The nomination of Pittsfield Promise for a national educational award is a tribute to the fast start of the city-based literacy program targeting young children. To help assure that all of the state's young students will benefit from this kind of concerted effort, the Legislature should pass a bill designed to increase third-grade reading proficiency in Massachusetts schools before the end of this session next month.
Pittsfield Promise is one of 32 finalists for an All-America City award, which is part of a program designed to help schools have at least 90 percent of third-graders reading proficiently by 2020. Sixty percent of Pittsfield's third-graders are now reading proficiently, a percentage that is consistent with the state level, but as Pittsfield Promise leader John Bissell, the executive vice president of Greylock Federal Credit Union, said last week at a meeting with The Eagle, there is a substantial achievement gap among third-graders and the 40 percent whose reading is sub-standard need assistance so they can do better.
Placing the emphasis on third-graders is far from arbitrary. "Up until third grade, children are learning how to read; after third grade, they're reading to learn," said Amy O'Leary, director for the statewide advocacy organization Strategies for Children's Early Education for All campaign at The Eagle meeting. Educators are convinced that third grade is the turning point for reading proficiency, which will have a huge impact on how students perform in all of their classes as they move forward. Those who do well are far less likely to drop out and more likely to move on academically and eventually in an increasingly competitive workplace.
Pittsfield Promise, which is getting the entire city, and at some point ideally, the county involved in improving literary proficiency for young students, is joining Strategies for Children in supporting the legislative initiative to involve Massachusetts in the same cause. Among its provisions, Bill H.4152 would establish an Early Literacy Expert Panel to make recommendations on improving literary in early education programs through third grade, including ways of getting parents more involved at this critical stage. We urge the Berkshire delegation to join this effort to enable all young students to read to learn.