Promoting Third Grade Reading Proficiency the Right Way

By Theresa Lynn

Over 120 cities, including Boston, recently applied for the 2012 All-American City Award. The focus of this year’s award is third grade reading proficiency. This national focus is great news for ReadBoston , a nonprofit organization that, under the leadership of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, has been focused on third grade reading since 1995.

The All-American City Award is just one of many recent calls for increased attention to literacy outcomes. In fact, there is growing consensus among elected officials, policy makers, school leaders, and philanthropists that reading proficiency by the end of third grade for all of our children is one of the most important goals of our society. The Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, the Anne E. Casey Foundation, and districts around the country have joined the crusade to improve third grade reading results.

More attention and more money, of course, is all good news. But we already spend a lot of money on education, especially in Massachusetts. MA is 10 th in the nation in per pupil spending. Add to that the millions spent by local nonprofits on academic programs. Although we have been making progress in Boston, it has not been the kind of radical improvement that we need to see for our at-risk students.

In other words, significant resources are key but are not the only necessary element. Setting the right investment priorities is also important. We need to focus on the strategies that have the largest impact, and not be afraid to shed the strategies that have little impact. We also need to be clear that high-impact strategies are often more expensive, more complicated, and have a longer timeframe.

Increased funding for one-time workshops, the development of new curriculum that never gets fully implemented, and a reading event at a school is not going to create proficient readers. Providing funding for a series of parent sessions without providing funding for childcare, transportation, dinner and support materials, such as books and puzzles, to take home is not going to reach the families that need it most. Our most at-risk children need high-quality instruction, a language and literacy-rich out-of-school environment, access to appropriate books, and appropriate individualized interventions when needed.

Let’s not take this opportunity of increased attention and funding and waste it. Let’s ‘seize the moment’ wisely and invest in what works.


Theresa Lynn

Theresa Lynn is the executive director of ReadBoston .