Child Literacy in Wisconsin: Two Plans, One Goal

Last week, Governor Scott Walker released the Read to Lead Task Force Recommendations report, a plan to improve reading outcomes for young children in Wisconsin. In a letter introducing the report from the Governor and  State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Evers, the Vice Chair of the task force, the plan’s key components are laid out:

• Early literacy screening for all four and five year old kindergartners;
• Improvements to teacher preparation programs around early reading, including a new, more rigorous, reading exam for reading educators;
• Aggressive professional development opportunities to enhance the skills of current reading educators, including a new online professional development portal and an annual reading conference; and
• Creation of a public-private partnership to engage Wisconsin philanthropies and businesses around the goal of ensuring every child can read by the end of 3rd

Following the release of Governor Walker’s Read to Lead report, WECA board member and UW pediatrician, Dr. Dipesh Navsaria published an op-ed in The Cap Times. Dr. Navsaria is the medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. Building on the Governor’s recommendations to increase reading levels in the early years of education, Dr. Navsaria highlights the need to begin building reading skills before children ever set foot in a classroom.

“Studies from the last 30 years indicate clearly that receptive language ability is measurably different among children growing up in different socioeconomic groups by as early as 18 months of age,” writes Dr. Navsaria. “Screening children and intervening at even age 4 is not early enough.”

Through Reach Out and Read Wisconsin, Dr. Navsaria says by using the current framework of health checkups, pediatricians can encourage families to share books and read together. By introducing reading into everyday conversations, families with at-risk children are more likely to share books, resulting in higher language levels.

To help, Reach Out and Read Wisconsin provides each child with a book, given to them by their health care provider, who then monitors the child’s interaction with the book.

“With an intervention that costs roughly $5 per encounter, this is an inexpensive, powerful way to help children during the period of time when their brains are most malleable,” says Dr. Navsaria, “and, ideally, ensure that they are arriving at school equipped to learn.”

Through the Governor’s Read to Lead recommendations and through programs like Reach Out and Read, Wisconsin’s children will become better prepared for school, and better prepared for life beyond the classroom.

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