ReadingA new White House and philanthropic initiative focusing on young men of color will lift up the importance of third-grade reading proficiency as a key milestone for academic success. In a speech Thursday, President Barack Obama and ten leading foundations pledged to focus on critical junctures in the lives of African-American and Hispanic boys.

“If a child can’t read well by the time he’s in third grade, he’s four times less likely to graduate from high school by age 19 than one who can,” Obama said. “And if he happens to be poor, he’s six times less likely to graduate.

“So, by boosting reading levels, we can help more of our kids make the grade, keep on advancing, reach that day that so many parents dream of until it comes close, and then you start tearing up. And that’s when they’re walking across the stage holding that high school diploma.”

The national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading recently recognized San Francisco as a 2013 Pacesetter, for the City’s collaborative efforts to ensure that more low-income students are reading on grade level by the end of third grade. This honor reflects the energy, mobilization and creativity that San Francisco’s community has brought to promote early reading, school attendance, and summer learning. San Francisco is one of 142 places nationwide working with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a collaboration of communities, states, foundations and nonprofits with a common goal of improving third-grade reading rates.

First 5 San Francisco’s Preschool for All (PFA) program has been a cornerstone of the City’s grade-level reading strategy, and PFA has made a big difference for children. An independent evaluation of 1,000 children showed that upon entering kindergarten, children from Preschool for All programs outperformed other children by large margins on academic skills critical to school success – PFA children had a 3-month advantage over children who had not participated in PFA in identifying letters and words – important precursors to reading.