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Business Group Unveils New Tool Illustrating Intersection Of Childhood Poverty And 3rd Grade Reading Scores

Florida chamber reading poverty map.jpg
Florida Chamber Foundation
A new interactive map from the Florida Chamber Foundation visually displays the overlap between areas of childhood poverty and schools where third graders struggle with reading.

The Florida Chamber Foundation hopes an interactive map will inspire business leaders to invest in areas where many children live in poverty and read below grade level.

The research arm of the Florida Chamber of Commerce unveiled an interactive tool that pinpoints where high levels of childhood poverty and low reading scores overlap, in an effort to help guide business leaders’ investments that are aimed at closing academic achievement gaps.

The map, unveiled Thursday from the Florida Chamber Foundation, allows users to zoom in on Florida counties and zip codes, which are shaded on a gradient of yellow to red to illustrate the percentage of children who live in poverty. Schools are represented by dots on the map. Hovering over the dots opens information boxes that show the percentage of third graders who passed state reading exams in the 2018-19 school year as well as how many kids were reading below third-grade level.

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Research has shown connections between poverty and low reading performance, in part because increased levels of stress have effects on children's mental and physical health and on their brain development, and because low-income communities often have fewer educational resources.

The leaders in charge of the effort argue businesses have an incentive to change that: If students don’t excel in school, they won’t be prepared to enter the workforce.

Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the chamber, said the group's goal is for Florida to become the 10th largest economy in the world within a decade.

“And the truth is, we cannot do it if we don’t get 100 percent of our third graders reading at grade level," Wilson said, "and we also can’t do it if we don’t address our childhood poverty — and we’re going to cut that number in half.”

During a Zoom presentation Thursday, the architect of the map demonstrated how it works by spotlighting the zip code 33311 in Fort Lauderdale. More than 9,000 children in poverty live there.

"This zip code happens to have more kids living in poverty than any other zip code in the state of Florida," said Jerry Parrish, chief economist and research director for the foundation.

Schools in the area also report low passage rates on third grade reading tests.

Find the map here.

Jessica Bakeman is senior editor for news at WLRN, South Florida's NPR member station. Previously, Bakeman served as WLRN's education reporter for four years. Bakeman was awarded the 2020 Journalist of the Year award from the Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.