Two in three of Nashville’s third-graders cannot read on grade level – a challenge Nashville has wrestled with for more than two decades. This week, civic, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations are addressing the problem.
The group, the Nashville Literacy Collaborative (NLC), hopes to double the number of third-graders who read on grade level by 2025 through what they call the “Blueprint for Early Childhood Success.” The group is comprised of members of the Nashville Public Library (NPL) and the Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF).
The recommendations focus on a set of six comprehensive pillars of work: strengthen birth-through-age-3 supports, improving quality and access to pre-K, strengthen the district’s ability to meet student literacy needs, substantially reduce chronic absenteeism, stem the tide on summer reading loss, better maximize out-of-school time, and raise public consciousness of the importance and urgency of early literacy.
Equally important as the recommendations, the group collectively set outcomes for success and the measures to evaluate progress.
“Nashville and Davidson County’s children deserve the best opportunities possible, and we must meet them at all points in this critical time in their lives,” Mayor Barry said. “ …We can and must do better for all of our students to have a chance at success.”
Currently, only 34 percent of third-graders in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) read at grade level by the end of third grade – an early milestone that is often viewed as a leading indicator of later student success. Research shows there is a direct correlation between kids who miss this milestone and high school drop-out rates.
“Literacy is vital for our students’ success and one of the school district’s top priorities,” Dr. Joseph said. “But there are gaps that the district cannot solve alone. It’s incredibly encouraging to see a citywide strategy to support our work. The community has rallied around our students’ needs, and I’m confident that one concerted, unified effort will lead to significant gains in third-grade literacy.”
Part of the research that went into creating the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success was completing an inventory of existing community efforts, exploring national best practices and surveying schools about on-the-ground challenges, needs and perceptions. The working group also visited classrooms to understand what literacy instruction looks like today and met with MNPS leaders to understand their vision for how that needs to change and improve.
The Blueprint reflects the work of more than 1,600 hours, invested over six months, involving 200-plus community leaders and 30-plus national experts.
“Literacy is at the heart of a library,” said Kent Oliver, Nashville Public Library director. “So many of our programs, from Bringing Books to Life to story time with Wishing Chair Productions and, of course, Limitless Libraries, are at the core of our mission. We’re excited to work with all of Nashville to bring what we do every day to outside of our walls and into the community. The Blueprint helps do that and combines everyone’s strengths into one solid, integrated framework for literacy gains.”
The NPEF funded and managed research and planning resources for the collaborative, while the NPL supported the work with additional staff resources. Lipscomb Univer-sity led research, with an immediate charge of mapping existing community efforts and helping to assess where there are gaps in service, unmet needs, opportunities to think bigger and better ways to align resources. The Lipscomb team was led by Dr. Kristine LaLonde, associate dean for the College of Leadership and Public Service.