Teacher pointing to a picture on a book for a student

Gift to support college programs for children’s reading and literacy, including two endowed professorships

The Ohio State University Professor Emerita Gay Su Pinnell MA '68, PhD ’75 has committed $7.5 million from her charitable fund with The Columbus Foundation to the College of Education and Human Ecology — the largest philanthropic contribution made by an individual or foundation in the college's history.

The gift will support an endowed professorship in reading, the first endowed clinical professorship at Ohio State, also for reading, and a fund for literacy education.

Gay Su Pinnell, professor emerita

In recognition of her Ohio State legacy, the Pinnell Professorship in Reading will honor her years of scholarship and practice that helped children who struggle to read. Through Pinnell’s tireless efforts, Reading Recovery, the intervention she helped bring to North America 35 years ago, has provided high-quality reading instruction to more than 2.3 million first-graders in the lowest 20% of their classes in reading.

Pinnell ensured that Ohio State holds the license to Reading Recovery and conducts the intervention in concert with 12 other university training centers in North America.

“These faculty positions and literacy funds will honor the scholarship and teaching of Dr. Pinnell in perpetuity,” said Bruce A. McPheron, executive vice president and provost. “Throughout her remarkable career, she has worked to foster greater understanding about how teachers can best position young readers for lifelong success.”

Pinnell was inducted into the college’s Hall of Fame in 2015 in recognition of her many contributions. In 2016, she received The Ohio State University Alumni Association’s Alumni Medalist Award, its highest honor.

In addition to her gift being the largest in the college’s history, it also is the largest to the college since last year’s launch of Time and Change: The Ohio State Campaign, which has three core areas of focus: student success, discovery and healthy, vibrant communities.

“Dr. Pinnell has become a nationally known champion of young, struggling readers by increasing the college’s scholarly reputation and practice through programs based on rigorous research,” said College of Education and Human Ecology Dean Don Pope-Davis. “We greatly appreciate that Dr. Pinnell has chosen to invest in the education of children through this transformative gift.”

Fund recognizes colleague, supports school literacy teams

Pinnell has named the Mary Fried Endowed Clinical Professorship in honor of her colleague and friend who joined Ohio State in 1984 to take part in the original Reading Recovery pilot study. Fried has remained with Ohio State ever since, becoming well known nationwide as she provides professional development for teachers in Reading Recovery and the Literacy Collaborative.

On June 30, Pinnell surprised Fried with news the clinical professorship had been named in her honor.

"I consider teaching children to harness language through Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative vitally important,” Pinnell said. “I named the clinical professorship for my colleague and friend Mary because she exemplifies the consummate literacy educator. The ongoing professional development that she and the other educators provide opens the eyes of teachers and their coaches to the power and effect of their teaching."

The Fried Clinical Professor will serve as a bridge between Reading Recovery and the Literacy Collaborative, which will be supported by the Literacy Collaborative Endowed Training Fund. The training fund will provide leadership and expert support to the collaborative, a comprehensive school reform project for grades K-8. Since 1986, the collaborative has partnered with school districts nationwide to train teams of teachers, administrators and coaches focused on improving children’s literacy skills.

Proven effective by research

Starting during her early years of working at Ohio State, Pinnell conducted research on Reading Recovery to ensure its effectiveness and continual improvement. Today, the federal government’s What Works Clearinghouse summarizes her research evidence and that of others and, as a result, ranks Reading Recovery the highest among 24 other reading curricula and literacy instructional strategies for students from kindergarten through third grade.

One large study by independent researchers completed in 2015, showed that low-progress first-graders taught by Reading Recovery teachers were learning to read 120 percent to 166 percent faster than typical rates of learning for first-graders.

Data about the teaching of all students in North America is collected in a massive database that Pinnell established. The school year 2018-19 report from the Reading Recovery International Evaluation Center shows that more than 32,000 first-graders received Reading Recovery instruction that year.

College dean meets with local school student at table
Dean Don Pope-Davis visits with a student from Hilliard City School District.

Literacy Collaborative has been proven effective by multiple research studies. The largest, a federally funded, four-year project measured the literacy skills of 8,500 students in grades K-3 and the teaching skills of 240 teachers in 17 Literacy Collaborative schools. Forty percent of the students were low income.

Student literacy growth increased by an average of 16% in Year 1, 28% in Year 2 and 32% in Year 3. Teacher expertise increased substantially, the rate of improvement being predicted by the amount of coaching a teacher received.

Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative stand out from other literacy interventions and programs because trained coaches provide ongoing professional development to teachers. Coaches regularly observe teachers and support their growth. Teachers become so well versed, they know how to deepen their students’ ability to think about and understand what they’ve read.

Pinnell’s achievements are many

Pinnell’s body of work includes her ongoing collaboration with Professor Irene Fountas, Lesley University, in creating The Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™ Guided Reading Collection, a transformative literacy program published by Heinemann, a division of Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt. This program helps children around the world advance their ability to process increasingly challenging books with fluency and comprehension.

Pinnell has received many additional honors during the course of her career. She received the Albert J. Harris Award for research on children’s reading difficulties from the International Reading Association and the Charles A. Dana Foundation Award for her pioneering contributions to the field of education. The state of Ohio recognized her with its Governor’s Award, and she was inducted into the internationally recognized Reading Hall of Fame in 1999.

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