Nothing could stop Ralph Smith from getting to the Florida Philanthropic Network Summit in Orlando last month — not even 26 hours of flight delays and alternate travel plans when ice storms hit the South. That’s the passion he brings as the leader and managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national collaborative movement of foundations, nonprofits, states and communities focused on the No.1 predictor of school success: third grade reading.
Smith, senior vice president at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is a titan in the world of philanthropy. During a breakfast session hosted by The Patterson Foundation at the summit, funders from throughout Florida came to learn more about this national movement that impacts everything from national defense to ending inter-generational poverty.
The premise is this: reading proficiently by the end of third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success. But each year, more than 80-percent of low-income children miss this milestone.
The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading focuses on three key areas to move the needle:
School Readiness – As early as 18 months, low-income children begin to fall behind in vocabulary development and other skills critical for school success.
Chronic Absence – Starting in the early grades, the percentage of students missing 10 percent of the school year can reach remarkably high levels, and these early absences can rob students of the time they need to develop literacy skills.
Summer Learning – Research spanning 100 years has proven that students lose ground academically when they are out of school for the summer. The problem is particularly acute among low-income students who lose an average of more than two months in reading achievement in the summer, which slows their progress toward third grade reading proficiency.
Smith, who also spoke during the summit’s plenary, highlighted the following points about the campaign’s growth and the challenges of working collaboratively for systemic change — the only kind of change, he says, that will move our nation toward progress.
1) Growing a Movement – The campaign accelerated itself, scaling so quickly that the leadership team almost felt like it was getting run over by the stampede of enthusiasm.