Posted by: Francis Koster Published: May 22, 2012

A Brighter Beginning for “At Risk” Kids

A Brighter Beginning for "At Risk" Kids

by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.

As we think about the future of our country, two numbers provide a major hint of things to come. The first number, 13%, is the national unemployment rate for those who did not finish high school. The other number is 4%, the national unemployment rate for those who graduate from college.[1] 

It is easy to predict which category a child will wind up in. You give each child a specific 7 minute test in pre-kindergarten. If they flunk, they are in trouble unless something is done.

It does not matter if this child suffers from a condition like Dyslexia, as 1 in 10 of all Americans doii or grew up in a home with no books and not been read to by parents - if they cannot pass the 7 minute test, they may be in serious trouble of being economically handicapped for the rest of their life. 

Nationally, when pre-kindergartners are tested around one out of every four flunk the test.

To give you some idea of seriousness of the situation, according to the Begin To Read organization's research, 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, more than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate, and over 70% of inmates in America's prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.[3]

Clearly, failure to read was a banana peel on the steps of life, causing pain and suffering for those who fall, and the ones they hurt on the way down.

Think of the enormous good to individuals and society that could occur if someone figured out how to take those 1 in 4 kids who flunk the test, and taught them a few simple tricks so that they had a reasonable shot at finishing high school.

Someone did - and it is cheap, easy to replicate, and proven to be effective. And yet, it is not widely used.

The Nemours Children's Clinics, based in Jacksonville Florida, did several years worth of research to find out how bad the problem was. They gave a screening test to a bunch of kids. About 1 out of 4 had real problems.iv The screening test had a score of 20. The results showed two distinct groups of kids. The "normal" kids scored around 14, while the "at risk" kids scored around 6.5. [5]

The Nemours project staff developed 18 short lessons which taught the "at risk" kids specific skills to help them learn to read. They called it Nemours BrightStart!. These skills were taught in short lessons to groups of 2-4 kids over a 9 week period.[6] That is all that was done. The ballpark cost per "at risk" child was $100.00.

In a stunning success story, 2/3 of the "at risk" kids caught up to the "normal kids"! And the other 1/3 including children with Down's Syndrome and all sorts of brain wiring problems made great progress, and will live happier lives as a result.[7] A huge victory! 

This success has been proven to endure. After 4 years of rigorous analysis, the staff can proudly say that the kids who flunked the test but took the special training program maintained strong reading skills through third grade. They are able to read at the same level as the kids who passed the test in the first place.[8] Their lives are changed forever.

The Nemours BrightStart! program has thus far screened over 14,000 children, and provided the extra teaching for over 3000 of them. Over 200 classroom teachers have been trained to use the teaching materials, and many more are in the pipeline. The project is currently operational in multiple counties in Florida and Delaware, and pilot efforts are starting in Louisiana and Maryland. [9]

What an astounding role model program for the rest of the country!

When we look at our current problems, it is sometimes difficult to find hopeful things to cling to. Here is one. The developmental work is done and the program can be implemented for a one time investment around $100 per "at risk" child. It works and it will make a huge contribution to our children, and building a better nation in our future.

What are you going to do now?

More information about the program can be found at The teaching materials are available through Kaplan Early Learning Company.


1 United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Employment Situation November 2011, released December 2, 2011

4 Number provided by Dr. Laura Bailet

5 Ibid

6 extracted from Poster Presentation given by BrightStart! staff at the International Dyslexia Association conference in Nov. 2011

7 Personal email communication with Dr. Bailet, December 8, 2011 10:59 am

8 Ibid

9 Personal email communication with Dr. Bailet, December 8, 2011., 2:40 pm

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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Francis P. Koster Ed.D.

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