At first glance it was a typical government agency live event. The stage was set with all of the essentials: A podium bearing the state seal to the left, and on either side of the stage stood the American and Tennessee flags. But what made this particular event different were the five bookcases in the center of the stage. Each one filled with an assortment of colorful covers, some very recognizable and reminiscent of childhood. 

The lights dimmed and as the audience prepared to see the emcee approach the podium, out walked John Little. John, a confident and endearing first grade student at Nashville Classical Charter School, began the program by pulling “The Tennessee Story” from one of the bookcases and reading it to the audience.


The event was a kickoff for “Read to be Ready,” a statewide campaign focused on the importance of reading. The goal of the Read to be Ready initiative is to move third grade reading proficiency in the state to 75 percent by 2025. While we know building literacy starts long before a child begins third grade and continues well beyond that, third grade is a critical benchmark to predict future outcomes for students.

“Reading is more than just sounding out words on a page. Everyone has a part in reading. Even though they may not be teaching phonics, decoding or segmenting sounds, what folks can do at home, what parents and grandparents can do, matters,” Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “We can work together as a community to make sure that kids come around to the love of reading, by showing them what reading can open for them. Reading builds thinking, and thinking is a life skill that all of our students need from a very young age.”

Read to be Ready is a coordinated approach that addresses everything from classroom instruction, to teacher preparation, to adult literacy rates, to school-community-parent partnerships for after-school and summer programs. Using third grade reading as the benchmark, the Read to be Ready campaign seeks to do the following:

  • Raise awareness about the importance of reading.
  • Unite efforts to address the reading gap.
  • Highlight best practices from across the state.
  • Lay out ways each of us can begin to address these issues.
  • Build partnerships across communities to align our goal.

Enhancing Tennessee’s educational efforts at all levels is a critical mission of Gov. Haslam and has a direct impact not only on students, but also the state’s future workforce, economic development and overall quality of life of all Tennesseans.  

“We know that if a child is two grade levels behind in reading in third grade, they rarely ever catch up. If they don’t catch up, they are highly unlikely to be able to take advantage of any postsecondary opportunity, like the Tennessee Promise,” TNECD Commissioner Randy Boyd said. “We need to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed, and the best way to do so is to make sure they are reading at grade level by third grade. It’s an imperative for the student, and in order for our state to reach its mission of 55 percent post-secondary attainment by 2025, it’s an imperative for Tennessee as well.”

Gov. Haslam has proposed a $9 million investment to the General Assembly to create a network of literacy coaches and regional coordinators supporting literacy efforts across the state. Tennessee-based company Dollar General has also donated $1 million through its Dollar General Literacy Foundation to fund summer reading initiatives throughout the state.

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