That means books, of course, but also food, vaccines, high-quality language-rich learning environments, engaged parents and effective teachers. We cannot expect children to learn to read when they are hungry, sick or in harmful environments.
Our goal is that in 2020, all Georgia’s third-graders will be reading proficiently. This requires attention to four pillars:
First, language nutrition. On average, children born into low-income families arrive in kindergarten having heard 30 million fewer words than their peers from more financially stable homes — hence the launch of the “Talk With Me Baby” campaign. To achieve our goal, all children must participate in language-rich adult-child interactions, which are as critical for brain development as healthy food is for physical growth.
Second, access. All children and their families must have access to high-quality educational opportunities including pre-k, Head Start, child care, k-3, after-school and summer learning. They must also have access to support and intervention services that will allow them to take advantage of that education — safe housing, healthy food, safe transportation, and health and dental care.
Third, productive learning climates. All educators, families and policymakers must understand and address the impact of learning climate on children’s social and emotional development, school attendance, engagement and, ultimately, student success. All these stakeholders must take seriously their responsibility to focus attention not only on curriculum, but on the environmental quality of the school.
Fourth, teacher preparation and effectiveness. Teachers of children ages birth through 8 years have a tremendous impact on the language and literacy development of their students. This means educators must provide high-quality, evidence-informed instruction and effective learning experiences tailored to the needs of each child, regardless of the child’s background. Early childhood teachers must view themselves as change-makers, rather than caretakers. System and school leaders must be committed to ensuring teachers have the skills and resources to be effective.
When we discuss the ability of our children to read proficiently by the end of third grade, we are discussing education. We are also discussing the future of our state — its business prospects and vibrancy and the experiences it is able to offer to its citizens. Reading proficiently begins by talking and reading to your child at home, and continues with competent instruction in the classroom. We must ensure our children are not left behind. Let’s work together to get Georgia’s children reading.