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Early Reading Skills Are Focus in More Than 100 Cities

More than 100 cities, towns, and counties have pledged to improve literacy among their youngest citizens as part of a national campaign called the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

To be part of the network, communities had to submit detailed plans for how they will get children on track to be grade-level readers by the end of the 3rd grade, the crucial point at which students shift from learning to read to reading to learn. The national campaign is a project of several funders and is being headed up by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which invests heavily in efforts to improve early childhood and strengthen families. Cities as large as Los Angeles and Chicago are part of the network, along with smaller communities such as Gulfport, Miss., and Eau Claire, Wis.

My colleague Catherine Gewertz gave meaty treatment to this issue in an Ed Week story last year. Her piece focused on various state initiatives, as well as the national campaign on early literacy.

As part of their plans to improve early literacy, each community has proposed strategies for addressing three key issues that affect the development of children's reading skills: school readiness, school attendance, and summer learning time.

The school-readiness piece is obviously huge for early-childhood educators. In many cases, children from poor families are less likely to attend preschool than their more affluent peers and are less likely to be engaged in literacy activities with their parents at home. For those reasons, cities must include strategies in their plans to address those opportunity gaps in the early years.

In Springfield, Mass., for example, family child-care providers are attending six-week classes with early-learning experts to give them the information they need to develop children's literacy skills and to share tips with parents.

In Kansas City, Mo., where the region's largest school district recently lost its state accreditation, city officials spell out the the sobering statistics they face in boosting literacy in the metropolitan area. Just one in three students in the Kansas City region leave 3rd grade reading at grade-level proficiency and even in the region's highest-performing district, that rate reaches just 56 percent.

The region has nearly one quarter of a million adults who are functionally illiterate, many of whom are parents and caregivers to children. And only 15 percent of children who are eligible for Head Start preschool services are enrolled.

Kansas City and its partners in the "Turning the Page" plan have a few strategies to address the school readiness issue: developing indicators that will help determine a child's readiness for school, creating assessments to measure that readiness, and communicating to families the importance of early literacy and their role in supporting that.

You can read also read Cincinnati's plan and watch a video about Sacramento's strategy.

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