Born to Speak, Taught to Read

When a child comes into the world, his or her brain is already wired to speak.  Several years later, however, that child must be taught explicitly how to unlock the alphabetic code.  This code maps on to the sounds, words and sentences of the oral language she or he has been immersed in since birth. The right to read depends on it.

The paradox that learning to speak is natural—and reading is not—is central to our work.

Oral Language—Speaking and Listening—is the Foundation for Literacy.

Literacy development begins at birth as babies listen to speech sounds around them.


By age 3, however, there is a 30 million word gap between children in poverty and those who are in middle class families (Hart & Risley, 2003).

Research has demonstrated that:

• Early intervention enables many children to become skilled readers who are ready to learn.
• Students at risk for reading failure can be helped as early as preschool and kindergarten.
• Parents, teachers, and other adults play a key role in developing children’s oral language.

The Importance of Reading on Grade Level

We must aim to teach children to read in first grade. Children who don’t read by then only have a one in eight chance of catching up.

We must help children read well by the end of third grade.  That’s when children move on from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” and use more challenging texts.

In fact, reading proficiency by third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success. Kids who can’t read well are more likely to drop out, be limited to low paying jobs and never reach their full potential. Learn more at The Campaign for Grade Level Reading.


IndividualNon-Reader_08.09.13Connecticut’s Reading Achievement Gap–

–is an Opportunity Gap


We must close the gap between disadvantaged students and their peers.  The reading achievement gap between low-income and non-low-income 4th grade students in Connecticut has not significantly changed since 1998. Connecticut’s 29-point difference on the 2017 National Assessment of Academic Performance (NAEP) (compared with a 28-point spread nationally), shows that the state still exceeds the national average.

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) works to close the achievement gap and raise academic outcomes for all students in Connecticut.  Follow them to learn more about policy strides and next steps.

Third Graders Stand at Life’s Crossroads: The Freedom of Literacy or The Prison of Illiteracy

It costs three times as much to house a prisoner for a year as to educate a child in Connecticut public schools. In 2017, average per pupil spending in Connecticut was $19,322. An average annual cost/prisoner/year in Connecticut was reported as $62,159 in 2015.

High school dropouts are more than three times more likely to be incarcerated than high school graduates, according to a 2009 study.

We must keep students in school. We must teach illiterate adults to read. This will empower them to succeed.

We must prepare literate citizens who can join the workforce and participate in the economy.  The World Literacy Foundation estimated that a lack of literacy costs businesses and taxpayers in the U.S. more than $1.5 trillion billion annually.

Equipped, Empowered Teachers are Key— Especially Pre-K through Grade 3

We must prepare the best education professionals, then develop, support, and motivate them throughout their careers.

• Both teaching children to read and learning to read can be like “rocket science” according to our colleague Louisa Moats.
• Teachers want to help their students succeed but many do not know how.
• In spite of “the voice of evidence” about research-based instruction, most teachers have not been taught how to teach reading effectively as reported by the National Council on Teacher Quality.
• New elementary school teachers in Connecticut must pass the Connecticut Foundations of Reading Test to show that they understand literacy development and can apply research-based methods in the classroom.


Learn About This Promising Practice

The Early Language and Literacy Initiative (ELLI) is an innovative partnership that aims to close the reading achievement gap early by taking advantage of the valuable years before children enter kindergarten. ELLI provides engaging, language-rich experiences for pre-school aged children.

*G. Reid Lyon, Ph.D., Hearing on Literacy: Why Kids Can’t Read, July 10, 1997.

** Juel, C. (1988).  Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades.  Journal of Educational Psychology 80 (4), 437-447.