Creating the Common Agenda to Achieve Profound Change and Get Georgia Reading

There is abundant research on the affect of third-grade reading proficiency on our economy, safety, and health—and yet 68 percent of children in Georgia weren’t reaching this milestone in 2012. The public and private sectors shared the same goal for Georgia’s children, but their efforts often weren’t well aligned. Everyone agreed we needed a new approach.

Unwilling to yield any longer to the unspeakable rate of illiteracy in Georgia, the governor and first lady came together with the state’s leaders in 2013 to take on third-grade reading proficiency—not only as an education issue, but as an urgent priority for all who care about children’s health and well-being.

Guided by a team of strategic change consultants, a steering committee comprised of 26 high-level state and local leaders, both public and private, went through an eight-month process designed to support profound change. The Theory U method developed by MIT professor Dr. Otto Scharmer allowed leaders to set aside assumptions and investigate the issue of language and literacy development with fresh eyes in order to shift from a focus on what exists to what’s possible.


The process began in March with an exercise that asked Georgia leaders: “What would you have to believe to imagine all Georgia’s children on a path to literacy in third grade by 2020?” The resulting “mind map” of priorities informed the planning for an innovation forum in June. Partners delivered 24 TED-like presentations, exploring many of the critical issues that either support or thwart children’s language and literacy development and sharing cutting-edge research and effective practices.

Partners then participated in 15 “learning journeys”—specially designed site visits that enabled participants to mine promising practices and approaches while wrestling with pressing questions related to language and literacy development.

Because the challenge before them extended beyond classroom walls, these immersive experiences included not only innovative early learning and early grades schools and programs but also health care providers, parent engagement programs, and supply chain engineers.

Partners explored the issue of access and identified lack of affordability, awareness, accessibility, availability, accommodation, and acceptability as contributing to the existing literacy gap.

These investigations culminated in a session held that November during which more than 100 public, private, and philanthropic partners developed a clearly defined common agenda designed to ensure that every child in Georgia will become a proficient reader.

Our common agenda, comprised of four strategic pillars, is Georgia’s platform for action across public and private sectors to increase third-grade reading proficiency by supporting the growth, development, and learning of children from birth through third grade.

  1. Language Nutrition: All children receive abundant language-rich adult-child interactions, which are as critical for brain development as healthy food is for physical growth.
  2. Access: All children and their families have access to, and supportive services for, healthy development and success in high-quality early childhood and elementary education.
  3. Positive Learning Climate: All educators, families, and policymakers understand and address the impact of learning climate on social-emotional development, attendance, engagement, and, ultimately, student success.
  4. Teacher Preparation and Effectiveness: All teachers of children ages birth to 8 are equipped with evidence-informed skills, knowledge, and resources that effectively meet the literacy needs of each child in a developmentally appropriate manner.

Numerous efforts are underway nationwide to increase student learning and success. Get Georgia Reading is unique in its focus on all aspects of language, literacy, development, and sustainability, and the deep commitment of public and private partners to tackle this challenge at the state and local level.

The Campaign’s common agenda unites stakeholders focused on children and families and aligns their efforts around a population-focused approach to ensure kids stay on track to achieve reading proficiency by the end of third grade.

State and local leaders in early learning, education, public health, community health, child welfare, behavioral health, juvenile justice, and corrections collaborate with private foundations, nonprofits, and volunteers to drive system improvements.

Both the process to develop the common agenda and its strategic pillars are highly transferable for addressing many population-based issues. Complex issues require interconnected solutions like the Get Georgia Reading common agenda. They also require cross-sector and cross-agency collaborations.

The strategic pillars have established a common language across sectors and disciplines, encouraging continued engagement and innovation, challenging conventional approaches, and preventing the natural tendency to drift toward working in silos. The agenda also informs the internal decision-making of partners guiding action toward the shared outcome of third-grade reading proficiency.