Virginia Commonwealth University

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Program Seeks to Boost Reading in Richmond Schools

April 25, 2013

By Steffanie Atkins
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – After Dallas Public Schools initiated a successful program getting about 93,000 students to read about 1 million books, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced a partnership with Richmond Public Schools to encourage second-graders to read.

McDonnell announced the Earning by Learning program for Richmond Public Schools this month. The program will provide non-monetary incentives for second graders to read books throughout the school year.

“The collaborative effort, which was successfully piloted with dramatic positive results in the Dallas Public School System, has the bold but achievable goal of ensuring that all of Richmond Public School students are reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade by 2016,” McDonnell said in a press release.

The pilot program starts this fall and will last three years. The program ensures that students each will have the opportunity to read 20 books above and beyond their regular curriculum and display mastery of the books through benchmark-style testing.

Once they prove mastery, the children will be rewarded with incentives, from pencils to bicycles donated by local businesses.

Larry Wilder, special assistant to Virginia’s secretary of education, said that if the program works in Richmond, it could spread statewide.

“More importantly, and why I think the governor was really keen on this, is that it can also serve as a ‘best practice’ model and could be implemented and replicated by school divisions across the state,” Wilder said.

Ultimately, it would be up to each school district to decide whether to adopt the program, he said.

“We could show them, ‘Here is a program that has been studied elsewhere in Dallas, we’ve done it here in Richmond, and we’re able to either meet or exceed those results,’ ” Wilder said.

Harvard University’s Education Innovation Laboratory studied Dallas’ program and found that it produced significant and lasting effects: In just 15 weeks, students gained nearly four months in academic growth. Harvard researchers will measure the effectiveness of Earning by Learning in Richmond, too.

Victoria Oakley, chief academic officer for Richmond Public Schools, said district officials are confident the program will help build early literacy skills and a love for reading.

“If we have a strong foundation for literacy in second grade, that will carry them to their upper elementary grades as well as through middle school and high school,” Oakley said.

She believes the students are going to love the new program: “Any type of program that encourages children to read outside of school and increases the love of reading is critical.”

Teachers and school staff will start preparing this summer for implementation of the program in the fall. To help with the program, businesses and volunteers can contact Oakley at 804-780-7712.

Earning by Learning is part of McDonnell’s educational agenda, which includes ending social promotion of third-graders who fall short on the state’s reading tests. A coalition of civic and business leaders is leading the fundraising for the program. It includes representatives from such companies as Altria, Dominion Resources and Capital One.

On the Web

Read Gov. Bob McDonnell’s statement about Earning by Learning at