Most children in the United States are not proficient readers upon graduation from high school. That’s not just some random opinion: it’s the assessment of the U.S. Department of Education:

You can see this data on the U.S. Department of Education web site by clicking on the above graph.* The results are similarly dismal for children in eighth grade and fourth grade.

Do you believe that your children are exempt? This same web page lets you break down the data by race, gender, and parental education level. There is no group in any of these categories in which more than half of the U.S. high-school graduates are “proficient” in reading.

This means that even if you a college graduate, there is still less than a 50/50 chance that your children will be proficient readers at any grade level in any typical public school.

But it is probably even worse than this. The few who succeed probably don’t do so because of instruction they get at school. Lower-income children, whose only option is usually to attend public school only and who receive no other assistance, fail at rates of 80% or higher. So many if not most of the 37% in the general population who read well probably succeed only because their parents can afford to provide them with outside assistance.

If all this is true, the reading success that occurs due to public school reading instruction everywhere is probably closer to 20%, or one in five. That’s not just in some low-income neighborhood somewhere – that’s in your neighborhood, your schools. The data suggest that unless you do something for your own children, they might well have only a one in five chance of becoming proficient readers.

It has been this way for decades and it is unlikely to change. The question is, how can you save your child from a life of functional illiteracy?

* Within two weeks of our publishing this site in December 2020, the U.S. Department of Education apparently removed its entire 12th grade NAEP Achievement Level analysis, which the DOE had formerly been reporting for decades. It might be that they are just updating it with the 2020 numbers, or it might be something else. As of this writing (December 29), the 4th and 8th grade analyses are still available on that same page.

** Update, 1/31/21: We submitted a bug report to the NAEP while also checking periodically. During the first weeks of January it appeared as if the Grade 12 data were being reconstructed, and now it appears to be fully recovered. We eventually received this response from a DOE service person: "... a couple of months back, due to an attempted hack, we had to clear everything off our servers that had been loaded within the last 6 months. This would include the grade 12 pages. Perhaps that was when you checked the link. Sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused."