December 19, 2011

Last week we were invited to attend "Ensuring World Class Readers," a policy and research forum held in Des Moines that provided evidence that whether a child reads at proficiency by the end of third grade can be a "make or break" indicator of future educational and life success.  At the beginning of 4th grade, says the research, children stop learning to read and begin reading to learn.

In fact, the National Research Council notes that "academic success, as defined by high school graduation, can be predicted with reasonable accuracy by knowing someone's reading skill at the end of third grade.  A person who is not at least a modestly skilled reader by that time is unlikely to graduate from high school."

The forum included keynote addresses from such speakers as Ralph Smith, Vice President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation; Heather Weiss of the Harvard Family Research Project; Nell Duke or Michigan State University; and several Iowa education and policy leaders.

Mr. Smith provided some interesting statistics including the fact that 80% of low income children in this country cannot read proficiently by grade 3.  In addition, he noted that roughly 75% of Americans ages 17-24 cannot join the US military, most often because they are poorly educated.  And for the first time in history, the pool of qualified high school graduates is neither large enough not skilled enough to supply the country's workforce, leadership, national security, and higher education needs.

Three key areas must be addressed first, Smith noted, in order to improve a child's potential in school:

1.    IMPROVE READINESS - too many children come to school "unprepared" to learn -- they are hungry, tired, or stressed by family disfuction and cannot catch up.

2.    ATTENDANCE - many children, particularly those from low-income families, are considered "chronically absent," missing 10% or more of the school year.  For many, it begins in kindergarten - 10% of all kindergarten and first-graders nationwide are chronically absent, and for some districts, as many as 25%.

3.    SUMMER LEARNING - research shows that low-income children fall behind during the summer as much as by 2 months of reading achievement, producing an achievement gap that grows over the years.  One study indicated that by the end of 5th grade, low-income students read at a level three grades behind that of middle income students.

By now you're aware of the Governor's blueprint for educational excellence in Iowa - One Unshakable Vision: World Class Schools for Iowa, released in October.  Among the recommendations in the blueprint is ensuring basic literacy by the end of third grade (to read the entire blueprint:
In addition to numerous changes including teacher training, strengthening academic focus, and tightening up assessments, Iowa's plan calls for greater involvement of parents and community in the success of students including "increasing parent and community engagement in every school in Iowa."   A huge piece of this role is shared by after-school programs such as Chrysalis After-School.

Our programs not only support innovation, creativity, and problem-solving, but they also connect after-school learning with the goals of Iowa Core Standards' 21st Century skills:
(1) employability skills
(2) financial literacy
(3) health literacy
(4) technology literacy
(5) civic literacy

We've expanded our program leader training, engaged a number of community partners, provided field trips and experiential learning, and worked with programs to include service learning and community engagement for the hundreds of girls involved in our programs.  You can be proud that Chrysalis After-School is a model for effective after-school programming that supports academic success and improves girls' potential - to graduate, to continue learning, and to become productive and independent citizens in the future.

We're working to ensure girls do not become a statistic.  Thank you for your leadership in our work.