Why CEOs Want to Improve Literacy Among Third-Graders

The Business Roundtable is taking the long view on improving the skills gap for corporations with its most recent report, and some of its members are already following its lead on literacy issues.

The Business Roundtable represents many of the country’s leading CEOs, but the group’s new report is all about helping those who won’t even have a chance to enter the C-suite for decades.

Why? Because it wants to ensure they succeed in the workforce later on.

Specifically, the group is trying to give third-graders a leg up on literacy. Business Roundtable recently released a report about the importance of early reading, which it says is important to improving the skills gap in the long run.

“Students who develop strong reading skills at an early age are much more likely to graduate from high school and seek postsecondary education and training,” the group writes in its report, titled Why Reading Matters [PDF]. “In addition, research consistently shows that reading itself is one of the most commonly and intensively used skills among all types of jobs across the entire U.S. economy, including jobs that require no education or training beyond high school. In fact, the economic returns from reading proficiently are higher in the United States than in nearly every other developed country.”

Why the focus on the third grade rather than later on? Because, according to research, that grade is often a good tell of whether a student is likely to drop out of high school. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of third-graders who have below even a basic mastery of reading are likely to drop out before age 19, says research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. That’s a significant difference compared with the 4 percent of third-grade students who are proficient in reading who later drop out.

And those education issues create problems down the line, both for students and employers. According to the report, nearly 98 percent of CEOs report having problems finding employees with the skills needed to succeed.

The Business Roundtable report offers a series of policy suggestions to help improve literacy in children (including student assessments and high-quality full-day kindergarten), but it also offers ways for CEOs to get involved—largely through corporate advocacy.

“Advocacy organizations and coalitions can provide assistance in drafting editorials and letters in support of the pre-K through third-grade reading agenda,” the report suggests. “With your name on it, even one well-placed opinion piece or letter can make a significant difference.”

In North Carolina, a few top executives are taking that point to heart. This week, leaders from seven companies, led by the business intelligence firm SAS, committed to using their influence to help close the literacy gap both nationwide and in their home state.

“Early literacy is the foundation for building the highly skilled workforce required for our knowledge-based economy,” SAS CEO Jim Goodnight, who assisted with the original report, explained in a news release. “Current low reading proficiency among young students is deeply troubling; we must take steps now to address the problem.”

The CEOs—also including leaders from Bank of America, Red Hat, and AT&T, among others—recently shared their recommendations with the state’s governor, Roy Cooper.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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