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National leader urges on KC effort to improve child literacy

Updated: 2013-06-11T05:52:52Z

By JOE ROBERTSON

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City’s Turn the Page KC crusade rallied its forces Monday, and a national leader in America’s early reading campaign liked what he saw.

Kansas City can “close the gap between what we know … and what we do about it,” Ralph Smith said.

Smith, the managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and a senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, saw in full measure a lot of what is known.

First came the facts. Most children are not reading at grade level by the third grade. The ramifications run deep, with poor school performance producing dropouts and the greater likelihood of such life experiences as early pregnancy, unemployment and even prison.

It also is known that a determined universe of educators, social service providers and business and community leaders have long understood that the conditions must change.

That much also was clear by the fullness of the crowd in the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s board room in Union Station.

But what to do about it?

More than 100 cities are now joined in the grade-level reading network, but Smith said he feels Kansas City may be in a particularly strong position to help answer that question.

The Turn the Page KC effort, launched by Mayor Sly James in early 2012, has a range of partners and the makings of an intensive data collection effort that “is very exciting,” Smith said.

A dozen or more agencies are working with the Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium to generate and share the test data and other performance measures.

“The role of this campaign is to get good ideas,” Smith told The Star before Monday’s rally. “There has been an abundance of good will (in many efforts to improve early reading), but not within a structure to be as effective as we want to be.”

He hopes Kansas City will prove to hearten the national campaign, finding things that work and inspiring greater effort.

“People need to be persuaded that there is potential for success,” he said. “What crystallizes the moral imperative to act is the feeling you can make a difference.”

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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