When President Obama recently declared the importance of early childhood education and literacy, he pointed to strategies that many advocates, researchers and parents have believed in for years: Investing in children during their younger years will better help them succeed in school and life.
At Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), we have seen firsthand for 46 years how owning a book and learning to read can change lives. For children in America's most vulnerable communities, books can make a particularly big difference in sparking a love of learning and opening up future possibilities.
Research shows that being able to read well at an early age is an important indicator of future achievement. One study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who did not read proficiently by the end of third grade were four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers. Another study, which RIF commissioned, found that giving children access to books and print materials led to better reading performance. Yet more than 61 percent of children in low-income households don't have a book to call their own, according to researcher Dr. Jeff McQuillan.
Still, the climate in Washington remains a challenge for turning the president's vision of expanded early childhood education into a reality.
The inactions of our lawmakers are reminiscent of Dr. Seuss' stubborn Zax. In a tale from The Sneetches and Other Stories, the North-Going Zax and South-Going Zax come face to face in the prairie of Prax. After some puffing and posturing, neither one moves.
"Never budge! That's my rule. Never budge in the least!
Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east!
I'll stay here, not budging! I can and I will
If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!"
But, of course, the world continues to move on, with new buildings, roads and bridges built up around the two Zax, even as they continue to stand "un-budged in their tracks" two years later.
Similarly, our important work to strengthen early childhood education through children's literacy is moving on, even as Congress remains un-budged in their tracks.
Thanks to generous corporate sponsors such as Macy's and Nestlé, we have worked creatively and collaboratively with partners to continue our mission of motivating young children to read. Our thousands of volunteers nationwide also continue to work tirelessly to give students more opportunities to read and have books of their own.
We strongly believe in the power of books to inspire children to achieve their fullest potential. Literacy skills create not only the foundation for a lifetime of learning, but also a ladder out of poverty and toward success.
It is my hope that Congress will join us in recognizing the critical importance of supporting reading in the early years and helping the youngest members of our community succeed.
If only they might learn from the inaction of the Zax.
Follow Carol Rasco on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CHRasco