TDOE Announces $100 Million Initiative, ‘Reading 360,’ to Support Literacy in Tennessee

Monday, January 04, 2021 | 03:21pm


Federal Funding will Provide Optional Reading Resources and Supports for Districts, Teachers, Families


Nashville, TN—Today, the Tennessee Department of Education released details on a new $100 million statewide initiative, “Reading 360,” to ensure Tennessee districts, teachers, and families are equipped with tools and resources to help students read on grade level by third grade.  

To help support literacy development in Tennessee, the state will leverage approximately $60 million of one-time federal COVID-19 relief funding and $40 million in federal grant funding to immediately launch Reading 360 and invest in optional reading resources and supports at no cost to the state or districts.  

Reading 360 will provide optional grants and resources to help more Tennessee students develop strong phonics-based reading skills by supporting districts, teachers, and families. 

“When our students succeed our entire state prospers, and we know that reading on grade level is foundational to the success of every student, both in and out of the classroom,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. “Reading 360 will give critical supports to districts and educators so we can address this challenge urgently and put Tennessee’s students on the right track to grow and thrive.” 

“In the last decade, Tennessee has done remarkable work to increase expectations for student learning and to improve outcomes for our kids. Now, we are uniquely positioned to tackle literacy with urgency and can do so from all sides,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Our state has a golden opportunity to lead the nation in literacy, and most importantly, accelerate progress for our students.”  

Reading is the foundation to all learning and reading proficiently by third grade is a critical milestone for every student. Before the pandemic, only one third of third graders in Tennessee had met expectations in English Language Arts (ELA), the best standardized proxy for reading achievement. Our state has not yet comprehensively and effectively addressed this challenge, and after a year disrupted by COVID-19, school building closures and virtual learning, the stakes are higher than ever for our students.  

Through optional grants to districts, students and families will have access to tutoring and online supports to help develop foundational skills in literacy. Tennessee educators will have access to free training and professional development, phonics kits and materials to use in their classrooms, and stipends for training. Districts will have access to a suite of tools and resources to support their teachers and schools in implementing strong reading instruction for all students.  

Tennessee has led the nation in academic gains for students over the past decade, and most recently in the K-12 crisis response to COVID-19. Tennessee is now poised not just to protect students, teachers, and schools in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic, but to accelerate student learning further and faster than ever before. 

Throughout Tennessee and across the country, directors of school, elected officials, and community partners are encouraged by this bold approach to support literacy in Tennessee, including: 

We know that literacy is essential to the success of all students and our state. With the disruption our schools have experienced over the past year, it is crucial that we offer our local school districts support in addressing reading as soon as possible and Reading 360 is one way we can get started now. Our students are counting on us, and everyone has a role to play.” -Representative Mark White, House Education Chairman, Tennessee General Assembly

“I commend the governor for creating a bold plan to address the literacy crisis facing our students, schools, and districts. Literacy is the key to success for our children in Tennessee." -Senator Brian Kelsey, Tennessee General Assembly

"I believe Reading 360 is the bold solution we need to increase reading proficiency for Tennessee students. We have been challenged to improve reading scores over the past seven years and now we need to invest our resources in this comprehensive program to change the trajectory for every child. The program design includes all the right stakeholders at the appropriate level to ensure students are on the path to life-long learning. This is an exciting moment for Tennessee education." -Lillian Hartgrove, Chairman, State Board of Education

“It is imperative, that we, as a state, focus our educational efforts on a comprehensive vision for literacy. With the strong emphasis on literacy laid out in the Reading 360 Program, I am confident that we will see significant advancement in children’s reading, which is the most critical component for assuring post-secondary success.”-Robert Eby, Vice Chairman, State Board of Education

“Tennessee needs the kind of comprehensive approach that Reading 360 represents if we are going to make significant progress towards ensuring all students are able to read proficiently by grade 3. I am excited to work with Commissioner Schwinn and the department on developing and implementing an approach that brings together educators, families and communities to make this happen.” - Sara Morrison, Executive Director, State Board of Education

“The department of education’s vision and support plan for early literacy improvement capitalizes on what works. Our students need a strong foundation in language comprehension and word recognition, and our teachers need the background and support to make it work. Haywood County Schools are aligned to this vision and look forward to engaging in the learning and support.” -Joey Hassell, Superintendent, Haywood County Schools

“I am pleased to learn more about the comprehensive literacy plan introduced by the Tennessee Department of Education. A comprehensive literacy plan that positively affects our students, teachers, and families makes Tennessee a stronger state. Cleveland City Schools has made a big investment recently in our literacy curriculum and we are happy to see our state leadership following through on this commitment as well.” -Russell Dyer, Superintendent, Cleveland City Schools

“Reading is fundamental to student success. This comprehensive vision for literacy comes at a critical time for our students and will go a long way in ensuring that the children of Memphis and TN have the tools and resources to achieve their maximum potential. It’s the most important investment we can make. Special thanks to our state leadership for this bold action on behalf of TN kids.” -Teresa Sloyan, President, Hyde Foundation 

“Foundation is that the greatest ‘wins’ come from working in partnership. Our best hope is in uniting the efforts of our educators, teacher education programs, school districts, families and communities in a comprehensive focus on literacy. Together, we will change lives! I am thrilled with the promise this plan brings for the future of Tennessee's children." -Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO, Niswonger Foundation

"As a foundation dedicated to helping more Tennessee students prepare for college and gain the skills needed to be workforce-ready, we strongly support the state's laser-like focus on early literacy," said Janet Ayers, president of The Ayers Foundation. "Children who are not reading on grade level by the end of the 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school and run the risk of being underemployed for the rest of their lives. We believe Reading 360 has incredible potential to give every child the opportunity for success." - Janet Ayers, President, Ayers Foundation

“Students who read well by the end of the third grade are positioned for success across the rest of their lives. However, only one in three third-graders in our state are reading on grade level. Tennessee has a literacy crisis. The Reading 360 proposal from Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn will help school districts and educator preparation programs adopt literacy instruction that is proven to work: developing foundational phonics skills, building knowledge with high-quality reading materials, and supporting current and future teachers to implement these practices.” -Sharon Roberts, Chief K-12 Impact Officer, State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE)

"Tennessee's literacy rates are at crisis-level lows with only 34.9% of students reading on grade level. The life-long challenges created through reading gaps disproportionately impact Tennessee's most marginalized students. We need a bold and urgent response to these issues if we are to chart a new path to success for hundreds of thousands of students. We need a bold and urgent response to these issues if we are to chart a new path to success for hundreds of thousands of students. We must seize every opportunity to build a better future for all students across the state." -Adam Lister, President, Tennesseans for Student Success

“When less one third of our children cannot read on grade level, Tennessee is in a literacy crisis. We have an enormous opportunity to set high expectations for every student and educator in our state – now is the time to get this right. This year, Tennessee needs to leverage all we can to get our students back on track so they can thrive.” -Tara Scarlett, President and CEO, Scarlett Family Foundation

“The partnership between families and teachers is critical in determining what's best for students. Tennessee is wisely encouraging innovative approaches at the district level to empower parents and educators to quickly identify and address early literacy needs. Each student is unique, and one-size-fits-all approaches to develop reading foundational skills will leave too many students behind. Tennessee is poised to become a national leader in early literacy with researched and proven approaches to ensure every child is prepared for success in the classroom and in life.” -Kymyona Burk, Ed.D., Policy Director for Early Literacy at ExcelinEd

"I have always contended that workforce development starts in K-12 and not post-secondary, so this literacy initiative and investment will have a vital impact in Tennessee's cradle to career continuum." -Jared Bigham, Senior Advisor on Workforce and Rural Initiatives, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce

To access additional resources on Reading 360, click here.  

For additional information on the department’s COVID-19 and school reopening related resources, please visit For Tennessee Department of Education media inquiries, contact