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Why Family Literacy Matters: Impact on America's Next Generation

September 5, 2012 - 6:00pm

Im concerned about our countrys competitive drive. Economists of all stripes call for skilled workers as the essential ingredient of a strong and growing economy.

The Center for American Progress, a nonprofit educational institute, reports that the countries most rapidly gaining on the United States in terms of economic competitiveness -- China and India -- have ambitious national strategies of investing and promoting improved educational outcomes for children.

Im now realizing that my mom may have been years ahead of me in education reform. While first lady, she started a foundation to create family literacy programs where moms and their young children could go to school together. She seeded this dream with money she raised by hosting reading events. Today, there is a Johnny Appleseed-like network of family literacy programs, located in innovative schools all across the U.S., run by small community-based organizations.

While governor, I joined my mom to grow that network of family literacy programs in Florida. Florida has a unique adult education system that provides hundreds of thousands of parents a second chance to earn a high school diploma. Florida also created a voluntary pre-K program for 4-year-olds.

With the right setting, and the right school leaders, Florida provided a great place to try dual-generational learning where parents and their young children could go to school together. Im sold by the results: parents gain an average of 1.5 grade-levels per year and their young children -- who start our program well below average in reading -- enter kindergarten on par with their peers.

My mom is now 87 years young. Like any good chairman, shes decided its time to put a transition plan in place. My sister, Doro, and I are now co-chairs of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. Mom will stay on to encourage and extol as our honorary chairman.

Im taking this effort seriously, and I think our results in Florida can be replicated elsewhere. Family literacy isnt typically considered part of a bold education reform package, but I believe it needs to be elevated in conversations among educators, policymakers and business leaders. Simply put, education is a right in America, no matter ones age. And, for those who have aspirations to achieve, I firmly believe we need to help make their goals as obtainable as possible.

Mom, you did know best.

Jeb Bush, 43rd governorofFlorida(1999 to 2007), is co-chair of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

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