- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday announced the formation of a task force that will examine the problem of adult illiteracy and develop recommendations for his successor in January.

The task force will consist of business leaders, nonprofit groups and city education officials who will study literacy issues between now and November.

“Every adult in our city should have the opportunity to enjoy reading and learning,” Mr. Williams, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election, said during a breakfast meeting sponsored by the Fannie Mae Foundation.

“This is a very, very important effort, and I strongly support it in any way I can, in office or out of office,” he said. “I strongly support it because we are only strong as a city as our foundation is.”

The program is one of the first developed specifically for Mr. Williams’ transition out of office.

According to the D.C. State Education Agency:

• 62 percent of city residents fall into the two lowest levels of reading proficiency.

• 30 percent of residents age 16 or older do not have high school diplomas.

• Nearly one-quarter of D.C. residents — more than 130,000 — need to improve their reading skills.

Nationally, 46 percent to 51 percent of Americans fall into the two lowest levels of reading proficiency, according to the American Literacy Council, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The District ranks among the lowest in the nation for adult literacy, statistics show.

The literacy task force will include D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey; William L. Pollard, president of the University of the District of Columbia; Lynwood Evans, regional vice president of Comcast Communications; and Michael Harreld, regional president of PNC Bank.

“We wanted to bring together all the right people,” said D.C. State Education Officer Deborah A. Gist. “The task force will be leaders coming together and talking about this issue.”

The meeting was held to garner support from business leaders for Mr. Williams’ Lifelong Learning initiative, which was started in 2003.

Mr. Williams asked business leaders to promote the initiative by contributing time, employees and in-kind donations.

“We need leadership and dollars committed to the community and committed to adult literacy,” said Stacey Stewart, president and chief executive officer of the Fannie Mae Foundation. “Unless we are able to work together, we will have a limited impact on what we can achieve. There’s a lot at stake.”

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