Editor’s Note: As managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading since 2010, Ralph Smith has been forging consensus around ensuring that children reach the critical developmental milestone of reading on grade level by the end of third grade.
The Campaign is grounded in research highlighting the alarming numbers of children who are not reading proficiently by third grade and the long-term consequences for society. The following post is from the forward to the recent publication, Towards Bigger Outcomes: Taking on the Health Determinants of Early School Success
“Doubling down,” “lifting up” and “prioritizing” are more recipe than menu — especially so regarding attention to parent success and healthy child development. Parents and caregivers are the first diagnosticians, first responders, and first home health care providers. Moreover, their own health status and challenges are deeply intertwined with those of their children.
The myriad efforts of Grade-Level Reading (GLR) communities to find, own and implement viable solutions to the readiness, attendance and summer learning challenges have illuminated how dependent all three are on the presence or absence of certain health conditions. The dependence is so great that the health markers are literally as well as figuratively “determinants” of early learning, early literacy and school success, especially in the early grades. Foreshadowed by the extensive literature on the social determinants of health, the community-level efforts have exposed the contours of a vicious cycle. Subpar school outcomes are key predictors of low socioeconomic status. The resulting social conditions account for much of the most consequential health disparities. The deleterious effects of a number of these health disparities on virtually all aspects of early learning predict the diminished outcomes that complete and perpetuate the cycle.
Common sense, reflective practice, the wisdom of lived experience and the research literature offer support for our bet that the prospects for improving student outcomes in the early grades can be enhanced by improving healthy child development in the early years. We now understand more deeply that the double-bottom-line effects of this aspect of our work — honing in the health issues that are most closely correlated with early school success — could prove a powerful intervention for one of the vicious cycles that sustain and nourish the inter-generational poverty we hope to disrupt.
This could be a big deal with far-reaching implications. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it is important to recall again the “no silver bullet” admonition. Our initiatives to “lift up” both parents and health will succeed best and contribute most when nesting within a strategic context that is intentional about fostering the connectivity and synergies needed for sustainable scale.
Insofar as the health determinants of early school success are concerned, we see at least three major contributors to bigger outcomes and sustainable scale:
The focus on “bigger outcomes” will bring additional strategic priorities
In closing, it is important to note again that the single development of which we are most proud and most hopeful is that over 250 community foundations, family foundations, United Ways, public charities, corporate-giving programs and individual donors have stepped up to provide dollars, leadership, and voice to early learning, early literacy and grade-level reading initiatives in their local communities and home states. And we have emerging evidence that some of these local funders are encouraging and inspiring institutions of higher education to channel their formidable reservoirs of intellectual, human and economic capital toward confronting the challenges associated with early school success. This is a development worth watching.
Campaign for Grade-Level Reading