An Epidemic of Illiteracy
The children of Georgia – and the nation – are in the grips of an epidemic of illiteracy. In Georgia alone, only 34 percent of school children are proficient readers. Ending this epidemic is the No. 1 education priority of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and dozens of other public and private organizations throughout the state. This collaborative effort has united foundations, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies and communities to secure a strong foundation for all children, so they may succeed in school, graduate from high school and be equipped with the skills to achieve their dreams, regardless of where their dreams take them. These leaders have set the expectation that, by the year 2020, every child from birth to age eight will be on a path to read proficiently by the end of third grade – an important predictor of whether a child will ultimately graduate from high school.
The Path to Third Grade Reading
By the year 2020, every child from birth to age eight will be on a path to read proficiently by the end of third grade. The 2020 commitment to Georgia’s children can only be met by recognizing that young children’s language and literacy development begins well before their arrival in kindergarten and depends on the verbal interactions that caregivers and families have with their children. This early exposure to language and communication prepares a child’s brain for reading proficiency and, ultimately, for success in school and in life. Research indicates that many families do not engage in such robust language transactions with their child—for a variety of reasons. Families may not know the importance of talking with their baby to enhance brain development, or their own lack of education may hinder their efforts.
When a generation has been deprived of a quality education, families are at critical risk for being caught in a cycle of poverty and educational disparity.
The Need for Language Nutrition Starts at Birth
Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health and State Health Officer, has identified the lack of access to language among Georgia’s young children as a public health imperative. Research points to significant associations between formal educational attainment and individual health outcomes and risks such as mortality, smoking, drug abuse, accidents and development of chronic disease. The vast majority of these reports conclude that the higher the level of education attained, the more likely individuals are to be healthier and live longer and that “education has an enduring, consistent and growing effect on health.”
- High school graduation and health are inextricably linked, even when taking other socioeconomic factors into account.
- High school graduates have a higher probability of practicing health-promoting behaviors such as exercise, medical treatments adherence, annual checkups and recommended screenings.
- High school graduates report incomes 75-100 percent higher than those who do not graduate.
- Individuals who do not complete high school are significantly more likely than high school graduates to be incarcerated, become teen parents, be involved in violence as either an aggressor or a victim, be unemployed and be recipients of Medicaid and benefits through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.