A bold vision for early literacy

Tony Salazar, executive director of the Colorado Education Association, and Zack Neumeyer, chairman of Colorado Succeeds, co-authored an editorial in the Denver Post, published September 6, affirming mutual support for Learn to Read, Read to Learn.  The Hickenlooper Administration is partnering with Mile High United Way in a $3 million grant for the early childhood literacy program, which will support  improving young children’s literacy skills and engaging parents over the next three to five years.  The grant is from the Washington, D.C.-based Corporation for National and Community Service.

Colorado Succeeds is a nonprofit organization of business leaders who are working on public education issues.  The joint column is a public way to affirm our Association’s partnership with organizations that share our values in working toward greater student achievement and quality public education.

A bold vision for early literacy

By Tony Salazar and Zack Neumeyer

Educators and the business community have been waiting to see what Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration would do to improve K-12 education in the state.

Inquiring minds were eager to know how Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia’s education experience and credentials would be brought to bear on the matter.  

We now know that the Governor’s office is taking aim at the right target.  

This week, a coalition of nonprofits, business groups, educators, and policymakers converged for the Learn to Read, Read to Learn forum to address Colorado’s third grade literacy crisis.  The gathering of local and national experts focused on supporting the 26 percent of Colorado’s third graders who score below proficient on the state’s literacy assessment.  

While reading comes easy to many, it’s a very complex process to turn written symbols into meaningful language.  More than 16,000 children in Colorado are struggling to connect letters and words into a rich understanding of sentences and stories through traditional instruction.  

Here are the frightening stakes: students who do not read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out than their peers, making literacy one of the strongest predictors of a student’s likelihood to graduate high-school – an even stronger indicator than students living in poverty.

At the forum, Garcia impressed educators and business leaders alike by explicitly taking the lead on early childhood literacy, sharing his goal for Colorado children to read at grade level or beyond by the end of the third grade. This is a promising signal and a bold aspiration, because early literacy skill is the best academic tool you can give to any student, regardless of their background or circumstance.  

“Reading success matters to this state’s future, and we need to combine our efforts, our imagination and our commitment to a shared vision to ensure that every student becomes a successful reader,” said Garcia.  

He stressed the relationship between education and the economy. “We know that the future of Colorado’s economy really turns on our ability to address this issue successfully. We need to have a globally competitive workforce, and we can’t have that if we are not reaching such a significant number of our young people,” Garcia added.  

Making these words a reality requires real collaboration among business, education and civic groups, all working with common purpose to find solutions that help children from the first day of kindergarten to the last day of their senior year.  

All of Colorado’s students need to graduate from high school and enter college and the workforce with the skills to succeed.  Currently, only 74 percent of Colorado’s students graduate from high school and only 35 percent enter college without needing remediation.  

Is it coincidence that Colorado’s 26 percent dropout rate is equal to the 26 percent of students who can’t read at grade level by the end of third grade?   

Perhaps. However, this is not a philosophical debate about a chicken or an egg and which came first. This is a straightforward concept. Children must learn to read by the end of third grade so they can read to learn for the rest of school and life.

The Colorado Education Association and Colorado Succeeds and are proud to work together with this administration to ensure young children can read at grade level.  When a business leader and a union leader come together, take note, as it must be for a universal goal of enormous consequence. Solving Colorado’s early literacy crisis is, and of the many expectations we have of the public education system, we can all agree that reading proficiency is the most fundamental.  

We applaud and support Gov. Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Garcia for acknowledging this crisis, setting it as a priority and committing to this cause.



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