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Making Progress in the Fight Against Illiteracy

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The back-to-school bustle is on.

Parents, teachers, and children alike are preparing for a new school year, a new chance to learn. Hope and promise are in the air. And with the fresh start comes encouraging news about reading aloud in the United States.

According to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data, about half of children under 5 are read to seven or more times a week by a parent or family member. The best part of the census report: Children under age 5 whose families are living below the poverty line were more likely to be read to seven or more times a week in 2009 (45 percent) than in 1998 (37 percent.)

We are making progress.

Despite a reduction in our federal funding this year, Reach Out and Read is working harder than ever to ensure that the next census report shows that every child under 5 is read to daily. We target children in infancy and build on the relationship between parents and pediatricians to promote early literacy and school readiness.

Reach Out and Read is on the ground in all 50 states, working in clinics, health centers, and hospitals to impact the educational outcomes of our children. Our work today is changing tomorrow.

Nationally, we are working with a range of incredible partners including Scholastic, Pampers, Southwest, and Target to be able to broaden the scope and scale of our work.

We are making progress. But, there's still much work to be done.

We draw our inspiration from our children and families, from their stories. One of our Reach Out and Read Site coordinators in Milwaukee recently told me about her clinic, which serves one of the city's most economically challenged neighborhoods. The power of reading, she said, is having a meaningful impact daily on the lives of families and children.

"The clinic has a warm and homey feeling with the books that are provided by Reach Out and Read," she said. "It is a common occurrence to see many adults reading to their children and children choosing a book from the Reach Out and Read shelf. This would have been a rarity five years ago. This program has made it possible for my families to have access to new books to take home -- and to understand the importance of reading to their children from birth."

Five years ago, they wouldn't have had books.

Five years from now, they'll have even more books.The children at this clinic, and clinics everywhere, will be even more ready for school. They'll be ready to learn, ready to steer their futures - and the future of our nation.

Hope and promise are in the air.