Research, experience, and common sense confirm that students who succeed in early grades are more likely to graduate from high school, that first big step on the success sequence away from poverty.
Since reading is rightly seen as the “gateway” skill, there’s good reason for concern over the recent “nation’s report card” on grade-level reading. As with earlier editions, it confirms a double-digit gap in reading proficiency between students from low-income households and their more affluent peers. This difference also appears in annual reports in virtually every state.
For these children, the prognosis for escaping generational poverty seems especially bleak.
A campaign for change
That’s why our communities have joined the nonprofit Campaign for Grade Level Reading, a network of over 300 communities committed to take on three major challenges: school readiness, chronic absence, and summer learning loss. Over the past five years, we have seen meaningful and measurable progress in over 100 of these communities.
In Kansas City, Missouri, a focus on third-grade reading proficiency has resulted in the gap between students from low-income neighborhoods and the rest of Missouri narrowing. In Utah, Promise Partnership communities’ focus on grade-level reading has increased reading proficiency by six points.
In Southwest Florida, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading provides learning materials for kindergarteners, holds a summer reading challenge, and involves adults. Early results show a decrease in the number of children missing 10 percent or more of the school year, an increase in summer reading skill gains, and an upward tick in third grade reading scores.
Not there yet
However, even in communities where the campaign seems to be working, progress has been slow.
Growth will require a demand for quality teaching in every classroom, every day; productive partnerships between parents, educators, and health care professionals; and 24/7/365 systems that can include counseling and nutritional support.
The difference between what science says about learning and what we accept as teaching practice is especially true of reading. Although schools are not 24, 7, nor 365, most of the remediation directed at student shortfalls are decidedly school-centric and tilt toward blaming and shaming parents.
Community mobilization must be harnessed to demand the quality teaching, parent partnerships, and systems reforms that will surround children and families.
Coalitions of local supporters continue to join our campaign, and we invite others to learn about our work and approach. We’re building a big tent because that’s what it takes to win.