When children read well by third grade, they are dramatically more likely to succeed not only in school, but in life. They’re much more likely to excel in school, go to college, participate in the job market, and even be paid more. On the other hand, when students are not proficient in early literacy, there is much greater risk that society will have to spend more on them for the rest of their lives.

A close look at the data reveal that early literacy investments in Michigan need to be much more thoughtful and deliberate. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that Michigan students’ national rank has fallen from 38th in 2013 to 41st in 2015 in reading. That’s a dramatic decline given that Michigan’s performance was at about the national average – or ranked 28th – in fourth-grade reading in just 2003.

So what‘s behind this decline?

Michigan’s student achievement has largely stalled in the last decade. In fact, Michigan is only one of five states that shows negative improvement for early reading since 2003. Other states are continuing to pass us up because their students are seeing gains that our students are not.


The lack of improvement as a state shows that our early students are being left behind and are increasingly ill-prepared in literacy compared to their national peers. Moreover, the amount of growth needed to ensure success for Michigan will become greater and greater as we fall further and further behind.

Ultimately, it is our young learners – particularly our most vulnerable students – who will bear the burden in their futures if we don’t shift course to thoughtfully support them to succeed by third grade and beyond.

Early literacy is a sound starting point for the state when it comes to strategic investment as it is where research and cost-effectiveness meet. It is essential to set a firm literacy foundation for all students. The data confirm, there is no time left to waste for our early learners.