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Local groups launch ambitious READ by 4th literacy campaign

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The School District, along with the city and key businesses and nonprofit groups, has embarked on a campaign to have all 4th graders proficient in reading by 2020.

Called READ by 4th, the effort is part of the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which was launched by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and now includes more than 150 communities nationwide.

Each locale must develop a plan, raise money, and form a coalition. The campaign is working with school districts. The coalition-building aims to enhance and align all the services and resources in a community toward this end.

In Philadelphia, the coalition includes more than 50 organizations, among them groups focused on childhood health, literacy, and education. For instance, the Maternity Care Coalition reaches out to teen parents. (Disclosure: The Notebook is one of the groups involved, having committed to report on the campaign.)

The coalition has created a blueprint and embarked on several initiatives in the areas of boosting attendance, providing enriching and literacy-based summer activities, and improving access to high-quality early learning opportunities.

That means both improving child care centers and preschools and educating parents so they engage in literacy-building activities with their children from the beginning.

According to a comprehensive plan put together by the coalition, in 2012, 51 percent of Philadelphia’s 13,855 third graders in District and charter schools could not read on grade level.

The data showed a distinct achievement gap. Nearly 70 percent of White students and 57 percent of Asians reached that level, compared to less than 40 percent of African Americans and Latinos. The numbers were lower for special education students and English language learners.

Having all 8-year-olds reading on grade level is one of the pillars of Superintendent William Hite’s strategic plan.

“Focusing the whole community around this is extremely important,” said Hite.

The READ by 4th campaign formally started at an August event at the McVeigh Recreation Center, where literacy activities were infused into traditional summer camp.

“If we can provide for a child to learn to read, we’ve gone a long way to solving the problems we are faced with as a city and a country,” Hite said at the kickoff.

Currently led by Public Citizens for Children and Youth and the Urban Affairs Coalition, the campaign is still selecting a sustaining partner that will lead it over the long haul.

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