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Grade-Level Reading Becomes Urgent Priority in Maryland

November 28, 2011

HAMPSTEAD, Md. - Schools can't do it alone, and that's why Baltimore and more than 150 other cities around the country will make early literacy an urgent priority for 2012. The push comes as statistics show that two-thirds of U.S. schoolchildren are not proficient readers as they finish the early grades, and research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows that once children miss that benchmark, they're far more likely to drop out of school later.

Ron Fairchild, CEO of the Smarter Learning Group in Hampstead, says too many kids enter kindergarten already behind, too many young children miss too many days of school, and kids can backslide academically during holiday and summer vacations.

"If kids aren't engaged in constructive learning activities, they lose ground. Most importantly, kids in lower income communities lose the most ground academically, particularly in the area of reading."

The communities have joined the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading network and are competing for All-America City Awards that recognize quality literacy projects.

Ralph Smith is leading the campaign nationally for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, where he is senior vice president. He sees creative opportunities that have yet to be tapped.

"Recreation centers, churches and congregations, libraries, and athletic programs; communities can create literacy-rich programs."

Ron Fairchild says there's a lot of research showing that reading and other educational basics aren't just classroom lessons.

"Just like we would expect an athlete or musician's performance to suffer if they didn't practice, the same thing is true for our nation's young people."

A Casey Foundation report shows that poor children who don't read proficiently are 13 times more likely not to finish high school, compared to good readers who have never lived in poverty.

Details on the All-America City Awards are at ht.ly/7GpXQ.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation report, "Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation," is at ht.ly/7GpVa.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD