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Awards to Promote 3rd Grade Reading

Out-of-school-time providers take notice: Communities focused on closing the achievement gap in and outside the classroom through cross-sector partnerships and strong leadership may be recognized for their efforts.

The 2012 All-America City Awards, a 52-year-old program for cities run by the National Civic League, has changed course this year to focus on how communities tackle one particular issue: 3rd grade reading proficiency. The NCL has partnered with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national coalition of funders and organizations that hopes to increase the number of low-income children reading at grade level by 3rd grade within the next decade.

To apply for the awards, communities (neighborhoods, cities, towns, counties) must file a three-page letter by Oct. 14 that briefly outlines their proposal to increase 3rd grade reading proficiency. The letters will focus on how communities address the issues of summer learning, reduce chronic absenteeism, and improve school readiness for their students, believed to be key components to having students read at grade level by 3rd grade.

The proposals should include evidence of leadership support, parent and community engagement, and cross-sector partnerships with government, civic, school, and community/nonprofit organizations. The process for meeting goals and evaluating data (in and out of school) to measure proficiency will be examined. All communities that file letters will have access to campaign resources to help write a more in-depth plan based on the outline, due March 12.

The 10 communities that have the most realistic and sustainable plans will be recognized with an All-America City Award in June and will continue to receive support from the campaign to implement their plans. A number of organizations involved in the campaign already are tied to the out-of-school-time realm, such as the YMCA and United Way.

School readiness, chronic absenteeism, and summer learning were targeted because research shows all three can have significant effects on student success in school, all the way through high school, said Ron Fairchild, senior consultant on the campaign and president of the Smarter Learning Group. But these issues were also selected because they are not just tied to in-classroom learning or academic standards, and are greatly influenced by the community, he added.

"Clearly teachers and schools need to be of high quality and reach all kids, but there are also responsibilities beyond the classroom that we have as communities to ensure that all kids succeed," Fairchild said. "Research suggests that these three solution areas—readiness, attendance, and summer learning—working together, at scale, could result in a breakthrough that dramatically increases third grade reading proficiency rates."

This is the first year the awards have focused on one particular issue; in the past, communities have been recognized more generally for notable civic accomplishments that combat local challenges and promote civic engagement. In 2015, awards will honor cities that have shown results in their efforts to promote 3rd grade reading proficiency, not necessarily tied to 2012 awardees.

The campaign estimates two-thirds of U.S. children are not reading at grade level, 80 percent of whom come from low-income families. Children who aren't up to grade-level reading standards by 3rd grade are six times more likely to drop out of high school, it reports. See my colleague Catherine Gewertz's coverage of these issues here.

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