Business leaders unite to boost 3rd-grade literacy, slash US skills gap

North Carolina CEOs first to act on Business Roundtable policy blueprint

The leaders of some of North Carolina’s most prominent businesses are convinced that increasing third-grade literacy nationwide, particularly in North Carolina, is pivotal in reversing the “skills gap” and developing a workforce geared for a global economy. As a major first step, the group is spearheading the national release of Why Reading Matters and What To Do About It, a report from the Business Roundtable (BRT).

“Early literacy is the foundation for building the highly skilled workforce required for our knowledge-based economy,” said SAS CEO Jim Goodnight, who led BRT’s CEO task force that developed the report. “Current low reading proficiency among young students is deeply troubling; we must take steps now to address the problem.”

Joining Goodnight in the campaign are:

  • Venessa Harrison, President, AT&T North Carolina
  • Dale Jenkins, CEO, Medical Mutual Insurance Company of North Carolina
  • Mike Lamach, CEO, Ingersoll Rand
  • Brian Moynihan, CEO, Bank of America, N.A.
  • Tom Nelson, CEO, National Gypsum Company
  • Jim Whitehurst, CEO, Red Hat, Inc.

According to the BRT report, the “skills gap” is only expanding:

  • Nearly 98 percent of BRT CEOs report challenges finding workers with the right skills.
  • Experts predict a nationwide shortfall of 5 million workers to fill jobs requiring postsecondary education or training by 2020.
  • In North Carolina, 67 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education or training by 2020.

How do you fill these jobs when our country’s future workforce cannot read proficiently? As the report outlines:

  • Students who cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than those with better reading skills.
  • Students with strong reading skills at the end of third grade are much more likely to seek post-secondary education or training.
  • Only one in three American students currently demonstrates reading proficiency on national assessments of educational progress in fourth grade; rates are even worse for minority and low-income students.
  • If nothing changes, it will take another 30 years for even half of American fourth graders to read proficiently.

The full report, along with the complete set of pragmatic solutions proposed by America’s CEOs, are available here.

Goodnight and his fellow NC business leaders see the BRT report, and its recommendations, as particularly salient for their state. North Carolina’s “Read to Achieve” legislative initiative aims at the same target of reading proficiency by the end of third grade. Toward that goal, BRT’s North Carolina CEOs are pressing for three policies:

  • A comprehensive, coordinated system that ensures accountability and alignment of birth-through-age-8 programs needed to achieve literacy.
  • Connected data systems that track children’s progress and enable early interventions.
  • Expanded access to NC Pre-K to create the foundation for literacy skills.

Later today, these CEOs will present their policy recommendations to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, Speaker of the House Tim Moore and other members of the General Assembly. “We will make every effort to convince North Carolina’s political leaders to embrace the BRT’s recommendations and use them to benefit our children and our economy,” Goodnight concluded.

The CEOs visited a local elementary school to speak to the press about the report:

  • Charles Bowman, Bank of America Market President for North Carolina and Charlotte, representing Moynihan: “We need a comprehensive birth-through-age-8 system designed to maximize program, funding and administrative efficiencies, with clear accountability for implementation and operation.”
  • Venessa Harrison, President, AT&T North Carolina: “Extensive, rigorous research – all detailed in the Business Roundtable report – demonstrates that high-quality pre-K programs, delivered at scale to thousands of children, can significantly improve student readiness for kindergarten.”
  • Dale Jenkins, CEO, Medical Mutual Insurance Company of North Carolina: “Public education is the path forward. The recommendations we are making here today will strengthen our entire education system – in both our urban and rural areas.”
  • Tom Nelson, CEO, National Gypsum Company: “We recognize that increasing access to high-quality pre-K has a significant cost. But when such extensive research shows that these programs get children on the path to reading proficiency, it is money well spent.”
  • Jim Whitehurst, CEO, Red Hat: “In order to ensure North Carolina children are on track to reading at grade level by third grade, we need to understand all of the indicators that research tells us impact early literacy.”

About BRT

Established in 1972, Business Roundtable is an association of chief executive officers of leading US companies working to promote sound public policy and a thriving US economy. Business Roundtable CEOs lead companies with more than $6 trillion in annual revenues and nearly 15 million employees.

About SAS

SAS is the leader in analytics. Through innovative software and services, SAS empowers and inspires customers around the world to transform data into intelligence. SAS gives you THE POWER TO KNOW®.

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