May 25, 2015
Early reading critical to bridging opportunity gap for boys of color
For those of us involved in the fight for educational equality, it was especially painful to watch the media coverage of Baltimore this past week. Here is a city that in so many ways is making real and measurable gains. However, this city of strength and progress now finds itself joined to a tragic litany of cities where tension between law enforcement and communities of color has boiled over into violence, fueled immeasurably by the underlying systemic issues of poverty, racism, and inequity.
Today, a number of individuals, organizations, and initiatives are taking bold steps to tackle these very issues head-on, to stem the “sense of unfairness” President Obama addressed in remarks he made at an event in New York on Monday.
I was proud to be part of that announcement at Lehman College, and am honored to serve on the advisory council for the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Alliance, an organization supported by President Obama, business leaders, and social entrepreneurs to address the special challenges that confront boys and young men of color. My Brother’s Keeper will take a ‘cradle to career’ approach in ensuring that there are supports and interventions at the most critical junctures in childhood and youth development.
Early reading is one of the most important of these milestones. Reading scores have been shown by numerous studies to be one of the strongest predictors of where kids will go in life. Children who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers,
The challenge is significant. Currently, only one out of five boys and young men of color are reading at grade level by fourth grade. The national needle on early reading achievement has fluctuated by only a few percentage points over the last 20 years. We stand with the president, MBK Alliance, and others in the commitment to double the number of boys of color reading at grade-level by fourth grade.
The good news is we know what works. Quality summer school through programs like BELL have been shown by rigorous research to substantially improve reading achievement, as have pre-K programs like Educare and community-led tutoring programs like Reading Partners. These programs have also been shown to be relatively inexpensive and cost-efficient uses of both philanthropic and taxpayer dollars.
Business and philanthropy have committed more than $80 million toward My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, but this is just a drop in the bucket compared to the need. More than 4 million boys of color struggle with reading in elementary schools across the country. To roll out pre-K, summer school, and tutoring for millions of boys and young men of color will require vastly greater resources and a true public-private partnership with government investing alongside business to fund what works.
Schools are at the epicenter of our children’s lives. They are the places of knowledge, hope, and learning. They can galvanize the community and unite individuals in a common cause — to bring individuals together, including law enforcement, all working toward better communities for everyone.
If we do this right, we will not only improve academic achievement and the overall quality of life for boys and young men of color, we can also send a message to them of compassion and encouragement.
The president, through My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, has asked all of us to be leaders for our boys and young men of color. For this to work, for us to truly break this devastating cycle, we need whole communities to commit. There is a role for everyone to play, whether through politics, volunteerism, or philanthropy. It is up to all of us now to step up and work together to create lasting change.