We recognize a sad truth: Metro Detroit has far too many functionally illiterate adults, people often reading below a fifth-grade level, unable to complete a job application or read to their children.
Sadder still, low literacy is not new here. Many dedicated and skilled literacy agencies have tutored adults over the years and turned lives around without making a dent in the growing problem.
The agencies have operated mostly in isolation and scrounged for funding that was often inconsistent and inadequate, creating frustration for them and adults who summoned the courage to step forward for help, only to end up on waiting lists.
Various studies are sobering: Up to 47% of Detroit adults are functionally illiterate, with Wayne County up to 36%, Macomb and Oakland at 13% to 15%. Many suburbs — including Pontiac (34%), Inkster (34%) and Southfield (24%) — have high rates. Across Michigan, one in three adults reads below a sixth-grade level.
Enter Reading Works.
It’s time to do something different, to acknowledge functional illiteracy in adults, to support the agencies’ earnest efforts and to address the problem realistically. With your help, we can do just that. We can transform metro Detroit — with profound benefits for our schools, our families, our crime rate, our work force and our economy. Will Reading Works accomplish this alone? No. Other efforts on behalf of education in our region — K-12 reform, the focus on rigorous curriculum and high school graduation rates, work force training — will be needed more than ever.
But there has never been a cohesive community effort on behalf of the least literate adults. Reading Works is that missing piece. We are the backbone organization, providing our partner literacy agencies with critical tools and resources that will allow them to build their own capacity, do a better job of keeping adult learners in their programs and improve their ability to track key metrics. Reading Works is bringing our partners together, allowing them to share best practices and not work in isolation.
Reading Works will partner with more agencies over time. We will link with social, private and professional services to help remove barriers, such as child care and transportation, that can discourage adult learners. We will pave a pathway to employment by connecting with businesses and work force programs.
The campaign that starts today across multiple media outlets and social media sites will be ongoing. Our media partners will recognize those who step forward to support Reading Works.
Finally, in partnership with Reading Works, Wayne State University will establish an Office of Adult Literacy on its campus. The university will also organize a national summit in 2013 devoted to best practices.
The challenge of adult illiteracy is not unique to Detroit — it is a state, national and international problem. But we will make Detroit the recognized leader in solving the problem.
Please join us with a contribution to Reading Works. Make a donation. Give your time. Become a tutor.
Together, we can help transform metro Detroit.
– The Reading Works Alliance