Opinion: Funding first responders in Detroit's literacy crisis

Mark Reuss and Pam Good
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There is a silent epidemic across the United States: School districts are experiencing a literacy crisis.

Most of Detroit’s 12,000 public high school students cannot read at grade level and find themselves unprepared to enter the workforce after graduation. This not only harms the students but also stagnates the city’s economy — and its future.

It’s time for a sound solution.

That’s why General Motors is investing $1 million in Beyond Basics, a nonprofit organization focused on K-12 literacy in Metro Detroit. Last year, Beyond Basics announced an ambitious “Be the Solution” campaign to fund one-on-one tutoring for 11,000 Detroit public high school students over the next three years. The goal is to provide intervention to struggling readers to ensure all high school seniors graduate with the ability to read.

At a cost of about $3,000 per pupil, Beyond Basics can bring a student up to grade level in an average of six weeks, Reuss and Good write.

The operation has the full support of Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Since stepping into the role in 2017, Vitti has made great strides working to transform one of the nation’s most challenged school districts. But when an estimated 90% of Detroit public school students cannot read at grade level, there simply aren’t enough resources to provide the intervention many young learners need. At a cost of about $3,000 per pupil, Beyond Basics can bring a student up to grade level in an average of six weeks. The results are real, measurable and impactful.

General Motors has proudly called Detroit home for more than a century. And Detroit’s economy and communities have been profoundly shaped by GM’s work. To protect the city’s future, General Motors is dedicated to Detroit’s revitalization through investment in education initiatives, workforce development and neighborhood renewal. The company needs to attract top talent to its Detroit headquarters to continue investing in a thriving Detroit economy and fostering a strong local workforce.

In many ways, that all comes back to literacy.

When students graduate high school without hitting basic literacy benchmarks, it creates a ripple effect in Metro Detroit communities. Enthusiastic young adults don’t have the skills to enter the workforce or continue their education. Cycles of generational poverty continue.

While talent may be distributed equally, opportunity is not. If we can empower our youngest Detroiters to read, we unlock a world of possibilities.

We at General Motors and Beyond Basics know Detroit students are smart, eager to learn and hopeful for a better tomorrow. To get there, they need our help. When a natural disaster strikes, first responders and community leaders jump into action to provide immediate support. But in Detroit, the literacy crisis has developed under the radar for many people. It may not be a natural disaster, but it is an emergency. Students have struggled alone for far too long, and it’s time for all of us to be the solution.

With each new donation, Beyond Basics hits the ground running, training new tutors and pairing them with struggling readers. The $1 million investment GM makes today will not only directly impact this year’s graduating class, but it will also foster opportunities for years to come. The partnership between General Motors and Beyond Basics is a powerful step toward stemming the literacy crisis, and we urge others to join us as we work toward building a brighter future for Detroit’s students.

We don’t have time to waste.

Mark Reuss is president of General Motors. Pam Good is president of Beyond Basics.

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