Mayor James Announces Commitments to Close the Word Gap

August 25, 2014 - KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
15 commitments from a variety of organizations promote the importance of parents talking, reading, and playing with their child each day.

Mayor Sly James, and Turn the Page KC, hosted a community conversation today aimed at advancing the “Talk, Read, Play with Your Child Every Day” campaign, championed by the Family Conservancy.  That campaign focuses on encouraging parents to take an active role in their child’s most important and earliest years of development.  Kansas City was chosen as one of 14 cities by the Department of Education and the National League of Cities to host a community conversation on ways to improve early childhood education. Attendees discussed ways in which their organizations can promote the “Talk, Read, Play” campaign to the individuals they touch. Fifteen commitments from attendees were secured and a complete list can be found at:

Research has found children born into low-income families hear roughly 30 million fewer words by the age of three than their more affluent peers. This word gap leads to an alarming achievement gap — in school and life. A child’s vocabulary as early as age three can predict third grade reading achievement. By age five, a typical middle-class child recognizes 22 letters of the alphabet, compared to nine for a child from a low-income family. Talking, reading, and playing with children everyday closes that gap.

The 30 million word gap is the original discovery of two Kansas City researchers (Drs. Betty Hart and Todd Risley) of University of Kansas’ Juniper Gardens Children’s Project.  Dr. Dale Walker, currently of the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project,also helped develop Talk, Read, Play.  Dr. Judy Carta, of the University of Kansas presented that research at today’s event.

Area leaders who participated in this conference included professionals from a variety of fields, including healthcare, faith-based, nonprofit, education, social services, philanthropic organizations and large employers.  

“I am thrilled to see so many of our community’s leaders join together today to support our most important resource – our young people,” said Mayor James. “When it comes to early learning, the research is there and we know what needs to be done. Today was all about putting that research into practice.  I appreciate the early commitments from our pioneer investors that we announced today and look forward to celebrating more.”

Dr. Libby Doggett, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education, delivered a keynote address on the national context for Talk, Read, Play and how Kansas City’s local efforts are standing out. “In the face of great challenges, Kansas City has made extraordinary efforts to provide support to its youngest children and their families,” said Dr. Doggett.  “But even with the city’s additional efforts, sadly, too many children will enter kindergarten behind. I urge policy leaders at all levels to focus on the first five years before children enter school.  Research shows that high-quality early learning pays great dividends down the road, with academic, health, and social benefits.  Penny-for-penny, it’s the most cost-effective investment we can make in our youngest children and our future.”

“Parents, educators and members of the community must work together to close the achievement gap between affluent and low-income children,” said Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities. “With this community conversation, Kansas City has shown that it is committed to improving educational outcomes by working collaboratively with a variety of organizations in the community that are investing in student success.”

Contact: Joni Wickham: 816-513-6582 or cell: 816-572-2152