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CEOs join forces to boost childhood literacy

A group of North Carolina CEOs gathered at Creech Road Elementary School in Garner Thursday to release a new report, and explain how the state can reverse the skills gap and boost childhood literacy rates. 

The report, Why Reading Matters and What To Do About It, puts forth three key policies that the CEOs are pushing for:

  • A comprehensive, coordinated system that ensures accountability and alignment of birth-through-age-8 programs needed to achieve literacy. 
  • Connected data systems that track children’s progress and enable early interventions. 
  • Expanded access to NC Pre-K to create the foundation for literacy skills.  

Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS, said at the gathering that the skills gap in N.C. is increasing. By 2020, 67 percent of jobs will require some postsecondary training, he said. However, currently only 42 percent of people in the state have the education that will prepare them for these jobs. 

“We all understand that third grade reading proficiency is key to reversing the skills gap,” he said. 

Charles Bowman, Bank of America’s North Carolina and Charlotte market president, stood in for the company’s CEO at the event. 

He said there are different programs that help with the goal of childhood literacy, but they can’t operate in silos, which is why the state needs a coordinated system. 

“This is a team sport,” he said. “That’s the best way to describe it.” 

Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, extolled the virtues of data and explained why its collection and analysis would be key to achieving the CEOs’ literacy goals. 

“As Michael Bloomberg once said, ‘In God we trust. For everything else bring data,'” Whitehurst said. 

He said data must be collected and analyzed, but importantly, that data must also “talk” to each other, so that the state knows what needs to be done to improve literacy. 

Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T North Carolina, talked about the need to expand NC Pre-K, the state’s public pre-k program for at-risk four year-olds. 

She said the report documents the gains that students make with high quality pre-k, such as NC Pre-K, and that this building block is essential to later literacy and success in life. 

“Without this foundation, too many children will enter elementary school already lagging behind in their skills that predict reading proficiency later in grades,” Harrison said. 

Tom Nelson, CEO of the National Gypsum Company, explained that the group is pushing for the state to come up with a multiyear plan to expand NC Pre-K to all eligible children. Last year, 29,400 of state 4-year-olds participated, out of 66,000 who are eligible, he said. 

“Do the math, that means over 36,000 children, or 55 percent of the eligible children who are four year olds, are not being served,” he said.

After the event yesterday, the group of CEOs read to children from the elementary school and then went downtown to meet with the Governor, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.

Why Reading Matters and What To Do About It is a report of the Business Roundtable, a group “of chief executive officers of leading US companies working to promote sound public policy and a thriving US economy,” a press release from SAS stated. 

See the press conference video below.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.