Cedar Valley Joins Nationwide Effort to Boost Early Reading Prowess

WATERLOO, IA, February 16, 2015 – The Cedar Valley is one of 14 communities joining the nationwide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in January, committing to work collaboratively to increase the number of children reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

The addition of the 14 plus the state of West Virginia means the Grade-Level Reading Communities Network (GLR Network) now includes organizations operating in 168 cities, counties and states. All told, cities and counties in 41 states across the country – plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- now have recognized the problem and resolved to do something about it.

National tests show that two-thirds of U.S. fourth graders, and four-fifths of those from low-income families, are not reading proficiently. Reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a milestone on a child’s path to high school graduation and later success because it marks the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Students who have not mastered reading by that time are more likely to drop out of school and struggle throughout their lives.        

“We’re joining the Campaign because we know we have a problem here that can be addressed if we all work together,” said Sheila Baird, the president of Cedar Valley United Way, which is leading the effort in the Cedar Valley in partnership with the R.J. McElroy Trust. “All of us here have come to understand the critical importance of ensuring that our children gain the reading foundation they need before 4th grade.”         

“Our public schools can’t do this on their own,” added Ralph Smith, managing director of the national GLR Campaign and senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “If we’re going to increase our graduation rates and close achievement gaps, we need mobilized communities working with schools, city agencies, nonprofits, civic leaders and parents to focus on third grade reading. It’s great to have the Cedar Valley on board.”

The partner organizations in the Cedar Valley include Black Hawk County Gaming Association, Cedar Falls Public Schools, Cedar Valley United Way, Cedar Valley’s Promise, Childcare Resource and Referral, Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa, Family YMCA of Black Hawk County, Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber, Jacobson Center for Comprehensive Literacy, R.J. McElroy Trust, SuccessLink, Tri-County Child and Family Development Council, UPS and Waterloo Public Schools. A coordinator is still being sought to contract services for the 18-month pilot program. For more information about this position, contact Debbie Roth, senior director of community resources for Cedar Valley United Way at 319.235.6211 ext. 13.

In joining the GLR Network, the partner organizations developed formal plans to address three underlying challenges that can keep young children, especially those from low-income families, from learning to read well:

  • School readiness — too many children are entering kindergarten already behind.
  • School attendance — too many young children are missing too many days of school.
  • Summer learning — too many children are losing ground academically over the summer.

The GLR Communities Network is dedicated to narrowing the gap between children from low-income families and their more affluent peers. According to the U.S. Department of Education, that gap has widened significantly in recent years, with 80 percent of low-income kids failing to read proficiently in 4th grade compared to 49 percent of their more affluent peers.

Launched in May 2010, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort of funders, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities across the nation to ensure that many more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship.