- - Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Michigan Democrats in the State Senate are mortgaging the future of the state’s children and its economic competitiveness by failing to uphold literacy standards. A Democrat bill (SB12) introduced in Lansing would allow students to move past the third grade even if they can’t read at the third-grade level.

Studies are abundantly clear: if you can’t read, you can’t compete. Giving up on them and their teachers is hardly the right answer. We have a literacy crisis in America. This will absolutely make it worse, increasing the likelihood of students ending up in prison or living on welfare. 

I grew up in the Michigan school system, and I’m grateful for the educators who invested in me and devoted their lives to empowering the next generation. Growing up, my dad served as a teacher – then as vice principal. I remember him working long days and coming home exhausted at night. I’ve seen the same tenacity with my mother-in-law, who retired as a teacher in Lansing, and my wife’s cousin, who has given her life to teaching children with special needs in Lansing. When I see efforts like those coming from the Michigan Democrats, I shudder. We must not turn our backs on the next generation and their ability to pursue their American dream. Not being able to read at grade level does just that.

Illiteracy is a plague, a silent crisis that can and must, be eradicated. If you can’t read in the third grade, your chances of academic and professional excellence are significantly decreased. Your ability to find a job that pays your bills, provide health care, and take care of your family become out of reach. Children who struggle in the third grade to read become adults who struggle to read and consequently struggle to find jobs. Literacy is tied to not only academic growth but earning potential and a lifetime of success. 

What’s more, illiteracy is tied to fewer opportunities, poor health, and higher rates of crime. According to the Department of Justice, the link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure. Over 70 percent of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth-grade level. Data from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy reports that two of every three students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. In Michigan, we are behind the national average for reading proficiency. Seventy-two percent of our students are not reading proficiently by the fourth grade.

The solution to our state – and our country’s – literacy crisis is not lowering standards so anyone can pass, it’s better equipping our children for the future. Rather than lower or remove a standard as Michigan’s Democrats seem intent on doing, our state should be asking the question, “why are our students not meeting the standard?” 

Thankfully, there are solutions that can change the course of students’ lives and get them to achieve grade-level reading in several weeks. There is a nonprofit doing that right here in Michigan with profound results. We need more of these solutions. There is no compassion from lowering standards for students to rise to a grade where they cannot properly understand the materials. Reading and reading reclamation is key to getting this right. Michigan needs to empower parents with the resources necessary to help children at all levels reach their reading potential and educational standards. Including bringing in outside programs for help.

By even considering removing this standard of education, Michigan Democrats are indicating their willingness to doom children struggling to read to a life where they can’t compete. As a former State Legislator, I urge those in leadership to oppose these actions and work to find alternatives. Rather than allowing our Michigan children to slip through the cracks, we need to set up our children for success. We must not lower the bar. Our state and our country cannot afford it. 

  • Mike Rogers represented the 26th District in the Michigan State Senate from 1995 to 2001 and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2015 representing Michigan’s 8th District. From 2011 to 2015, he was Chairman of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In Mike and Kristi Rogers are co-founders of Leadership to Ensure the American Dream (LEAD). 

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