Nashville’s Urgent Early Literacy Challenge
There are a lot of exciting things about Nashville today. The construction cranes and new hotels, office buildings and apartments dotting our skyline offer a real time, visual reminder of our progress.
But all this success is masking a massive, fundamental problem. For over two decades, the third grade reading scores of students in Metro Nashville have remained abysmally low. Three out of four Nashville students do not meet basic grade level reading standards by the end of third grade.
This reality, if left unchanged, spells a slow-moving disaster for our students, our workforce and our city.
Third Grade Reading Matters — A Lot
Third grade reading performance is one of the most important early benchmarks we have for predicting a student’s long-term academic and career success. Students must first ‘learn to read’ in order to ‘read to learn’ everything else in life— which makes third grade a watershed year for literacy.
Research shows the majority of children who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are likely to never catch up. They then face a cascading number of additional challenges that follow them through life –higher incidences of school discipline issues, crime and incarceration.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, one in six students not reading proficiently by the end of third grade will not earn a high school diploma. Every child without a high school diploma costs society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and productivity — a number that will increase dramatically as low-skills jobs continue to disappear and demand for skilled work increases.
Today, adults without a high school degree earn only half as much annually as their peers who graduated. As more of our jobs require a skill or credential beyond high school, those who do not have a high school education will only fall further behind.
The Need in Nashville is Now
Nashville Metro Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph prioritized the issue early in his administration and helped give way to an unprecedented coming together of community partners to develop the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success – a citywide framework for helping us make significant gains on an accelerated path. That plan recently won Nashville certification as a Campaign for Grade Level Reading Community.
The plan is a great first step, but our city is at a pivotally important juncture. The hard work really starts with implementation. As Ron Fairchild from the Campaign shared with key Nashville education groups at our first NED event, their work provides insights for Nashville on what it will take to help more students read on grade-level.
It is time to mobilize a community-wide effort, activating business, non-profit and government stakeholders around early literacy. These efforts look to make connections between support programs and engage across issues like housing, health care, and parent engagement.
This work cannot start in third grade, and it is not limited to only what happens inside the classroom. Literacy feeds off other factors like chronic absenteeism and the quality of learning before kindergarten. Closing the literacy gaps for at-risk populations means finding ways to introduce more book-rich environments and improve attendance.
Finally— and critically— our success requires a long-term commitment to stay engaged and focus on the challenge despite the temptation to become cynical or complacent.
The Call for Action
Other communities are making progress on this important issue— and we know Nashville can, too. Here are three ways to help right now:
Get involved at a local school. Whether it’s reading to kids or supporting other community efforts, people power is important. Local organizations like PENCIL4SCHOOLS connect volunteers to opportunities in schools.
Speak out. Hold our elected officials and school leaders accountable. We must remain vocal to ensure this issue stays a top priority for city leaders and all of our community. Members of the business community are also uniquely positioned to make an impact as we have an obvious interest in a healthy, educated, and competitive local workforce.
Support the Blueprint incubator. We won’t be able to reach our goal without a true public/private partnerships. The communities who have accomplished bold ambitious plans, and worked together. Find out more at https://blueprintforearlychildhoodsuccess.com/
We believe in Nashville, and if we work together, we can get there.
About the Speakers
Ron’s role with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is to serve as the director of the GLR Support Center, which functions as a hub for peer exchange, a broker of tools and technical assistance, and an accelerator of the scope and pace of change in the more than 360 communities in 43 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Canada currently involved in the Campaign. Ron fulfills this role while also serving as President and CEO of the Smarter Learning Group, a national consulting rm focused on helping education-related organizations achieve better results, build stronger partnerships, and attract more investment. Prior to launching the rm in 2011, Ron served as the founding CEO of the National Summer Learning Association and the executive director of its predecessor organization, the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University from 2002 to 2010.
The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a nationwide, collaborative effort that works to ensure more low-income children can succeed in school and life by focusing on this key indicator— grade-level reading by the end of third grade. The Campaign helps cities and leaders mobilize community-wide solutions to promote quality teaching and school readiness, improve attendance and summer learning, and engage parents.
Dr. Shawn Joseph
Dr. Shawn Joseph is the current Director of Metro Nashville Public Schools. He is an experienced educator who had fought for excellence and equity for every student he has served in his more than 20-year career. Dr. Joseph has served as a teacher, principal, district administrator, deputy superintendent and superintendent. His work has garnered national recognition, and his expertise has been sought by other districts during transitional periods.