Editor’s Note: Ralph Smith is the Senior Vice President and Managing Director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and serves as Senior Vice President of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropy dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States.
On October 4, The Patterson Foundation renewed its commitment to the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading which prompts me to make public what I conveyed to The Patterson Foundation in a summary report a month ago.
The Patterson Foundation has been a highly valued partner, a provider of technical assistance and support, and an exemplar of philanthropic engagement at the local, regional, state and national levels (special gratitude and appreciation to President and CEO Debra Jacobs who has been a valued thought and action partner, co-conspirator, and executive coach.) The GLR Campaign is a stronger catalytic force and more effective backbone organization because of this multilayered support.
The major 2015-2016 accomplishments are spelled out in the Midpoint Snapshots. Overall, the GLR Campaign Enterprise Investors have enabled the Campaign to make significant progress on both the 2015 and 2016 milestones:
- Improving third-grade reading proficiency, school readiness, attendance/chronic absence and summer learning for children from low-income families have emerged as priorities for public officials and influential constituencies across the nation.
- Early learning, healthy on-track development and successful parents today are more widely recognized as essential contributors to success in the early grades.
- As we approach the latter half of 2016, communities in the Grade-Level Reading Network are serving as proof points for improving school readiness, attendance/chronic absence, summer learning and reading proficiency in the early grades.
I’m pleased to share some additional headlines and highlights:
- The GLR Campaign has spurred a movement. In addition to continued positive media coverage, we are seeing civic action, policy advocacy and decision making at the federal, state and local levels — more than two-thirds of states have put a “stake in the ground” around grade-level reading.
- Local funders have raised their hands. 250+ family foundations, community foundations, United Ways, corporate-giving programs and individual donors are supporting grade-level reading work in Network communities, and over 100 funders attended the 2016 Funder-to-Funder Huddle in Washington, D.C.
- Local campaigns are locally owned — not just by the funders, but across the board. Local campaigns are emerging with their own names (Read Charlotte, Read! By 4th, Stanislaus READS!, Read On Arizona) and actively co-branding GLR Campaign materials as their own. 36 communities report mobilizing over 9,500 volunteers, and local sponsoring coalitions include significant numbers of civic and community-based organizations.
- Good ideas and successful programs are using the GLR Campaign as a platform. An example that would be of particular interest to the Patterson Foundation involves the Bezos Family Foundation’s Vroom. The GLR Campaign’s Network Communities Support Center (NCSC) is managing a Peer Learning and Action Cohort of 23 communities to exchange experiences using Vroom and a Parent Listening and Learning Project in five communities to develop a deeper understanding of how parents use and experience Vroom.
- The GLR Campaign is emerging as a high-value preferred partner. Formal agreements with the GLR Campaign have been enthusiastically embraced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Head Start Association and more recently, the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. These agreements have increased the GLR Campaign’s prospects for recruiting partners, stakeholders, and champions from among the hundreds of executives and thousands of staff and volunteers working with local agencies and programs in the 285+ GLR communities.
Looking to 2017 and Beyond
As set out in the Midpoint Snapshots, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s action plan for the second half of its decade-long run will seek to solidify and accelerate the progress promised by the proof point communities. As importantly, that action plan will recognize that we currently define and measure “progress” consistent with the better-known of the two challenges captured in the 2020 goal — that of moving the needle. The lesser-known and longer-term challenge focuses on closing the reading proficiency gap.
At present, double-digit gaps persist and co-exist with good progress in every state and almost every GLR community. More Hopeful Futures, the GLR Campaign initiative scheduled for formal launch in 2017, will encourage and support a “bigger outcomes” approach — increments of positive change large enough to move the needle and close the gap. The “bigger outcomes” strategy will reflect the bingo matrix — aggregation and alignment of efforts across and between solutions and focus areas for impact and scale. Moreover, additional strategic priorities include: advocating for data-driven, technology-enhanced early warning and response systems; unbundling readiness, attendance and summer learning to allow more granular attention to the driver of improved outcomes in each of these domains; and extending the collective impact framework to accommodate and support processes that capture the value of the GLR Network’s distributed strengths, experience and expertise.