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More than 80 Communities Pledge Focus on 3rd Grade Reading

We reported earlier this year that states are increasingly making it a priority to ensure that children are proficient readers by the end of 3rd grade. It turns out that cities and counties are joining that movement at a pretty good clip, too.

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a collaborative of funders who are aiming energy and money at early literacy, reports that 82 localities have officially joined the effort.

What made it official is a prize: These cities and counties have declared their intent to apply for the National Civic League's 2012 All-America City Awards. Today's the deadline for letters of intent, and even as I post this, the number of communities that are submitting them keeps going up. It includes big cities like Houston, Los Angeles, and the District of Columbia; smaller cities like El Dorado, Kansas (population 13,000), and neighborhoods, like Morrisania in New York's South Bronx.

This year's awards, as we've mentioned, go to 10 cities or counties that have smart and sustainable plans to attack a cluster of related issues: lack of school readiness, chronic absenteeism, and summer learning loss. These three play key roles in undermining children's acquisition of strong reading skills (as well as other important skills, as you can imagine).

Since the National Civic League, United Way Worldwide, the National League of Cities and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading are working together on this year's award, applicants can get help with their applications through the campaign's network. A not-so-small sideline benefit: They get in front of dozens of funders with resources.

So it seems that we have a bit of momentum on the reading-by-3rd-grade issue at the state and local levels. As the campaign points out, early literacy is an element in the comprehensive Senate bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind), due for debate and revision next week. It's also got a high profile in the administration's Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge.

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