* Theme: A TV ad by U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, Republican candidate for governor from Chattanooga, talks about his early childhood reading initiative.
* The claim: Rep. Wamp proposes to "benchmark children in kindergarten. If they're not reading well, they'll receive special instruction in phonics to catch them up. Because a good third-grade reader becomes a better eighth-grade student, a high school graduate, a productive citizen."
* The context: The reading initiative is part of his 20/20 Vision plan. In a video clip on ZachWamp.com, Rep. Wamp says, "We don't test in Tennessee until the end of the third grade. But the systems that are most successful benchmark in kindergarten. As soon as a child enters school, you find out if they are reading proficiently and if not, you take them out of class, give them direct instruction, teach them phonics and catch them up. When I'm governor, every system -- all 137 systems -- will benchmark in kindergarten, give direct instruction, teach phonics and catch these young people up."
* The facts: According to the Tennessee Department of Education, the state does not mandate testing for reading skills in kindergarten, but phonics awareness is part of the curriculum guidelines for kindergarten. Some school districts do testing on their own. And the state receives and distributes federal money for a "Reading First" program in a limited number of schools where it is deemed most needed.
Studies confirm that children not reading proficiently by third grade fall behind, including one released May 18 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, "Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters." The Tennessee Commission on Children & Youth says that only 28 percent of Tennessee fourth-graders scored proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, ranking 37th among the states.
* The reality: Rep. Wamp appears correct in the need for an early childhood reading initiative in Tennessee. But testing all kindergartners and providing individual instruction in phonics would cost money. The Department of Education has no estimate how much. Rep. Wamp has not said how he would pay for the program.
-- Richard Locker, The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal.
Fact Check is a periodic series from the Tennessee Newspaper Network, a content-sharing coalition of daily newspapers in Chattanooga, Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville.