Read On!

If we want to improve high school and college graudation rates, develop a more robust and attractive workforce, and fundamentally improve the quality of life for thousands of people in our region, our collective work must focus on two of the most critical milestones for student (and ultimately adult) success; kindergarten readiness and early grade-level reading.

The Read On! Campaign for Early Grade-Level Reading and accompanying Read On! Venture Philanthropy Fund represent the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region’s most ambitious attempt to change outcomes for generations.  We have made important strides to improve school readiness over the past several years, thanks in large part to United Way’s Success By 6® Initiative, which focuses on ensuring children are ready for kindergarten through early home visitation and quality early childhood education opportunities. But, we must expand this existing work to reach more children and similarly align our efforts on those years from Kindergarten through 3rd grade, by investing in proven strategies that drive reading proficiency.  

Read On! Campaign advocates believe this new fund, the nation’s first Venture Philanthropy Fund dedicated entirely to school readiness and early reading achievement, will be key to our success serving children and a model for the country.  

The first five years of a child’s life, when 90% of the brain is fully formed, are critical to life-long development.  Years of research from some of the country’s leading thinkers in education, early childhood development, and economics have identified early childhood and early reading success as some of the most reliable indicators of future academic achievement.  Students who are not reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than those who are. The problem is even greater for low-income students, who are 13 to 17 times less likely to graduate high school if they cannot read successfully by the end of 3rd grade.  Nationally, 80% of low-income 3rd graders miss this milestone every year.

Third grade reading is such a critically important milestone that state governments, including Ohio, are passing legislation to ensure students are reading on grade-level before advancing to the 4th grade. Beginning in 2013, Ohio 3rd graders will be retained if they do not meet this milestone. More than 3,200 (about 43%) of 3rd graders in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Public Schools were not reading on grade level at the end of the 2011-12 school year.  

The imminence of Ohio’s new legislation and the scale of need in both states require school districts across the region to invest more in school readiness and early literacy interventions, but there is no public funding to support these mandates. Districts and their community partners are now scrambling to find additional financial resources so all children have the supports they need to be successful.

Read On!, the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region’s multi-year, regional campaign for early grade-level reading, has set out to ensure every child is reading successfully by the end of 3rd grade by 2020.  The Campaign – led by The Strive Partnership and the Northern Kentucky Education Council, in partnership with United Way of Greater Cincinnati - has engaged more than 70 cross-sector partners to align efforts around six research-based strategies that will drive 3rd grade reading achievement:  1) kindergarten readiness, 2) school attendance, 3) summer learning, 4) literacy interventions, 5) family engagement, and 6) building broad-based community will, including public sector support.  The Campaign footprint encompasses seven counties, two states, and 19 public school districts.  In this region, more than 33,000 children (age 0-9) live below 200% of the federal poverty line.  

The Campaign’s success will be driven by scaling and spreading evidence-based best practices through collaborative action, an aggressive regional effort to build community will, and a commitment to policy and advocacy work that stimulates public-sector involvement.  Much of the community work will be enhanced by the Campaign’s influential co-chairs - Dr. Santa Ono, President of the University of Cincinnati and Brent Cooper, business leader and President/Owner of C-Forward, an information technologies company in Northern Kentucky.