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The National Jewish Coalition for Literacy is the organized Jewish community's vehicle for mobilizing tutors and reading partners for at-risk children in kindergarten through 3rd grade. Our mission is to bring the skills and the concerns of America's Jews to bear on the scandal of illiteracy by effecting a dramatic increase in the organized Jewish community's involvement in the battle against illiteracy and in the number of Jews involved in that battle.
The importance of this effort can scarcely be exaggerated. The ability to read by the end of the third grade is a sensitive litmus test: those who can are likely to succeed in later grades and in life; those who cannot are likely to be in continuing academic trouble, and such trouble is very often a presage to significant downstream problems. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 40 percent of America's 4th graders are reading "below grade level." More strikingly, perhaps, researchers estimate that fully 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. read at or below the 5th grade level. Countless studies have shown that it becomes increasingly difficult to learn to read later in life, and that illiteracy is one of the largest obstacles to economic self-sufficiency as well as to "the good life," however defined. In 1996, the Clinton administration, with bipartisan support, challenged all Americans to join in the effort to mobilize one million literacy volunteer reading partners to help our nation's most vulnerable schoolchildren acquire this most basic skill. The NJCL believes that our community is well positioned to play an important role in the success of this national effort. America's Jews share as a common heritage a love for books and the written word, a commitment to quality education, and a passion for the pursuit of social justice. Moreover, growing numbers of Jews and of Jewish agencies and organizations are receptive to the message that a healthy concern for Jewish continuity can be constructively addressed through mobilizations such as the one that the NJCL has undertaken. Since its launch in 1997, more than 50 communities have affiliated with the NJCL. Some 15,000 volunteers spend one hour a week working one-on-one with inner-city public school children in kindergarten through 3rd grade. In partnership with its many member agencies, the NJCL is leading the Jewish community's response: a coordinated effort to mobilize tens of thousands of volunteers - as tutors, readers, book drive organizers, and more - for this important undertaking. In the years to come, we envision many tens of thousands of Jewish volunteers spending an hour or more each week in our nation's public schools, in coalition with other ethnic and faith groups and all Americans. Leonard Fein, the NJCL's founder, is the founder of both Moment magazine and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. NJCL chair Lois Frank is the National Vice-president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and she serves on the Executive Committee of the Southern Regional Council. Advisory Committee co-chair Marlene Post is the past President of Hadassah. Advisory Committee co-chair Abner Mikva served as the Chief Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. See our website (http://njcl.net) for more information about our efforts.
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