The figures are shocking. Advocates for adult literacy reported last month that some 65,000 adults in Buffalo read at or below the fifth-grade level. It may not be surprising in one of the nation's poorest cities, but it is disturbing, nonetheless.
The good news is that something is being done about it.
The price of illiteracy, or near-illiteracy, is punishingly high. Adults who cannot read depend on others to dose medicines properly, to follow instruction manuals and to read road signs. They cannot read a book, follow a recipe or help with their children's homework.
That's an individual crisis and a community threat. Broad illiteracy threatens local economies, as many jobs and entire business sectors are put out of reach. Addressing this problem demands a focused approach, and that is where Buffalo is in good hands.
Read to Succeed Buffalo and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading are having an impact here. A principal goal is to ensure that students are reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
According to the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, proficiency by third grade is a critical milestone - the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success.
The efforts of Read to Succeed Buffalo have attracted the attention of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which named Buffalo a "pacesetter community." At the end of the last school year, for example, 96 percent of 423 participating students exceeded oral language targets.
It's a great achievement, but much more needs to be done. Even with this level of success, Read to Succeed Buffalo is benefiting less than 10 percent of students in the Buffalo School District, and the challenges to expanding its influence are significant.
For example, asthma can keep children from learning, and so can tooth pain for students without access to dental care. Neither is uncommon, given Buffalo's level of poverty.
Also, some families move a lot because of problems with government assistance. That creates educational stresses on children who must frequently change schools.
But problems such as these can be attacked and perhaps even surmounted. In any case, it is important to keep working at them, and in Buffalo, those efforts are continuing.
Reading to Succeed Buffalo has many partners in its crucial task, including the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Say Yes to Education, Buffalo Promise Neighborhood and many other interested and generous organizations. They all deserve the community's thanks.
The matter of improved literacy will become increasingly important in the years to come, as SolarCity and other new industries take root or expand in Buffalo. New opportunities are going to open up here and it is crucial that Buffalo residents have the skills to take advantage of them
That is the surest way to reduce poverty and to induce the start of a virtuous cycle of improved literacy and increased opportunity. Buffalo is on the right track.