Mayor, city leaders commit to solving third-grade literacy crisis

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Two in three of Nashville’s third-graders cannot read on grade level – a challenge Nashville has wrestled with for more than two decades. That’s why, for the first time, civic, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations have come together to address the problem. The group, the Nashville Literacy Collaborative (NLC), has created an actionable, measureable plan to double the number of third-graders who read on grade level by 2025 through the “Blueprint for Early Childhood Success.”

The unprecedented, collective plan was released today by Mayor Megan Barry, Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph and the NLC, a community working group convened by the mayor, Dr. Joseph, the Nashville Public Library (NPL) and the Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF) earlier this year. Following the release, community, civic and business leaders signed a “Community Commitment,” pledging their resolve to the plan’s shared mission for effective, research-based, citywide strategies.

This ambitious Blueprint combines the thought leadership of the NLC, literacy groups, faith and volunteer partners, parents, students, and educators to create a shared implementation framework composed of 29 recommendations.

These recommendations create a web of efforts to prevent any child or family from slipping through the cracks. The recommendations focus on a set of six comprehensive pillars of work:

  • Strengthening birth-through-age-3 supports
  • Improving quality and access to pre-K
  • Strengthening the district’s ability to meet student literacy needs
  • Substantially reducing chronic absenteeism
  • Stemming the tide on summer reading loss, and better maximize out-of-school time
  • Raising public consciousness of the importance and urgency of early literacy

Equally important as the recommendations, the group collectively set outcomes for success and committed to creating measures to evaluate progress in real time.

“Nashville and Davidson County’s children deserve the best opportunities possible, and we must meet them at all points in this critical time in their lives,” Mayor Barry said. “The Blueprint incorporates my pre-K roadmap and goes even wider, focusing on innovative birth-through-third-grade strategies. This plan represents a common vision for the public, private, and non-profit partners involved that we can and must do better for all of our students to have a chance at success.”

The development of an action plan is critical because, currently, only 34 percent of third-graders in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools read at grade level by the end of third grade – an early milestone that is often viewed as a leading indicator of later student success. Research shows there is a direct correlation between kids who miss this milestone and high school drop-out rates, college graduation, lifetime earnings and more.

“Literacy is vital for our students’ success and one of the school district’s top priorities,” Dr. Joseph said. “But there are gaps that the district cannot solve alone. It’s incredibly encouraging to see a citywide strategy to support our work. The community has rallied around our students’ needs, and I’m confident that one concerted, unified effort will lead to significant gains in third-grade literacy.”

“I am so thrilled to see the city rallying together around early literacy in such a profound way. The work that has gone into developing the Blueprint and the fact that it has been done collectively with so many community partners bodes well for our ability to deliver on its vision,” said Anna Shepherd, MNPS school board chair. “We are all committed to working together and doing what it takes to make the vision of this plan come to life, because our students deserve nothing less.”

Part of the research that went into creating the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success was completing an inventory of existing community efforts, exploring national best practices and surveying schools about on-the-ground challenges, needs and perceptions. The working group also visited classrooms to understand what literacy instruction looks like today and met with MNPS leaders to understand their vision for how that needs to change and improve.

The Blueprint reflects the work of more than 1,600 hours, invested over six months, involving 200-plus community leaders and 30-plus national experts.

“Literacy is at the heart of a library,” said Kent Oliver, Nashville Public Library director. “So many of our programs, from Bringing Books to Life to story time with Wishing Chair Productions and, of course, Limitless Libraries, are at the core of our mission. We’re excited to work with all of Nashville to bring what we do every day to outside of our walls and into the community. The Blueprint helps do that and combines everyone’s strengths into one solid, integrated framework for literacy gains.”

“Today marks a new chapter for the way Nashville looks at and approaches literacy. As a city, we now have a deep resolve to join forces to create an innovative, accelerated trajectory for our children,” said Shannon Hunt, president and CEO of the NPEF. “The blueprint is energizing and will allow Nashville to do the unimaginable and achieve what no one else thought was possible.”

The NPEF funded and managed research and planning resources for the collaborative, while the NPL supported the work with additional staff resources. Lipscomb University led research, with an immediate charge of mapping existing community efforts and helping to assess where there are gaps in service, unmet needs, opportunities to think bigger and better ways to align resources. The Lipscomb team was led by Dr. Kristine LaLonde, associate dean for the College of Leadership and Public Service.

Members of the NLC working group include:

  • Angie Adams, PENCIL
  • Elyse Adler, Nashville Public Library
  • Harry Allen, Studio Bank and former Chamber Education Report Card Co-Chairman
  • Shawn Bakker, Nashville Public Library Foundation
  • Dr. Adriana Bialostozky, local pediatrician with Vanderbilt Hospital
  • Carolyn Cobbs, Cumberland Elementary School
  • Dr. Monique Felder, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
  • Rae Finnie, Glengarry Elementary School
  • Marc Hill, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Tari Hughes, Center for Nonprofit Management
  • Shannon Hunt, Nashville Public Education Foundation
  • Melissa Jaggers, Alignment Nashville
  • Erica Mitchell, United Way of Metropolitan Nashville
  • Laura Moore, Mayor’s Office
  • Kent Oliver, Nashville Public Library
  • Tara Scarlett, Scarlett Foundation
  • Renata Soto, Conexión Américas
  • Melissa Spradlin, Book’em
  • Denine Torr, Dollar General Literacy Foundation
  • Whitney Weeks, Whitney Works Consulting

To view the full Blueprint or learn more, visit