D.C. Council considers legislation to promote child literacy

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray captivated some students at Maury Elementary Friday with his delivery of a Dr. Seuss classic.

Friday was Read Across America Day and marked the birthday of Dr. Seuss. President Obama, Gray and other leaders took the opportunity to encourage children to read more.

In the District, reading levels among elementary students are well below the national average.

The D.C. Council is considering legislation sponsored by Councilmember Vincent Orange aimed at trying to prevent children from falling through the cracks.

The Chancellor's Office says she supports the goals of the legislation but DCPS and the mayor say many of the bill's components are already happening or in the works.

Gray announced he would increase per pupil spending on D.C. public and charter school students by 2 percent, despite a $115 million projected deficit next fiscal year.

"Even with that I'd put the education of our children at the top of the list so we're going to keep making investments in improving education outcomes for our children," Gray said.

The Mayor says such funding will build the ranks of outstanding teachers who in turn can improve reading skills.

According to the 2011 nation's report card, D.C. 4th graders are reading better than a decade ago, but not much better than the last assessment in 2009. Overall, they are far behind the national average, with 56 percent reading below a basic level.

In order to help students who are falling behind their peers in reading as well as mathematics, Councilmember Vincent Orange is pushing legislation through the D.C. Council that would require the school's chancellor to assess reading and math skills of all 3rd Graders. A plan would also need to be created for students who are not up to par for the 4th Grade.

When a child reaches the 4th Grade then they'd be no longer learning how to read. They're reading for comprehension," said Orange.

Orange says he does not know how much these assessments would cost but he says making this investment in children now will pay off in the long-term.

"We can reduce our crime rate, unemployment. And today it's clear 40 percent of the adults in this city are illiterate. And that's unacceptable," Orange said.

"That's what a good teacher is going to do, that's what a good school is going to do. They're gonna assess kids along the way and work with the parents to improve the outcome for those children," Gray said.

Orange says why not make it law?

"So it doesn't matter who is the Chancellor or who runs the school system. The mandate is that this curriculum must be in place and we have certain milestones that must be achieved."