JerseyCAN’s “New Jersey Legacy of Literacy Coalition” Expands Grassroots Membership

Coalition Sends Open Letter to Governor Murphy After Commitment to Literacy is Addressed in State of the State

[New Jersey – January 23, 2024] JerseyCAN, the only statewide advocacy organization in New Jersey committed to ensuring access to high-quality public schools for every child regardless of zip code, cultural background, or socioeconomic status, announced today it’s New Jersey Legacy of Literacy (NJLL) Coalition has dramatically expanded, connecting the following organizations: Urban League of Essex CountyThe Reading League New JerseyNew Jersey Tutoring Corps,  Decoding Dyslexia NJThe Racial Equity Initiative, Inc.New Jersey Business and Industry AssociationTeach for America New JerseyNJ Children’s FoundationRead 4 NJProject ReadyParent ImpactMy Brother’s Keeper NewarkWestside Citizens UnitedCamden Education FundRoots & BridgesNewark Opportunity Youth Network, and Unapologetic Parents. Announced earlier in 2023, the Coalition serves as an umbrella alliance in support of the statewide marketing and legislative campaign to influence Governor Phil Murphy, the New Jersey State Legislature, and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to adopt and enact a high-quality statewide plan that addresses literacy in every public school in the state.

“Organizations and institutions across the state are joining JerseyCAN’s NJLL coalition with the shared goal of making a successful collective push to tackle our literacy crisis – and based on this month’s State of the State, Governor Murphy is listening and acting,” stated JerseyCAN Executive Director Paula White. “No community in New Jersey is immune to this moment, but its sting is most acutely felt in vulnerable communities.  Nationwide, other states that have faced the same challenges from the pandemic are listening to expert recommendations and building viable solutions to address literacy outcomes. With Governor Murphy’s recent commitment to phonics instruction, New Jersey no longer remains stagnant, but we need to act with diligence and a sense of urgency around implementation so that our students’ test scores can move beyond their current all-time lows. The fix is straightforward – adopting the Science of Reading (SoR) principles in a comprehensive way that addresses not just phonemic awareness and phonics, but fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.”

“As a leader in workforce development brokering opportunities in Essex County, our membership is passionate that reading is of paramount importance to citizens acquiring employment,”  stated Vivian Cox Fraser, President & CEO, Urban League of Essex County.  “The NJLL Coalition is growing because the Garden State is in desperate need to change the status quo.  We are determined to ensure that Governor Murphy’s words and intentions are translated to real changes on the ground.”

“The Racial Equity Initiative was founded to bring attention and change to the glaring disparities in life outcomes we see among New Jerseyans, largely predicted by race,” stated Sandra Donnay, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, the Racial Equity Initiative, Inc. “Unless our Black and Brown children are taught in a manner aligned to the Science of Reading, their literacy acquisition will lag, and it will be impossible to put a dent in this challenge. For the sake of our children, we will be tracking real-time developments in the implementation of the literacy commitments of the Murphy administration, and we stand ready to be supportive in any way we can.”

Last year, New Jersey’s State Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee noted that 58% of the state’s third graders are not meeting reading standards. It has also been reported that less than 10 percent of students in many of the state’s critical urban areas are reading at grade level. For example, the Asbury Park school district did not have a single 3rd-grade student at grade level proficiency in the most recent state test administration.  This data comes on the heels of an analysis by ExcelinEd, which found that the New Jersey Department of Education has failed to adopt “minimal fundamental literacy principles.” Out of the 17 basic learning principles of reading, New Jersey had adopted only four. Nationwide, only Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire had fewer.  In addition, The Nation’s Report Card, a biennial academic report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a congressionally mandated initiative administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), stated that New Jersey has failed to move the needle in closing socioeconomic or racial gaps in 4th-grade reading proficiency for the past twenty years.

Earlier this month, Governor Murphy delivered his 2024 State of State Address, where he outlined efforts to begin addressing literacy for K-12 students and, for the first time, embraced key aspects of the NJLL Coalition’s Declaration of Principles, including investment in teacher training, literacy assessments for students, and deep engagement with local universities and colleges to prepare future teachers to address the state’s literacy challenges.  In response, the Coalition released the following letter to Governor Murphy:

Dear Governor Murphy:

On January 9, 2024, we watched and listened to you share your vision and plans for New Jersey at the annual State of the State address. We were truly elated to learn that your vision includes advancing literacy in our great state by using commonsense, evidence-based literacy practices in our elementary school classrooms to educate our students.

We, the members of the New Jersey Legacy of Literacy (NJLL) coalition, would like to thank you most sincerely for your commitment to improving literacy outcomes in New Jersey. We know that New Jersey’s education system has many wonderful opportunities for our students, and we are grateful for how we lead the country on metrics that track our students’ social and academic well-being. That said, our reading outcomes are unacceptable for far too many students, particularly for students in our most vulnerable groups, including Black students, students of Hispanic descent, students living in poverty, and students with special needs. In addition, reading outcomes for our more historically advantaged students are often masked by parents’ independent actions in spending an inordinate amount of time and resources to fill the instructional gaps created by misguided approaches to teaching reading in their children’s schools. We can and must do better.    

The NJLL coalition was formed in June 2023 to serve as ambassadors for a bold agenda that honors and values literacy acquisition for all New Jerseyans. Our membership includes civil rights organizations like the Urban League of Essex County; leadership development organizations like Teach for America (TFA); literacy organizations like The Reading League; philanthropic organizations like the New Jersey Children’s Foundation (NJCF); and parent-led grassroots organizations like Decoding Dyslexia NJ and Unapologetic Parents. Based on where New Jersey’s progress lies, our goal is to facilitate the introduction and passage of statewide legislation and regulations for the following five literacy principles with the highest leverage for positive student outcomes:                

  1. Science of Reading (SoR) training for classroom practitioners;

  2. Teacher Preparation programs aligned to SoR;

  3. Universal Screeners to identify students’ entry points along the continuum of reading, use multi-tiered supports for high-quality instruction, and track subsequent progress;

  4. Notification to Parents of Students identified with Reading Deficiencies;

  5. District Adoption and use of High-Quality Curricular and Instructional Materials

We appreciate the synergy between your literacy commitment and our coalition’s goals because reading is foundational to early learning, crucial for success in college and career, and vital for successfully navigating everyday life. We welcome the opportunity to meet with you and work with your administration in supporting methods proven to be most consistently associated with reading success.

Thank you, Governor Murphy, for being a literacy leader.                     


Paula L White, Executive Director, JerseyCAN
Giana M. Campbell, Executive Director, Camden Education Fund
Liz Barnes, Founding Parent, Decoding Dyslexia – NJ
Robert Clark, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Newark Opportunity Youth Network
Althea D. Ford, VP, Government Affairs, New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBIA)
Colleen Schulz-Eskow, Senior Director of Public Policy, New Jersey Children’s Foundation
Tafshier Cosby, Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director of External Affairs, Parent Impact
Shennell McCloud, Chief Executive Officer, Project Ready                         
Meghann Bierly, Founder & Lead Advocate, Read 4 NJ                            
Shanell Dunns, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Roots and Bridges                       
Tahina Perez, Executive Director, Teach for America – New Jersey                        
Sandra M. Donnay, Ph.D., C.P.A.,  Founder & Chief Executive Officer, The Racial Equity Initiative
Susan Miller, Chapter President, The Reading League New Jersey
Jasmine Morrison, Executive Director, Unapologetic Parents
Vivian Cox Fraser, President & Chief Executive Officer, Urban League of Essex County
Nina Summerlin, President, Westside Citizens United 

Since the formation of the NJLL, JerseyCAN has launched a multi-platform marketing campaign promoting SoR, worked with key leaders of the New Jersey Legislature to develop legislation to improve literacy outcomes, and held local events and public screenings of the documentary The Right to Read, which shares moving stories of activists, teachers, and families fighting to provide children the ability to read. In August, JerseyCAN released  “Leveraging Literacy – The Path to Education Recovery in New Jersey,” which defined specific policy solutions to address the literacy gap and analyzed how the gap has affected urban areas across the state. In September 2023, after a four-month lag in discussion and later public comment by JerseyCAN urging action, the New Jersey State School Board passed a resolution to revise the New Jersey Student Learning Standards, which included key aspects of SOR.

“We are witnessing a moment where New Jersey’s powerbrokers want to move from tolerating ineffective approaches to reading instruction to employing a structured literacy approach aligned to the Science of Reading – and we have the skill and the will to help. The Science of Reading is brimming with possibilities for children, which should inspire us all to make changes immediately,” concluded Ms. White.


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