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White House, Philanthropic Initiative To Shed Light on Reading Gap 

African-American, Hispanic boys lag in 3rd grade reading proficiency 

A new White House and philanthropic initiative focusing on young men of color will draw national attention to the significant early literacy gap that sets up many African-American and Hispanic students for academic difficulty and high school dropout. 
White male students are three times more likely to be reading proficiently in the fourth grade than their African-American peers and more than twice as likely as Hispanic boys, according to a data analysis by the Annie E. Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT Data Center.  The statistics are even more startling for children of color from low-income families, with just 10 percent of the African-American boys and 14 percent of Hispanic boys reading proficiently, compared to 25 percent for their white peers.  

Improving third-grade literacy is among the priorities detailed by the 10 leading foundations working with the White House on the My Brother’s Keeper initiative announced today. Mastering reading by the end of third grade is essential for school success since students begin to transition at that point from learning to read to reading to learn. Those who do not hit the proficiency mark by then are four times more likely to drop out of high school, research shows. Among those who do not read well, the dropout rates are twice as high for African-American and Hispanic students as they are for white students. (See more data here.)
The foundations — the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, the Open Society Foundations, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation — have already committed $150 million toward programs helping young men of color reach their full potential in school, work and life. Several corporate sponsors are also joining the initiative.
“The White House and these philanthropic leaders recognize that if we’re serious about improving the lives of young men of color, we need to intervene early in their lives and ensure that they achieve the critical milestone of reading on grade level by the end of the third grade.  Children of color are represented disproportionately among those who are missing that critical milestone and among those who are dropping out.” said Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. “We need to equip parents with the tools they need to nurture their children’s development and ensure that more children arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed, attend school regularly and engage in quality programs over the summer.”
The GLR Campaign is a collaboration of communities, states, foundations and nonprofits nationwide working toward a common goal of improving third grade reading rates. Its work dovetails with the goals of My Brother’s Keeper, including the importance of healthy development, parental engagement and quality early learning on the road to master reading. The White House and philanthropic initiative will also focus on interactions with the criminal justice system, ladders to jobs and economic opportunity, and healthy families and communities.
In terms of early reading, the 2103 National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that only 34 percent of fourth graders read proficiently. The figure is 14 percent for African-American boys and 18 percent for Hispanic boys, while 42 percent of white boys score proficient, according to KIDS COUNT. Data also link children of color to several risk factors associated with weaker reading skills.

  • African-American and Hispanic boys are twice as likely as white male students to live in low-income families.
  • The rate of African-American babies born with low birth weights is nearly double that for white babies. Low birth weight is often associated with developmental delays.
  • African-American boys and girls are two to three times more likely to be chronically absent in the early grades, which can erode early literacy gains, studies show.

See our data sheet on Young Men of Color.


Launched in May 2010, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort of funders, nonprofit partners, states and communities across the nation to ensure that many more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship. It focuses on reading proficiency by the end of third grade, a key predictor of high school graduation and a milestone missed by fully 80 percent of low-income children. For media inquiries, contact Phyllis Jordan at or 301-656-0348.