The Startling Correlation Between 3rd Grade Reading and the Criminal Justice System

According to a recent Annie E. Casey Foundation report, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), also known as the “The National Report Card,” showed that in 2011, only 34% of American 4th graders read at a proficient level.

This is particularly troubling because children who are not reading by 3rd grade are four times as likely to drop out of school. The rates are highest for the low, below-basic readers: 23% of these children drop out or fail to finish high school on time, compared to 9% of children with basic reading skills and 4% of proficient readers. Overall, 22% of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6% of those who have never been poor.

Furthermore, there is a clear correlation between the percentage of children who drop out of high school and the percentage of these individuals ending up on public assistance or involved with the criminal justice system. A dropout is more than eight times as likely to be in jail or prison as a high school graduate and nearly 20 times as likely as a college graduate.

Nationally, 68% of state prison inmates did not receive a high school diploma. A recent study projected that increasing graduation rates by 10% would reduce murder and assault rates by 20%, resulting in approximately 500 fewer murders and over 20,000 fewer aggravated assaults each year in California. Over the past ten years, the average cost to incarcerate these individuals has more than doubled; in 2010 the average annual cost to incarcerate an inmate in state prison was $46,700.

Considering all of this, wouldn’t it make more sense to invest in children for a few years while they’re younger rather than pay for them for the rest of their lives later? If this is true, why aren’t we doing it?