Points of View

How West Michigan can help Governor Whitmer address literacy crisis

Alex Andrews

 When Gretchen Whitmer took the oath of office January 1 as Michigan’s 49th governor, her inaugural address included a commitment to ensuring “everyone in the state has the education and skills needed to compete for good-paying jobs.” 


She also zeroed in on one of foundational ways to address that goal: “Let’s show the rest of the country how to solve America’s literacy crisis.” 



The new governor has her work cut out for her: Michigan is one of only five states showing declines in early literacy since 2003. And yet, it is indisputable that early literacy is critical to the education and skill of our future workforce – and collaborative efforts in West Michigan have discovered some promising approaches that could help.

 

In 2017, Talent 2025 identified Early Literacy one of its two priorities – along with Workforce Diversity and Inclusion – to make West Michigan a top 20 employment region.  

 

Two of our Working Groups – Early Childhood Development and K-12 Education – collaborated on a “Roadmap to Regional Literacy,” a landmark proposal to increase and improve early literacy in the region, starting with a recognition of where the need is greatest.

 

It’s a complicated problem

The report identified multiple factors that contribute to illiteracy:

     ·A need for high-quality early literacy instruction in preschool programs

     ·Inadequate early literacy training for teachers and principals

     ·Households with low-literacy levels

     ·Poverty

 

It’s worth noting that the role of poverty was recently reinforced by MSTEP reading assessments of third-grade reading scores for 2017-18. The results showed a troubling correlation in West Michigan districts: The poorer the district, the worse the reading scores.

 

Why is early literacy so important? When children are not proficient readers by third grade, their chances of becoming proficient later are minimal. And we know that kids who can read by third grade are more likely to be college- and career-ready by the time they graduate high school.

 

This is an opportunity we owe all our children, and Governor Whitmer agrees. In her issues statement on education, Whitmer has expressed support for making sure that “every child, regardless of zip code, has exposure to a full curriculum of classes and opportunities to discover the right path to their future.”

 

Building a foundation for tomorrow’s workforce

So how do we reach out to all children early, give them a chance, and improve the overall literacy of our region? The Talent 2025 report set specific goals and targeted approaches.

 

The goals included:

     ·Ensuring every child in the 13-county Talent 2025 region enters kindergarten ready for school.

     ·Increase third grade reading and writing proficiency in our region to at least 80% by 2025.

     ·Have 95% of West Michigan adults aged 25 and older secure a high school diploma or GED.

 

The good news is that many of the strategies laid out in the report already are showing results.

 

Talent 2025 continues to work with Ready for School as an education partner to scale Reach Out and Read, a remarkably successful program that incorporates books into pediatric care, encouraging families to read aloud together. And the High-Impact Leadership initiative is now midway through year one working with 75 West Michigan elementary schools in the Reading Now Network to improve building level leadership – a key factor in early literacy success. Successful models for Adult Basic Education have been identified for potential scaling, such as Integrated Education and Training, which combines adult education funding with workforce development funding.

 

These efforts and others in West Michigan offer promise that the literacy crisis targeted by Governor Whitmer can be solved. This is an opportunity, as stated in her inaugural address, to show the way to the rest of the country.

 

What are your thoughts about the literacy crisis? Do you have thoughts on how Governor Whitmer should address it on a state level? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.