Mayors from across the country helped launched the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Communities Network yesterday, announcing a national movement of local leaders, nonprofits and foundations that is putting a stake in the ground on third-grade reading.
"We realize that we cannot have great cities without great public schools," said Kevin Johnson, Sacramento mayor and second vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Johnson has pledged to make his city the first in the nation to have all third graders reading on grade level. Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock and Providence Mayor Angel Taveres joined him in launching the network of 124 cities, counties and towns spread across 34 states and representing 350 school districts.
"There is nothing more important than preparing our students for the global economy," Mayor Hancock said. "I am proud of the plans we have for improving early literacy in Denver."
The launch of the network came as more than 500 community members, funders, nonprofit leaders and state and federal policymakers gather in Denver today to discuss solutions and strategies for closing achievement gaps and reducing dropout rates by improving third-grade reading.
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The communities in the network are adopting a collective impact strategy that engages parents, schools, nonprofits, businesses and foundations around the goal of supporting low-income children from birth through third grade. Their efforts recognize that schools alone cannot address the myriad challenges that thwart early literacy, including students who arrive at kindergarten without the basic skills they need to succeed, children missing excessive school days and students losing ground over the summer.
"We know that from first to third grade, kids are learning to read. After third grade, students should be reading to learn. Research shows that children who don't read at grade level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school without a high school diploma," said Mayor Taveras. "I am proud to join my colleagues Mayors Johnson and Hancock to launch this important national campaign. The work we are beginning today will help equip our students with the necessary skills to succeed in the classroom and compete in the workforce."
The 124 communities that are charter members of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Communities Network will have access to an online help desk, peer-learning opportunities, meetings with national experts and policymakers, and a foundation registry designed to expand and replicate successful programs.
"Today's launch of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Communities Network represents a tremendous investment of time, funds, goodwill and the belief that together we can do better for our children," said Ralph Smith, the managing director of the Campaign and a senior vice president at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. "More than 1,800 nonprofits across the country have already been deeply involved and we look forward to many more communities and organizations joining us to build a national movement to ensure that all students have the supports they need to be reading at grade level by the end of third grade."
Even before the national effort began, Springfield, Mass., launched its own initiative to improve early literacy. Springfield's effort pulls together partners from all parts of the community. "Powerless children need powerful friends," said Mary Walachy, executive director of the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation.
The national campaign began in February 2011 as a collaboration among foundations and nonprofits intent on increasing the number of low-income children who read on grade-level by the end of third grade. Last summer, the National Civic League joined the effort, announcing that the 2012 All-America City Awards would be based on a community's plan for improving early literacy. The All-America City awards will be announced in Denver Monday. Another 25 cities and counties are being recognized by the Campaign as Community Solutions PaceSetters for work that's already underway.
The United Way Worldwide and the National League of Cities, already working in many communities to improve education, have been providing technical assistance to those involved in the campaign.
"City leaders recognize that their communities' futures depend on whether children are on a pathway to success," Clifford M. Johnson, executive director of the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families said in a statement. "NLC applauds the efforts of honored communities and all local officials who are collaborating with school districts, early childhood education providers and community organizations to develop grade-level reading plans. No one entity can do it alone, and cities can play a unique role to promote reading proficiency by bringing partners to the table and coordinating local initiatives."
Each of the recognized communities submitted a Community Solutions Action Plan that included a broad cross-section of local partners, including schools, foundations, community service organizations, businesses and faith groups detailing how they would address school readiness, attendance and summer learning. These communities were selected through a peer review process from a field of more than 100 entries from across the country.
"More than 30 United Ways led efforts to craft community-wide plans to boost grade-level reading as part of the AACA effort, and I'm proud that United Way is advancing that collective impact work," Brian A. Gallagher, president and CEO of United Way Worldwide said in a statement. "We've put a stake in the ground to cut the number of high school dropouts in the U.S. by half, and we know that boosting reading proficiency by the end of third grade is critical to meeting that goal."
For information or interviews at the conference, contact Phyllis Jordan at 202-413-2247.