This we know: Reading by third grade predicts children’s long-term success in school. Literacy opens every other door. Yet fully two-thirds of Boston’s third-graders failed to read at grade level this year.
This lag presents one of the most urgent educational and public health issues of the 21st century. In our increasingly global, knowledge-based economy, illiteracy limits children’s ability to succeed academically, secure a promising future, and improve their own physical, social, and emotional health, as well as that of their families and communities.
Boston is in a unique position to become the first city with universal third-grade reading proficiency. It has an immense pool of potential reading tutors: over 360,000 college students in Greater Boston-area institutions. These college students could be the backbone of a new literacy program targeting the city’s second-graders.
This solution would be called the Boston Tutor Corps, and as ambitious as it sounds, it could be implemented with current resources. By taking advantage of the America Reads waiver to the federal work-study program—in which the government pays the full wages of work-study students who serve as reading mentors or tutors to young children—the City of Boston could run the program without incurring significant new expenses.
To launch this plan requires a knowledgeable and motivated mayor who will view this issue from both an educational and public health perspective. He’ll need buy-in from universities to supply the tutors; high-performing schools to produce a tutoring curriculum; and a diverse group of educators to train the tutors.
Reading proficiency increases the likelihood of on-time high school graduation and college readiness. At this juncture, with a new mayor, now is the time for Boston to truly prepare our children to flourish in the world of their future.
Diana Lam is the head of school at Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton.