Highlights from the 2017 Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Conference


This year’s Campaign for Grade-Level Readingconference in Denver, Colorado brought together over 400 funders, nonprofit leaders, and public officials from across 45 states who are working to change the outcome for at-risk children and their families.

Reading proficiently by third grade – the number one predictor of school success – is a goal that’s now been adopted by over 300 communities across the United States to help boost student academic performance and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

The annual conference provides the opportunity for these communities to network together, share lessons learned, and highlight best practice strategies from those partners who are excelling in bolstering student outcomes and family success.

The Campaign’s key areas of focus include:

  1. Quality teaching and parent support
  2. Community-driven efforts to address key contributors to 3rd grade reading success, including:
    • Increasing school readiness
    • Reducing chronic absence
    • Preventing summer learning loss
  3. Advocacy for effective programs and policies

Fifteen communities were recognized at the conference as recipients of the 2017 All-America City Awards for their progress in advancing early literacy. These communities (as well as links with more information on their respective successes) are:

  1. Avondale, AZ
  2. Council Bluffs, IA
  3. Delray Beach, FL
  4. Des Moines, IA
  5. Dubuque, IA
  6. Kansas City, MO
  7. Lane County, OR
  8. Montgomery County – Dayton, OH
  9. New Britain, CT
  10. Roanoke, VA
  11. San Antonio, TX
  12. Springdale, AK
  13. Springfield, MA
  14. Stockton-San Joaquin County, CA
  15. Suncoast (Manatee & Sarasota Counties), FL

In addition to these formal awards, there were a myriad of takeaways from robust panel discussions and insightful presentations delivered throughout the three-day conference. Below are a few of the innovative approaches and tactics we gleaned during our time at #GLRWeek:

  • Bezos Family Foundation Translates Research Into Action with VroomJackie Bezos shared her Foundation’s vision of putting critical early childhood research into the hands of those who can use it most – parents and caregivers.  Vroom is an online application that helps parents “turn shared moments into brain-building moments” through practical everyday tips for nurturing children’s growing minds. The tool is now used by families and caregivers around the world to help maximize the critical first five years of a child’s learning and development.
  • Denver’s ‘Countdown to Kindergarten’ Program Partners with Neighborhood Liaisons to Engage ParentsIn 2013, Mayor Hancock and the Denver school district identified four high-need schools where they sought to promote kindergarten readiness through early parent engagement. The goal in these neighborhoods was to reach parents of children age 3-4 to encourage them to engage their children in high-quality pre-kindergarten experiences. A representative from the Mayor’s Office of Children’s Affairs spent time in each of these neighborhoods to build trust, meet parents face-to-face, and listen to their questions and resource needs. The program then designed Parent Readiness Workshops that addressed topics of most interest – including school choice, health and nutrition, and behavior and discipline – while providing family meals, childcare, and transportation to remove barriers that might have prevented parents from being able to attend. The program partnered with local neighborhood liaisons to go door-to-door to recruit parents to participate. These liaisons were trusted leaders in their respective communities who spoke fluent Spanish (as the vast majority of the parents in the targeted communities were monolingual Spanish speakers). In its initial year, the program was able to reach approximately 500 parents over a period of six months. Survey results from the participants showed increased knowledge about the importance of a child’s first five years, as well as improved parental confidence regarding skills and strategies that support a child’s healthy early learning and development.
  • San Antonio’s ReadyKidSA Coalition Mobilizes the Community Around a Shared Kindergarten Readiness Scorecard. The San Antonio ReadyKidSA Coalition has been working for decades to collectively impact local early education and student success. The Coalition’s vision is to “Grow happy, healthy, ready children,” and its purpose is twofold: 1) build a comprehensive early childhood system that supports children from birth to age 8, and 2) provide parents and caregivers with the tools and resources to better support their families. Thanks to a robust collaboration of multiple and diverse community partners, the ReadyKidSA website is now a one-stop shop for garnering early learning parent resources, provider tools, and local event updates, as well as viewing the community’s progress toward the kindergarten readiness goal through the coalition’s Results-Based Accountability community scorecard.
  • Pay-for-Success Financing Sets Precedent in Salt Lake City, UtahThe 1st U.S. impact fund to target outcomes-based financing, Salt Lake City’s Community Outcomes Fund allows investors to deploy capital to public-private partnerships that help solve local challenges while also having the potential to earn a financial return. In Utah, the program delivers a targeted curriculum to increase school readiness for at-risk 3- and 4-year olds. It is expected that fewer children will use special education and remedial services in K through 12th grade, resulting in cost savings for Utah (in its first year, Utah saved $281,550 in special education costs). The outcomes-based financing process includes: 1) governments paying only for meaningful outcomes by identifying priority outcomes and how to measure them, 2) service providers receiving resources to expand programs and funding that are aligned with community priorities, and 3) investors deploying capital that is aligned with local priorities, with the potential to earn double bottom-line return while holding stakeholders accountable for results.
  • Portland’s Family Engagement Model Centers on Parent LeadershipAt Earl Boyles Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, the Children’s Institute (CI) has helped to establish a community-centered school that hinges on healthy, supported families. The initiative, called “Early Works,” is a prenatal-to-3rd-grade learning laboratory that offers public preschool, playgroups for parents with infants and toddlers, a lending library, a food pantry, a community health worker, and housing and other resources for parents that help bolster outcomes for its high-poverty students. CI funds a full-time liaison at the school who supports teachers in family engagement strategies, assists community partners in connecting with the school, and provides training for teacher home visits. The success of all of these strategies is dependent on engaged and healthy families. To that end, CI and Earl Boyles has supported the development of a bilingual and bicultural “Parents United” group that: 1) drives out-of-school programming, 2) plans and hosts a resource fair for the community, 3) collaborates with teachers and staff to design effective parent communications, and 4) advocates at the county and state levels to help share and spread early learning best practices.

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s community is strong and growing.  With voices from over 300 locations across the nation joining together to tout what’s working in early education, this movement is laying the groundwork to change the trajectory for our most at-risk children and families. Congratulations to the 2017 All-America City Award Recipients, and to all of the communities around the country rallying together to make a difference today – and to build a brighter future for tomorrow.

To learn more about the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, visit http://gradelevelreading.net/.

Sarah HudsonComment