The recent articles on SOL reading scores, college and career readiness and the editorial “Reading by third grade” have highlighted the importance of reading and education for students returning to classes in the next few weeks.

What about the students who already have graduated or left school without being able to read well?

Some come to The READ Center for help. The READ Center is an adult literacy nonprofit serving adults older than age 18 who need to improve their reading, writing, basic math and digital skills. About 1 in 6 adults in the city of Richmond lacks basic literacy skills. They would struggle to read this letter, fill out a job application, read medical information or help their children with homework.

Seventy-six percent of READ Center students read at or below the fifth-grade level, even though 96% are older than age 25. Job training programs and GED classes require sixth- to eighth-grade reading levels to participate. Low-literate adults often are unemployed, take low-paying jobs and work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Children of low-literate adults have a 72% chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves. Parents are our first teachers. If they cannot read well, they cannot teach their children or support their education. The cycle of low educational attainment is passed from generation to generation.

The foundation for school readiness is built before the first day of school. Research shows that focusing on educating children without also addressing their parents’ needs for basic education and training will not solve the academic achievement gap.

Parents who can provide for their children and support their education are a critical part of their children’s success in school and breaking the cycle of low educational attainment in our community. Adult education can help by giving parents and adults the skills they need to be successful as workers and parents. Adult literacy needs to be recognized as a problem in our community and adult education programs like The READ Center as part of the solution.

Karen La Forge

Executive Director,The READ Center


This is a re-print of a letter to the editor published in the Richmond Times Dispatch on August 27.