More than 120 cities, counties and towns have submitted ambitious and sustainable plans to get students on track for grade-level reading by the end of third grade. For 105 of those communities, the plans will also serve as applications for the All-America City awards, which will be held June 30-July 2 in Denver, Colorado.
Each community that submitted a plan will join the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading network, which will provide access to experts, policymakers, and foundations investing in early literacy. The communities—ranging from big cities such as Los Angeles, Boston, and Seattle to smaller places like New Britain, Conn.— (see list here) are addressing what is clearly a national crisis: a full two-thirds of U.S. students, and fourth-fifths of low-income children, fail to become proficient readers in the early grades.
The third grade milestone marks the point when children shift from learning to read and begin reading to learn. Students who haven't mastered reading by that time are more likely to get stuck in a cycle of academic failure, drop out of school, and struggle throughout their lives.
"The reading problem is stark, but the solutions are clear," said Ralph Smith, the Annie E. Casey Foundation senior vice president who is managing director of the Campaign. "By working together and focusing on school readiness, attendance, and summer learning, communities can start to improve reading success today."
Thirty-six of the participating communities have more than 500,000 residents, and 43 have fewer than 100,000. Mayors or county officials lead the effort in 26 communities, and United Way chapters lead in 23. In addition to the support they receive from the Grade-Level Reading network, each community will be included in a national grant registry where their plan can be reviewed by more than 100 foundations and philanthropic donors who fund early childhood and early learning and literacy projects.
"Communities have already won just by applying," said Gloria Rubio-Cortes, president of the National Civic League, which sponsors the annual All-America City Award. "The act of coming together and creating a plan for improving early learning puts these places ahead. The application process was intended to elicit the best ideas, develop partnerships, and discover program efficiencies to put children on a track to graduation and success."
Each community proposes strategies for tackling three underlying issues that can keep children from learning to read well:
- School Readiness — too many children are entering kindergarten already behind.
- School Attendance — too many young children are missing too many days of school.
- Summer Learning — too many children are losing ground academically over the summer.
The plans provide benchmark data for children in these communities, as well as strategies for ensuring more students are reading proficiently. Communities are taking a variety of approaches.
"Many of our cities have been deeply committed to the goal of grade-level reading and some have developed initiatives with promising results," said Cliff Johnson, the executive director of the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families at the National League of Cities, a partner in the campaign. "The Grade-Level Reading Campaign gives communities an important opportunity to share what they're doing with their peers and gain insights about how to bring these efforts to scale."
Research shows that children who aren't reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times less likely to finish high school on time, one study showed. If they are poor and not reading proficiently, they are 13 times less likely to finish high school. And for children who live in areas of concentrated poverty, the prospects are even worse.
"No single sector can make real, lasting change alone," said Brian Gallagher, CEO and President of United Way Worldwide, a founding member of the Campaign. "It's so encouraging to see local United Ways, city leaders, foundations, libraries, and literacy councils working together to mobilize individuals and organizations around the need to help young kids read."
The concerted local action comes at a time when states and the federal government are paying particular attention to early education through legislation and grant programs. It also complements efforts underway by United Way Worldwide and the National League of Cities. Other major partners include the United States Conference of Mayors, America's Promise and the Council for a Strong America, whose Mission Readiness affiliate brings a strong national security message to the Campaign and other efforts to improve the prospects of the nation's youngest children.
This year’s sponsors of the All-America City Awards include Southwest Airlines, the Official Airline of the All-America City Award; The Piton Foundation; PCL Construction Enterprises, Inc.; The Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank; U.S. Bank; Greenberg Traurig LLP; The Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation, Inc.; FirstBank; and Colorado Municipal League.
The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort by dozens of funders across the nation to: close the gap in reading achievement that separates many low-income students from their peers; raise the bar for reading proficiency so that all students are assessed by world-class standards; and ensure that all children, including and especially children from low-income families, have an equitable opportunity to meet those higher standards. For more information, visit www.gradelevelreading.net.
The National League of Cities is the nation’s oldest and largest organization devoted to strengthening and promoting cities as centers of opportunity, leadership and governance. NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans.
United Way Worldwide is a worldwide network in 40 countries and territories, including more than 1,200 local organizations in the U.S. It advances the common good, creating opportunities for a better life for all by focusing on the three key building blocks of education, income and health. United Way recruits people and organizations who bring the passion, expertise and resources needed to get things done. LIVE UNITED® is a call to action for everyone to become a part of the change. For more information about United Way, please visit: LIVEUNITED.org.