published Saturday, December 25th, 2010

Reading program’s future uncertain

by Dan Whisenhunt

Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey talks about Read 20 often, like a proud parent.

The program encourages adults to read with a child for 20 minutes a day. It has been a source of pride for Ramsey, a calling card that underscores an important component of job creation: an educated, trainable work force.

The program started in 2006, but its future is uncertain. The Hamilton County Commission will choose a new mayor to take over in January when Ramsey joins the administration of Gov.-elect Bill Haslam. The new mayor might have new ideas about which programs are the best use of taxpayer money.

“The premise is good,” Ramsey said. “The process is good, and it’s about getting kids started appreciating reading at an early age. I often say in speeches it’s fun to read to a child. But then the real reward comes when they can read to you.”

Shawn Kurrelmeier-Lee, the program’s chief reading officer, said part of working for county government is that nothing is certain. She said the program is a private-public partnership, with the county covering the overhead and salaries. In 2010, the county budgeted about $277,000 for the program, and $188,000 of that went to salaries.

According to figures provided by the county, Kurrelmeier-Lee makes roughly $100,000 annually.

But with that money, Read 20 “definitely had an impact,” she said.

“Since the program’s inceptions in 2006, reading has increased from 89 percent to 92 percent using the old [Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program] evaluation method,” Kurrelmeier-Lee said. “Another factor in evaluating the program’s success has been the increase in the number of distributed books by Read 20, which exceeds over 160,000 books.”

The Read 20 program has recruited more than 100 volunteers and cultivated hundreds of partnerships with agencies, schools and other programs.

The program has recognized more than 27,000 Hamilton County elementary school students who read on or above grade level.

Kurrelmeier-Lee said the goal is to have every third-grader in Hamilton County reading at or above grade level. She said children who are behind at that grade level are less likely to succeed.

Jim Scales, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, serves on the Read 20 board and says he “totally” supports the program.

But Scales and schools spokeswoman Danielle Clark said they know of no data showing the program itself has improved reading scores.

What the program has done is encourage students to read, Clark said.

“I know it’s very positive,” Clark said. “I don’t know if they’ve measured it.”

According to the Hamilton County Department of Education website, the 2009 report card showed a nearly 2 percentage point drop in reading scores for grades three through eight, from 92 percent proficient and advanced readers to 90.1 percent. The scores also dropped for Hispanic and disadvantaged students.


For more information about Read 20, visit

Two candidates considered the leading contenders to replace Ramsey had differing views about Read 20’s future.

Mike Carter, now the mayor’s special assistant, said he would “absolutely” keep the program in place.

“We’ve got two choices,” Carter said. “We can teach them to read and educate them or incarcerate them.”

County Commissioner Jim Coppinger said that if elected, he would review all programs to see how effective they are. He said that, to the best of his knowledge, Read 20 has been effective.

“Any programs paid for by taxpayers need to be reviewed and, if they’re not effective, we need to be open to the fact of revamping them or not having them,” Coppinger said.

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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fairmon said...

Those benefiting from this program don't all have parents able to read to them and provide encouragement to read more and better. Reading, in addition to educating, improves spelling and comprehension in all subjects. Too many teachers are not experts in the subjects they teach and simply follow a bad text book or teach to the evaluation test. The process to address and dismiss weak teachers is so difficult administrators and school board will not try to weed out those that clutter the education arena. Legislatures, administrators and the union have brought to publication education a low level of parity disguised as equality.

Directing money to a dependent society that votes as our governments are prone to do instead of assuring outstanding educations we are insuring we will have a future dependent society. I encourage the commissioners to fund the program and seek private money help to expand it.

December 25, 2010 at 11:33 a.m.
tdempsey said...

Plainly (former Sessions Court Judge) Mike Carter's comment, "We can teach them to read and educate them or incarcerate them” is taking out of context. Although the literacy rate in prison is lower than a comparable segment of the population without a prison record, it is completely false to insinuate that if a child does not learn to read, he or she will go to prison. Reading difficulties do not make a person criminal, and Mike Carter knows that. There are many, many hard-working, responsible people in our community that have never been to prison and have learned to read as adults. Just ask programs like Re:start, Ahead, and Educational Opportunities. These are all awesome community efforts to help adults with their education goals (which frequently begin with basic reading skills). We should do everything we can to make sure that our children grow up to be literate, well-informed, ethical and involved adults. READ 20 is a part of that effort. The threat of incarceration is not.

December 25, 2010 at 12:55 p.m.
fairmon said...


Well said. I agree that Mr. Carter didn't mean to imply the inability to read would mean anyone unable to read would be incarcerated. I personally believe a good education may reduce the rate of incarceration. However, our educators seem to think everyone has to be an engineer, a computer specialist or some other service specialty. A sound basic skills education can prepare students for any field of work, including the trades and crafts. Some very successful people were unable and still may be unable to read. But, many utilizing those sources you list can now read and are as proud of that as their other accomplishments. The programs you mentioned are great and those supporting and working in those endeavors should be recognized and appreciated.

December 25, 2010 at 4:19 p.m.
tdempsey said...

Yes, harp3339, our definition of "success" has become pretty narrow...and, quite frankly, stands in the way of many attaining it.

December 26, 2010 at 10:49 a.m.
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