OPINION: Literacy education needs a structured approach

Florida has one of the lowest literacy rates in the country and better education and programs are needed to improve it. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/PEXELS

Florida has the third lowest literacy rate in the U.S., according to a 2022 report by World Population Review. Nearly one in five Floridians are illiterate.

Literacy is an important skill, and there are changes that can, and should, be made to solve this issue. Elementary schools need to switch to the structured literacy method of teaching and more programs should be provided for adults who struggle with reading and writing.

There are two models that are used to teach children to read, the balanced model and the structured model, according to a 2019 study by the Iowa Reading Research Center.

Balanced literacy teaches children to recognize words by using pictures, analogies or context. Structured literacy teaches children to read in a very systematic way, putting the focus on phonics, spelling and syntax. This gives them the skills to decipher new words when they come across them.

Despite being the most popular system, a 2020 Institute for Multi Sensory Education Journal article noted that balanced literacy is not the most effective approach, because it often lets struggling children fall through the cracks.

Structured literacy has proven to be the most beneficial for all students, especially those struggling with reading skills. For this reason, schools should switch to this model of teaching in order to give children the skills they need to become literate adults.

While adjusting the teaching strategy will provide a strong foundation for future adults, there are also changes that can be made to help those that are currently struggling.

Some colleges, including South Florida State College, have programs to help adults improve reading, writing, communication and other basic skills. This program is available to anyone over the age of 16, and they have the ability to start classes year-round, making this an easily accessible option.

The ACE Foundation of Florida also offers affordable adult education. The Florida Adult Education Program offers these classes starting at $30 per term or $45 per semester. 

USF offered a similar program in the summer of 2019. This reading program was targeted toward K-12 students, but it was open to college students and adults as well. Bringing this back as an annual program could go a long way in improving literacy in adults. 

“Without proper reading skills, our workforce is less robust, job opportunities are more limited and people’s lives are held hostage as their own self-worth becomes diminished,” Dr. Lisa Hassler, education consultant and author, said on her website

Florida public schools have recently adopted an initiative to try to remedy this problem, according to an April 29 article by the Lastinger Center for Learning. This program, known as the New Worlds Reading Initiative, provides personalized, physical books to elementary school children each month. It also gives parents resources and materials to help their children build literacy skills. 

While programs like these are great and can go a long way in teaching children to read and write, there are underlying issues that need to be fixed.

In order to increase the literacy rate, children need to be taught how to read, rather than just to recognize words. For adults in need of reading assistance, colleges and other upper level institutions should also implement programs to help improve literacy skills.

These changes can improve Florida’s literacy rate and provide these vital skills to both children and adults.