year (which runs through September 30, 2011) are all funding for the $250 million Striving Readers program, the $67 million Even Start family-literacy program, the $25 million Reading Is Fundamental program, and the $26 million National Writing Project. Also on the chopping block were Teach for America ($18 million), National Board for Professional Teaching Standards ($10.7 million), New Leaders for New Schools ($5 million), Arts in Education ($40 million), Smaller Learning Communities ($88 million), and numerous scholarship and fellowship programs including the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships or LEAP, college access program, ($64 million).
We are a nation that aspires to greatness, yet more than half of our fourth graders can’t read well enough to learn what school requires, let alone what the 21st century workplace demands. Check out the most recent report card from the National Association for Education Progress for some alarming data. Education – and especially literacy – is the key to civil society and economic success. And yet, we are cutting our way to failure – for our children and for our nation.