By Mike Fossano
On October 2nd, a new coalition of business, civic, educational, philanthropic and media partners began an unprecedented campaign to help combat illiteracy rates in metro Detroit.
The campaign, called Reading Works, is raising money and seeking volunteers to support nine agencies in the region that provide instruction for adults who want to learn to read, or improve their reading skills. Current estimates show that functional illiteracy rates in metro Detroit range from a third to almost half of the adult population in some communities.
“We recognize a sad truth,” said Susie Schechter, Reading Works executive director. “Metro Detroit has far too many functionally illiterate adults, often below a fifth-grade level, unable to complete a job application or read to their children.
“It’s time to do something different, face up to functional illiteracy in adults, support the agencies’ earnest efforts, and address the problem realistically.”
“The challenge of adult illiteracy is not unique to Detroit – it is a state, national, international problem,” said Schechter. “But we will make Detroit the recognized leader in solving the problem.”
In a recent interview with Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley, who is an honorary co-chair of Reading Works, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing acknowledged that even with the recent influx of businesses into the city, growth can just as quickly be stunted due to substandard education systems.
“We’re starting to see in Detroit more and more businesses that are here that are thinking about expanding, and more and more businesses that are thinking about coming here,” Bing said.
“But the real pushback has been – do we have the education level where it needs to be? The education that we have here for our work force becomes a determination as to whether people are going to invest.”
Members of the Reading Works Alliance include the Detroit Free Press, Wayne State University, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Michigan Chronicle, WXYZ-TV and Comerica Bank.