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Network of Groups Spearheading Campaign To Encourage Reading

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A national network of media, business, and education groups last week launched a campaign to encourage Americans to read more, especially to children.

Organized by the nonprofit organization READAmerica, the effort seeks to create a "reading America by the year 2000."

More immediate goals include national participation in a summer family-reading contest to be announced during "The Great American Read-Aloud Day/Night of a Thousand Stars" on April 17. On that day, celebrities and public officials will read aloud over the radio and television.

Readers may include President and First Lady Barbara Bush, although their role had not been confirmed as of late last week, organizers said.

The campaign also will include programs to encourage families to use public libraries.

"After all, there are more libraries than there are McDonald's. And the price is right--free," said Richard Dougherty, president of the American Library Association, which is among the campaign's backers.

Anderson Clark, READAmerica's president, noted that 23 million4adults cannot read beyond a 4th-grade level, and another 35 million to 40 million read very poorly, very little, or not at all.

A target of the READAmerica campaign, Mr. Clark said, "these are the semi-literate and aliterate who typically raise nonreaders and who could well pull the plug on the American economy."

Of the 26 million new jobs being created between 1984 and the year 2000, 25 million will require reading skills at a 3.6 level on a 6-point scale, Mr. Clark said. Currently, the U.S. workforce reads at a 2.6 level, he added.

Because 75 percent of current workers will still be working in 2000, this gap represents "the most massive, educational dead-weight imaginable," he said.

The summer contest encourages families to help children read books, newspapers, and magazines.

Endorsing the contest are the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Alliance of Black School Principals, the National School Boards Association, and the American Association of School Administrators.--lsa

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