Report: Early reading failure costs taxpayers

Jared Felkins • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:18 PM

According to a new report from the Education Consumers Foundation, Tennessee’s 2012 School Report Card shows more than half of the state’s 73,000 third-graders are identified with basic or below basic reading skills.

The report shows by the time of their graduation from high school, the 2012 third-grade class will have an estimated 4,772 dropouts and 24,140 graduates who are unprepared for college or a career. Over their lifetimes, their disproportionate use of public services will add $1.1 billion in local, state and federal spending for health, education, welfare and public safety, according to the report.

The report shows 42.2 percent of Wilson County’s 1,116 third-graders are either basic or below basic in reading and 278 of those are unprepared for fourth-grade with 51 dropouts. According to the report, those students will cost taxpayers more than $12.7 million.

Among third-graders in Lebanon schools, the report shows 52 percent of 373 students tested scored basic or below basic in reading with 33 unprepared for fourth-grade and 21 dropouts. The report shows those students will cost taxpayers more than $1.5 million.

Building on research carried out by ACT, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Teachers College, Columbia University, the Education Consumers Foundation developed an online calculator that can project the numbers of third-grade students who will drop out or graduate unprepared, and the added cost of the public services that they consume. The website is education-consumers.org/Calc.

By entering the user’s state and county, the number of students, and the school or district’s third-grade reading proficiency percentages, users can generate a simple or detailed estimate of the public costs that will result from the reduced prospects of their community’s students.

“We have known for years about the diminished educational prospects of students with poor reading skills, but now we can better appreciate the cost of their disability to the rest of us,” said J.E. Stone, president of the Education Consumers Foundation. “The tragedy is that we have educational tools that could greatly reduce the size of this problem but fail to make full use of them. We hope that these numbers will make it clear to local leaders that this longstanding and seemingly intractable problem must be addressed. It is a cancer that has been eating away at American society for decades.”

The Education Consumers Foundation is a nonprofit consumer organization. It gathers and disseminates information about education policy and practice on behalf of parents, taxpayers and their elected representatives.

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