In 2010, Governor Nathan Deal made his top education priority ensuring that all Georgia children read on grade level by the end of third grade, and the Georgia Campaign for Grade-Level Reading was launched to increase significantly the number of children achieving that milestone.
Among the early partners in the Georgia Campaign were the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Atlanta Civic Site, Atlanta Speech School, Georgia Department of Human Resources, Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), Georgia Department of Education (DOE), Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS) and United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta.
These early steps prompted a range of efforts by public and nonprofit agencies and an increased focus on early learning and literacy in the early grades. But, in late 2012, reflecting on progress to that point, the leaders of the Georgia Campaign partners concluded that the various efforts were not well aligned and therefore not as effective as they could be. In response, a steering committee of high-level leaders from statewide public, nonprofit and private organizations initiated an eight-month process designed to unite the collective energy of the many partners around a clear theory of change and common agenda for Georgia’s Campaign. The process included a variety of mechanisms to hear from and more deeply engage a broad range of stakeholders, such as interviews, a TED-like innovation forum and “learning journeys” to selected organizations and programs all over the state to mine the work of effective practices and gain insights about addressing tough issues. The process culminated in a November 2013 gathering at which more than 100 participants agreed on a clearly defined common agenda that would guide public and private action to increase reading proficiency in Georgia. The common agenda for the rebranded “Get Georgia Reading: The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading” rests on four strategic, interconnected research-based pillars that together create the conditions necessary for children to be on a path to early reading success:
- Language nutrition: Coined by the Georgia Campaign, this term refers to the use of language, beginning at birth, that is sufficiently rich in engagement, quality, quantity and context that it nourishes the child socially, neurologically and linguistically;
- Access: Year-round access to educational and supportive services for healthy development and success in early childhood and early elementary education;
- Productive learning climate: Environments that support social-emotional development, school attendance, engagement and student success; and
- Teacher preparation and effectiveness: Teachers who are able to provide high-quality, evidence-informed instruction and effective learning experiences tailored to the needs of each child.
In addition, implementation of the common agenda is guided by three principles — seamless continuity and alignment; family engagement and involvement; and local ownership and innovation.
Now united around a common agenda that is population-focused, rather than project- or sector-focused, the nearly 100 partners in Georgia’s “big tent” are aligning their work and collaborating in unprecedented ways, including pioneering innovations that are likely to advance grade-level reading efforts across the nation. A premier example is Talk With Me Baby (TWMB), a statewide initiative that aims to transform parents and caregivers into “conversational partners” with infants in order to nourish critical brain development required for higher learning. TWMB is integrating “language nutrition coaching” as a core competency of nurses and WIC nutritionists, trusted professionals who already reach virtually all new and expectant parents in Georgia. Leading Georgia Campaign partners collaborated to develop TWMB, and an even wider circle – from hospital systems, to health insurance companies, to the state’s public broadcasting organization, to corporations – is supporting statewide implementation. The effort is designed to scale rapidly across Georgia in order to reach parents of the 130,000 babies born annually in the state. Growing interest in the program – including from the White House — suggests the potential for replication in other states.
The other strategic pillars are being addressed, as well. For example:
- To increase access to healthy meals and learning during the summer, Georgia is replicating California’s Lunch at the Library initiative.
- To promote productive learning climates, the Metro Regional Education Service Agency is working with DECAL and DOE to integrate two evidence-based, data-driven frameworks for reducing discipline issues and increasing engagement, safety and learning – one targeted to early learning programs and the other to K-12 – to create an innovative model tailored to developmental stages during children’s first eight years.
- The Governor’s Reading Mentor Program in the state’s lowest-performing schools and a free online version of the Atlanta Speech School’s successful professional development program are increasing teacher preparation and effectiveness in both early learning programs and the early grades.
An important element in addressing the pillars is increased philanthropic investment, encouraged and informed by cross-sector data analysis and insight into effective approaches to increase grade-level reading.
The Get Georgia Reading Campaign characterizes itself as a platform for connecting people, agencies, organizations, sectors, disciplines, communities and regions across Georgia around a common agenda supporting the shared expectation that all children in Georgia will be on a path to third-grade reading proficiency by 2020. The Campaign is an ever-growing and diverse cross-sector alliance that is guided by a cabinet of high-level leaders representing the Governor’s Office, nine state departments/agencies, statewide nonprofit organizations, the business community, school superintendents and funders. It is hosted by the Georgia Family Connection Partnership, the state’s KIDS COUNT organization, which enables the Campaign to expand through a well-established statewide network of 159 county collaboratives charged with bringing local stakeholders together to improve results for children and families. Fifty-two of the 159 collaboratives already have included third-grade reading as a key indicator, and the Georgia Campaign will seek to deepen engagement of these collaboratives and other local leaders in the future.