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The 2012 All-America Cities

Baltimore, Maryland

The City of Baltimore created a Grade-Level Reading Campaign to achieve three goals by 2020: 1) Average daily attendance of 97 percent for students in grades K-3. 2) More than 80 percent of students reading at grade level by the end of third grade. 3) More than 80 percent of all children fully prepared for kindergarten. Leaders from the public sector, philanthropy, education, academia, healthcare, and members of the community created a comprehensive strategy guided by the following principles:

  • Aligning existing strategies and new approaches so that they build upon one other to maximum effect
  • Offering universal strategies for all children, while finding ways to intervene with those most at risk and to recover those who need to get back on track.
  • Engaging parents, caregivers, and community members.
  • Braiding and bundling resources of time, talent and funding.

Some specific strategies within this comprehensive approach include: 1) Using innovative approaches and non-traditional partners to create a system of outreach, promotion and coordination that gives young children better access to high-quality pre-K learning and helps caregivers understand the importance of early literacy. 2) Under the leadership of the Baltimore Student Attendance Campaign, improve access to attendance data, develop positive prevention strategies and early intervention strategies, address barriers to regular attendance, and initiate a campaign to make attendance a top priority city-wide. 3) Develop a full-day Summer Reading Academy for those in greatest need of support, with services including enrichment activities, recreation/play time, guided independent reading, weekly outings, three meals per day, and transportation.

Dubuque, Iowa

When Dubuque learned about the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Network last fall, the community quickly formed the Third Grade Reading Coalition with 17 partners, including leaders and experts from area schools, colleges, universities, non-profits, business, City government, and philanthropy. In the 1980s, Dubuque endured 23 percent unemployment, an exodus of residents, struggling downtown businesses, disconnected neighborhoods, and little hope that we could thrive. In these difficult times, leaders from the private, non-profit, and public sectors helped change Dubuque, focusing on grassroots efforts. Based on this track record, city leaders are confident that the community partnership will increase the numbers of students reading at grade-level by the end of third grade and close the nagging achievement gaps for minority students and students in poverty. To increase school readiness, Dubuque’s coalition plans to connect more 4-year-olds to preschool, expand opportunities for 3-year-olds, and partner with local colleges to provide professional development for teachers, para-educators, and childcare providers. This process will ensure that early learning aligns with the primary grades. The approach to summer learning will involve integrating learning strategies into existing summer programming and identifying an effective approach to our Title I summer reading programs. To address chronic absence, the coalition will organize an attendance campaign, ensuring that at-risk families receive the support they need, and enlisting business partners as mentors.


Louisville, Kentucky

The Every1Reads initiative in Louisville has raised more than $8 million in private funds and trained 11,000 volunteers who work with local students, helping them to read at or above grade level. And now, Louisville wants to build on that success. Collaboration is a key component of the plan, and partners have come together around grade-level reading as a way to improve educational outcomes for Louisville’s children. Partners include: United Way of Kentucky and Kentucky Youth Advocates, Metro United Way, Louisville Free Public Libraries, Head Start and Early Head Start, Jefferson County Community Early Childhood Council, National Center for Family Literacy, Reach Out & Read, and many others. The Grade Level Reading partnership puts special emphasis on the key areas of school readiness, summer learning and chronic absence with the ultimate goal of ensuring that every child is a reader. The city’s Grade-Level Reading plan sets an ambitious goal that 100 percent of third graders will be reading on grade level by 2020. In addition, 80 percent of Jefferson County public school preschoolers will enter kindergarten “ready to learn,” and 90 percent of the system’s pre-K to third graders will attend school for 95 percent of the school year. In addition, the percentage of struggling readers in kindergarten through third grade who attend summer programs with a reading enrichment component will increase by five percent nearly every year until 2020.

Marshalltown, Iowa

Marshalltown, Iowa has undergone a demographic sea change over the past decade that has challenged all community systems but especially the Marshalltown Community School District (MCSD) with a student population that is now 55 percent minority; and 70 percent eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.  In the 2010-2011 school year, the district ranked 21st out of the 25 largest Iowa districts with 65.8 percent of 3rd grade students testing proficient in reading. The community has taken on the challenge of creating a new trajectory for students focused on the three critical areas:  summer learning loss, school readiness, and school attendance. A broad-based steering committee of community leaders  participated in a day-long “Education about Education” event and built an audience of 75 peers to learn about the education challenges and seek solutions together. Task forces were formed around the three critical areas, and the plan began to take shape.  Additional input was gathered from focus groups with 66 “hard to reach” parents. The resulting plan is to increase t the number of children reading proficiently by the end of third grade to 90 percent by the year 2016.  Other goals for 2016 are:  85 percent of children entering kindergarten will be ready to learn; the number of summer learning opportunities that meet the RAND Corporation’s nine elements of quality summer learning programs will be doubled; and average daily attendance will be maintained at or above 95 percent while reducing chronic absences by 50 percent.

Pittsfield, Massachusetts

In Pittsfield, 60 percent of third graders are reading proficiently. But that number masks a huge disparity in grade-level reading based on income level. At Morningside Community School, where nine in 10 students come from low-income families, only a quarter of the students are reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Sterns, the city’s highest achieving school with 85 percent proficiency, draws  47 percent of its students from low-income families. Pittsfield has committed to topping even Sterns’ rate – by 2020, 90 percent of Pittsfield students will be reading at proficiently by the end of third grade. To achieve this, the city will work to strengthen and expand existing programs, as well as design new and innovative efforts to support families, children, and providers.  Pittsfield’s teen birth rate increased more than 40 percent between 1996 and 2009 – 15 percent of the city’s kindergarteners in 2014 will have teen mothers. The initiative will work with the Helen Berube Teen Parent Program to encourage teen moms to read to their children, creating programs like Third Thursdays – a monthly celebration of literacy. Reading activities such as corner book clubs, words of the day, and story hours would be embedded in ethnic fairs, downtown festivals, and other city-wide events. This community-wide mentality fuels other proposed ideas like Books in Banks, a program to reach out to local businesses to provide increased opportunities for accessing and reading books.

Providence, Rhode Island

Providence faces a challenge: less than half of its third graders are reading proficiently by third grade. And perhaps unsurprisingly, less than a third of entering kindergarteners are ready for school. But the city has a powerful team ready to turn this around. Under the leadership of Mayor Angel Taveras, himself a graduate of Providence’s public schools, the city is already taking steps to boost early literacy. Mayor Taveras convened the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet (CYC), a cross-sector collaborative of public, private, and nonprofit leadership focused on improving outcomes for all of Providence’s children. Rhode Island is a two-time Race to the Top winner, receiving a Round 2 grant in 2010 and an Early Learning Challenge grant in 2011, with federal  resources ready to devote to boosting early literacy. Providence aims to have 70 percent of third graders reading proficiently by 2020. The city has outlined a number of programs to achieve this goal. To boost school readiness, CYC partners will increase communication between Head Start programs and kindergarten teachers, so that kindergarten teachers understand more about their students – socially, emotionally, physically, and intellectually – before they come to class and the Head Start providers know more about what is expected of students when they reach kindergarten. An evidence-based Response to Intervention program, currently being implemented across the school district, will provide students with tiered supports for reading depending on their skill level. The program involves rigorous progress monitoring, and will ensure that students are attending school regularly and are challenged both in school and over the summer.

Quad Cities, Iowa and Illinois

The Quad Cities comprises five different cities, each with its own municipal government, which presents a challenge when it comes to providing social services.  Agencies often do not cross city or state boundaries, which makes coordination of services difficult in these communities: Davenport and Bettendorf (in Iowa) and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline (in Illinois). The goal of the Grade-Level Reading Campaign is to create a system of support for existing programs (both within and outside the school districts) that makes it easier to share resources across both district and state boundaries, and to encourage local social service programs with similar missions to work together to serve a larger population of at-risk students, and to do so more effectively.  Of the seven school districts in the Quad Cities, there are three where African-American students are twice as likely to be below proficient as their white peers, and three districts where Hispanic students are twice as likely to be below proficient.

Roanoke, Virginia

The city of Roanoke, along with local school districts and public libraries, has created a Star City Reads committee to respond to the area’s core challenges in early education. The committee has dedicated itself to raising attendance and literacy rates in the region by encouraging the establishment of Parent Resource Coordinators in organizations throughout the community to address the needs of low-income children and their families and ensure the success of each child. These coordinators will connect families with the resources and services in their community to help ensure that their child gets to school every day, as well as promoting the importance of reading together in the home. The city also plans to offer quality enhancement workshops to early childhood teachers and child care providers to promote alignment of preschool and elementary schools and raise kindergarten readiness rates. A Roanoke “Day of Caring” each spring will feature a book collection drive to distribute age-appropriate reading material to targeted schools and children. To combat summer learning loss, the city will expand the scope of its free-of-charge Summer Reading Camp, providing summer enrichment and literacy activities for children who are not eligible for remedial summer school. Additional strategies to encourage literacy efforts outside of school hours and during the summer involve awarding children a “Star City Reader” card after they successfully complete a certain number of books on an assigned reading list. The children can use their reader card to receive discounts at local businesses such as pizza shops or ice cream parlors.

San Antonio, Texas

The City of San Antonio—in collaboration with Mayor Julián Castro, the P16 Plus Council, and the Eastside Promise Neighborhood—has developed a comprehensive education master plan that includes multiple initiatives designed to increase school readiness, attendance, and grade-level reading performance. The San Antonio Brainpower Taskforce, appointed by the Mayor, will oversee plan implementation, beginning with the allocation of state funds expected to be generated by an upcoming sales tax increase. Funding will be reserved for school districts and providers with clear targets for student achievement using proven methodologies. Through the San Antonio READS Campaign, the city plans to promote grade-level reading by recruiting, training, and placing reading tutors in targeted schools by the year 2020. San Antonio also plans to launch a campaign in both English and Spanish to raise awareness about the value of “Talking, Singing, Reading, Writing, and Playing,” the five components of its Every Child Ready to Read initiative. To reduce chronic absenteeism, the city is launching a School Attendance Campaign that will track data, coordinate with truancy courts, raise public awareness about the importance of going to school, and increase parent and community involvement. Beginning this year, a Summer Reading Club will be incorporated into preexisting community programs such as the Boys and Girls Club and San Antonio Youth. San Antonio plans to make grade-level reading a reality for all of its students, regardless of where they live or how they live.

San Francisco, California

The San Francisco United School District, First 5 San Francisco, the Office of Mayor Edwin M. Lee, and the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth & Their Families have come together to develop a plan to double the number of third graders who are reading at grade level by the end of the decade. Currently, fewer than one third of the city’s third graders read at grade level, and among Latino and African American students the figure drops to one in five. But the city has outlined three strategies to ensure success in boosting students’ reading performance: strengthening and supporting teachers and providers, engaging and supporting families, and aligning existing systems. To support teachers, cross-training of all early grades teachers, educators, and support staff will focus on overall school readiness, as well as the literacy-specific skills that will build the foundation of grade-level reading proficiency. To support families, the city has generated funding for 24 neighborhood-based Family Resource Centers to serve low-income families with young children. And to align existing systems, the partnership will structurally revise standards, data, policy, and resources to make sure there are no gaps that would allow children to fall behind unnoticed. Each of the stakeholders in the partnership has or is planning initiatives to bring the full weight of the city’s public and private institutions behind achieving the important goal of doubling third grade reading proficiency by 2020.

Seattle and South King County Cities, Washington

A group in Washington state’s South King County first came together in 2010 to start a collective impact initiative aimed at dramatically improving student achievement from cradle to college and career. Funders, local government agencies, schools, and service providers in eight cities – Seattle, Auburn, Burien, Federal Way, Kent, Renton, SeaTac, and Tukwila – were already working on the Road Map Project when the opportunity to be a member of the Grade-Level Reading Network came along. Improving kindergarten readiness and third grade reading proficiency were key objectives of the project from the start, so joining the Campaign was a natural fit. Using the information already generated for the Road Map Project—including a baseline report articulating goals, performance metrics, targets, and strategies for closing achievement gaps—the region will work to improve third grade reading proficiency. Currently 66 percent of students in the region are reaching that critical third-grade reading milestone. By 2020, the region aims to increase this to 87 percent. By improving data availability and usage, existing programs and organizations—from long-standing school-library partnerships, to formal early earning programs like Seattle Step Ahead, to attendance efforts like the Be Here Get There Campaign— will be able to track results more easily and use data for continuous improvement.

Southern Pines, North Carolina

The community partners in the Southern Pines Campaign for Grade-Level Reading have created a comprehensive plan to ensure that 95 percent of children are reading at grade level by 2020. The strategies include: increasing the number of Southern Pines children enrolled in high quality child care and early childhood education; creating learning opportunities for low-income preschool children not enrolled in formal care; facilitating communication between early care providers and kindergarten teachers; ensuring that parents of at-risk Southern Pines children are informed about the year-round school schedule, and expanding number of at-risk children who participate in quality inter-session and summer learning programs.  Partners for Children and Families will continue their work in raising the level of quality of childcare and supporting families by coordinating with Sandhill Community College and area social service agencies. The Southern Pines Public Library and other community groups will expand literacy programs to serve children who are not in child care settings with a particular focus on at-risk families, including family literacy training. Existing school attendance strategies are showing success with incentive programs, tracking and follow up to ensure that all children are attending school regularly. Community partners are working together to create a summer learning loss presentation that will promote available and expanding summer programs, including those provided by the Boys and Girls Club and the Southern Pines Public Library.  Efforts are also underway to identify more providers and partners.

Springfield, Massachusetts

Springfield has organized its strategies to achieve grade-level reading by the end of third grade into three key focus areas: families, schools, and communities. In 2010, after statistics revealed that a startling 66 percent of Springfield third graders were not reading proficiently, the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation launched the Reading Success by Fourth Grade (RS4G) Public Awareness Campaign. This campaign aims to achieve 80 percent proficiency on the English Language Arts MCAS among third graders by the year 2016.  To achieve that, the RS4G campaign will work to educate parents, guardians, and childcare providers about their role in supporting early literacy and skill development through programs such as Ready! For Kindergarten. The campaign is also providing more efficient training for teachers of all students in the fourth grade and below to boost early literary skills. The city plans to continue its partnership with the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative to advance literacy efforts outside of school hours by providing resources and training courses so that low-income families can promote reading in the home. To combat chronic absence, the city will implement new benchmarks in individual schools to monitor attendance rates and work closely with school administrators to meet the targets in place. In addition, Springfield plans to extend its popular “Walking School Bus Initiative” to reach new school districts. This program assigns “Parent Ambassadors” to lead groups of children to school each day, providing a safe passage to and from school while also engaging the community in attendance efforts.

Tahoe/Truckee, California

The Tahoe Truckee Reads Campaign first met in fall 2011 to plan how community groups will increase the percentage of students reading at grade level by the end of third grade to 80 percent by 2020.  Currently, just 53 percent of that total student population and only 26 percent of low-income students reach that milestone. To prevent summer learning loss, the group is focusing on increasing summer learning experiences for low-income students by building off the El Andar program, establishing a community -wide Summer Book Bag program to get books into students’ hands and homes, and creating a volunteer summer reading program in conjunction with local service groups. To tackle school readiness, the group plans to develop consistent messaging for parents and early care providers about the importance of early language development to be delivered through programs including social services, pediatricians, home visiting programs and hospitals. Other strategies include expanding a volunteer reading program, conducting a community book drive aimed at getting books to preschoolers, and creating and implementing an assessment tool to determine whether preschool children are on track to begin school and learning.  Finally, to address attendance, the TTUSD Superintendent will designate a district employee to implement a new procedure that will more accurately monitor attendance.  With better data, the district can create effective strategies to address absenteeism and truancy.