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"I’ve run away from a little old woman,
I’ve run away from a little old man,
I’ve run away from a cow,
And I can run away from you, I can."
Sitting in a semi-circle, eight children eagerly listened to Red Hat president and CEO, Jim Whitehurst, read "The Gingerbread Boy" by Paul Galdone. But this endearing scene is part of a much larger cause that impacts not only North Carolina, but the entire United States: early literacy.
On Feb. 9, Whitehurst joined leaders from some of North Carolina's most distinguished businesses, led by CEO of SAS, Jim Goodnight, at Garner’s Creech Road Elementary School to spearhead the national release of the Business Roundtable’s (BRT) report, "Why Reading Matters and What to Do About It."
Whitehurst specifically talked about the need for connected data systems that track children’s progress from birth to age 8 to allow for early interventions to keep students progressing toward third-grade literacy. To emphasize the value of accurate progress tracking he quoted Edward Deming, saying, "In God we trust, but for everything else, bring data." Coming from an open source company, Whitehurst knows the value of communication, and in this case, the data systems monitoring student development need to, "talk to each other."
After a press conference and reading to the children, Whitehurst and the other business leaders met with North Carolina political leaders, including Governor Roy Cooper, to present policy recommendations on how to improve literacy rates. The goal is to increase third-grade literacy across the nation, beginning with North Carolina, in an effort to help reverse the "skills gap," ensure students graduate on time, and develop a workforce that is prepared to succeed in the global economy.
Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is recognized as one of the best predictors of future success. As more jobs require postsecondary education and training, ensuring that students are literate by third grade can help set them up to succeed through high school and college, and into their careers. The key to building the highly-skilled workforce that companies like Red Hat will need in the future is to give them a strong foundation in literacy. As technology and business advances, the bar will be raised on what skillsets employees will need. Setting them up for success at an early age can help them reach new heights as employees in the future.
The full BRT report and the full set of solutions proposed can be found here.