A Push for Reading and Volunteers in a Critical Year

Aug 26, 2013

AR Kids Read Director Charlie Conklin with Clifford the Big Red Dog
Credit Jacob Kauffman

A partnership of businesses and church groups, called AR Kids Read, is seeking 600 people to volunteer one hour a week to tutor third graders who are reading below proficiency in central Arkansas.

Speakers Monday at the Hillary Clinton Children’s Library cited studies from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families pointing to third grade as a critical year, producing indicators showing links to future education, income, and incarceration levels.

Charlie Conklin, the Director of the group, said income disparity correlates to reading disparities.

“The number of books that a middle income child has per family in the home is 18. The number of books for a low to moderate income family is one book per 300 children. My wife tutors a fifth grader who’s reading at the 2nd grade level, has three siblings, but they’ve only got one book in the house. It’s pretty hard to learn how to read if you don’t have books,” said Conklin.

Conklin also cited statistics saying students at the 50th percentile read only nine minutes a day while students at the 95th percentile reads just 42 minutes a day.

Judy Knod, the Director of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, said efforts focusing particularly on third grade students are crucial.

“Third grade is a pivot point and an academic predictor. Third grade is when children are expected to make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. But 74% of children who are not reading at grade level at the end of third grade will never catch up to graduate with their class,” said Knod.

An accompanying report by Jay Barth, a member of the State Board of Education, notes 3rd grade can be a turning point, “82% of 3rd graders are reading at proficiency compared to less than 30% of 4th graders." That places Arkansas at 35th in the nation.

Speakers at the event also noted the important impact tutors can have as role models to children who don’t grow up in reading households.