Why Reading Matters: Business Roundtable Releases Updated Report to Support Improved U.S. Literacy Rates

Report Provides Policy Recommendations, CEO Actions to Strengthen Reading Proficiency

April 4, 2023

Washington – In a follow-up to its 2016 report and in the wake of learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, Business Roundtable today released a new report analyzing U.S. literacy rates. “Why Reading Matters — Now More Than Ever” is accompanied by six state-level policy recommendations to help ensure reading proficiency of American students by the third grade — a crucial age for ensuring a range of positive outcomes, including success in school, adult literacy and future economic opportunity. In addition, the report outlines how CEOs can play a proactive role, such as by deploying philanthropic investments focused on evidence-based early reading programs and practices, supporting in-state advocacy and providing expertise and company support to states and other organizations advancing the recommendations in the report.

Business Roundtable Education and Workforce Chair Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, said:

“This report underscores the urgent need to increase third grade reading proficiency across the country. The ability to read is one of the most intensively used skills among all types of jobs across the U.S. However, 43 million U.S. adults possess low literacy skills — with nearly 20 percent classified as illiterate. For the future of our economy, we have to improve adult literacy levels — and that starts with improving third grade reading proficiency.”

Dr. Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS and leader on early childhood education, added:

“If we are going to meet the constantly evolving skills demands of the future and have a robust talent pipeline, we should start by increasing third grade reading proficiency. Doing so is crucial to the long-term sustainability of the U.S. economy.”

While reading is fundamental to a skilled workforce, American students have consistently underperformed on proficiency measurements and the pandemic only compounded the problem. The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that the average reading scores for both 4th- and 8th-graders decreased by 3 points as compared to 2019, with only a third of 4th-graders and 31 percent of 8th-graders reading at the proficient level.

The six state-level policy recommendations to support improved reading proficiency are:

  1. Expand Access to High-Quality Pre-K Learning Opportunities
  2. Offer High-Quality Full-Day Kindergarten
  3. Use Student Assessments and Data Systems to Track Student Progress
  4. Equip Educators in Pre-K–Grade 3 to Help Students Become Strong Readers
  5. Require Systematic Interventions for Struggling Readers in Grades K–3
  6. Coordinate Governance of Pre-K and Grades K–3 to Promote Efficiency and Maximize Impact

Read the full report here.