Well-Read? Not Our Third-Graders, Unfortunately

Only three of every 10 third-graders in the 87,000-student Fort Worth Independent School District are reading on grade level. Why should business owners care? Here’s why.

By Karen Vermaire Fox
Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth

Let’s talk Fort Worth and literacy. This is not another article on why kids can’t read (although only 28 percent of Fort Worth third-graders are reading on grade level currently). This is an article on what Fort Worth is doing about that fact.

With more than 830,000 residents, Fort Worth is one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. and ranked among the best cities in which to raise a family and to find a job. But only three of every 10 third-graders in the 87,000-student Fort Worth Independent School District are reading on grade level, ready to read to learn in fourth grade and beyond.

There is an indisputable need in Fort Worth to change course, improve early childhood literacy, ensure that our children have the opportunity to reach their potential and strengthen the future workforce. Championed by Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Superintendent Kent Scribner and BNSF Executive Chair Matt Rose, Fort Worth is forming an unprecedented coalition of business, civic, education, philanthropic, nonprofit and volunteer leaders to ensure that 100 percent of Fort Worth third-graders are reading to learn - not learning to read - by 2025.

Why should you care? Here are a just a few interesting facts to consider:

  • In Texas, 39 percent of third-graders are reading to learn. In El Paso, 38 percent of third-graders are reading to learn compared to 28 percent of third-graders in Fort Worth. Austin, Houston and San Antonio third-graders are more prepared than third-graders in Fort Worth.
  • For the past 25 years, the per capita income in Fort Worth has been lower in both Texas and the U.S. when adjusted for inflation.
  • The tax base in the past 20 years has dropped to 41 percent commercial from 56 percent, with the residential base shouldering 59 percent of the burden.
  • More surprisingly significant is the fact that our population in poverty has increased to 19 percent from 14 percent over the last 25 years, and this is well above the U.S. poverty rate.

Not only is focusing on reading to learn the right thing to do -  it is what must happen to provide Fort Worth with an educated workforce that can bring about the economic development we need to improve our community.

There is a plan in place for action. It’s called a “collective impact approach,” to be facilitated by The Fort Worth Literacy Partnership. Rather than create something totally new, the Partnership will support collective work already happening and focus on:

  • Using data to engage community expertise to identify key challenges and levers to act upon.
  • Creating and maintaining a public web portal that allows users to monitor campus progress toward the 100x25 goal. The preliminary website is www.ReadFortWorth.com.
  • Communicating data and practices that work to drive behavior change.
  • Celebrating bright spots, especially in schools where students are beating the odds despite challenges. Spreading success from bright spots schools to others with similar demographics and challenges.
  • Measuring campus reading assessment results, both annually and periodically throughout the school year to identify what works and where course correction is needed.
  • Engaging the community in broad, structured efforts to advance early childhood literacy efforts toward the 100x25 goal.

That part about engaging the community is important. It is where the citizens of Fort Worth, those with kids in any kind of schooling program and those without kids at all, get involved.

Improving our education system has been top goal for the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth (REC of GFW) for the last five years. The members of The Council remain engaged and ready to make sure all third-graders are reading to learn. As the partnership grows, REC of GFW will support the overall year-one deliverables of the Literacy Partnership to promote effective volunteer reading programs in our schools, support a common pre-enrollment period to increase overall enrollment, promote and support a 2017 summer literacy campaign and watch for improvements on the public web portal. REC of GFW looks forward to engaging the rest of Fort Worth in this imperative agenda as well.

Karen Vermaire Fox represents the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth, a unified voice for the commercial real estate industry. The Council is a regular contributor to FW Inc.