U.S. Case Raises Question: Is Child Literacy a Right?

child literacy

The ruling on child literacy was, perhaps, more shocking than the lawsuit itself.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Detroit students. Its goal: “To hold a dozen state officials — including Gov. Rick Snyder — accountable for what plaintiffs said were systemic failures that deprived Detroit children of their right to literacy,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

But when the judge’s ruling came down dismissing the suit this summer, the right to literacy lost.

“Plainly, literacy — and the opportunity to obtain it — is of incalculable importance,” wrote U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy III. “As plaintiffs point out, voting, participating meaningfully in civic life, and accessing justice require some measure of literacy.”

But those points, Murphy said, “do not necessarily make access to literacy a fundamental right.”

Increased Reading Standards

Adding to the ruling’s importance — and the seeming contradiction: The state has increased child literacy standards.

The Free Press added: “The ruling also comes as the state ups the stakes for third-graders. Beginning with the 2019-20 school year, schools must begin holding back third-graders who are more than a grade level behind on reading assessments. Last year, just 44 percent of the third-graders who took the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress passed the exam; the year before, it was 46 percent. In Detroit, far fewer students are proficient in reading.”

In commenting about the ruling, the Chicago Sun-Times wrote: “It is a sad comment on our national priorities that anybody had to file this suit. Something is wrong when the argument even has to be made that literacy is an essential need in modern life, and therefore should be treated as a fundamental right.”

Tips: Parents, Caregivers, Practitioners

Given the ruling, what can interested parties do?

Stand for Children is a non-profit education advocacy organization focused on ensuring all students receive a high quality, relevant education. Their post titled “Why Reading is Important” notes: “A child who cannot read by the start of the 4th grade is four times more likely to drop out of high school and will likely remain behind his or her peers in subsequent school years.

“The ability to read is critical to a child’s success in school, life-long earning potential, and their ability to contribute to the nation’s economy. That is why it is imperative that we ensure every child is reading on grade level at this critical stage by implementing proven solutions and establishing early interventions.”

The post offers “Key areas of work:”

  • “Create research-backed state and school district reading standards that are proven to be effective for all children — including a well-developed plan for supporting English Learners”
  • “Establish a way to identify struggling readers early on, as well as effective interventions and supports for struggling readers — including giving these students access to the most effective reading teachers”
  • “Improve measures to ensure states, school districts, and schools are making progress in early literacy skills and 3rd grade reading pro ciency • Provide ongoing professional development for teachers that is aligned with the curriculum and focuses on early literacy instruction, as well as 4th grade reading comprehension”
  • “Improve teacher preparation and graduate teachers who understand literacy”

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