Prepping our youth for success in North Carolina

Dear Friends:

What’s the single most important thing North Carolina can do to reverse the “skills gap” facing our state while preparing students for success in college and career?

The answer may surprise you: increase the reading proficiency of third-graders.

That’s the conclusion of a new report entitled “Why Reading Matters and What to Do About It.” Released by the U.S. Business Roundtable, it was prepared by a task force of national business CEOs under the direction of Dr. Jim Goodnight of SAS in Cary.

This report is consistent with the foundation for the AT&T Aspire program, AT&T’s signature philanthropic initiative, which is accelerating the learning revolution and connecting it to the people who need it most. With a financial commitment of $400 million since 2008, AT&T is leveraging technology, relationships and social innovation to help all students make their biggest dreams a reality. Our employees are also involved and have impacted more than 260,000 students through 1.6 million hours of mentoring.

I recently had the opportunity to join Dr. Goodnight, Jim Whitehurst of Red Hat, Tom Nelson of National Gypsum and other business leaders in a press conference at Creech Road Elementary School in Raleigh to unveil the report. After reading with some students, either from printed books or a tablet, we then visited with Gov. Roy Cooper, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, and House Speaker Tim Moore to discuss the report’s implications for our state.

Projections indicate that, by 2020, 67% of North Carolina jobs will require post-secondary education or training. That’s a problem because only 42% of North Carolinians today have the education required for these future jobs. And closing the gap will be a major challenge, as 66% of high school graduates are not proficient in reading.

The problem begins early and the consequences linger. Research shows that if students are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade, they very rarely “catch up” with their classmates. In fact, these students are 4 times more likely to leave school without a diploma.

The Business Roundtable is proposing a 6-step policy agenda to develop student reading proficiency necessary in today’s economy. The focus is to ensure children have strong early literacy skills, as they enter kindergarten, and then systematically build on that foundation to help all students achieve reading proficiency by the end of third grade.
Here in North Carolina, we have the “Read to Achieve” legislation already focusing attention on the importance of reading proficiency by the end of third grade. And our NC Pre-K program, which helps 4-year-old children make greater gains in literacy and other important developmental areas, is considered a national model.

Three North Carolina-specific proposals, based upon the BRT’s recommendations, could help the state take additional steps toward strengthening third-grade literacy:

• Implement a comprehensive, coordinated system that ensures accountability and alignment of birth-through-age-8 programs needed to achieve literacy.

• Develop connected data systems that track children’s progress and allow for early interventions; and

• Expand access to NC Pre-K for all eligible children.

I know first-hand how important high-quality pre-K can be for success in later life. I’m looking forward to working with Gov. Cooper, Sen. Berger, Speaker Moore and other leaders to ensure that all North Carolina children have the reading skills needed for a positive, productive future.


Venessa Harrison
President, AT&T North Carolina

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As the president of AT&T Georgia, Venessa Harrison is responsible for developing the overall strategic direction of AT&T's public policy and corporate activities across the state of Georgia.

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