One in every five students drops out of high school and some 1.2 million students drop out each year. High school dropouts are less likely to earn a living wage, vote or volunteer in their communities and are more likely to be unemployed, uninsured, on welfare and in jail.
We’ve set out a national education goal of cutting the dropout rate in half by the year 2018. That takes all of us working together, so United Way is working in 1,200 communities across America to mobilize individuals, communities and organizations to work collectively so that more students graduate high school prepared for college and career.
More and more communities are tackling high school graduation by honing in on one of the critical benchmarks: third grade reading proficiency. It’s a make-it-or-break-it point. Children who aren’t reading at grade level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.
There are proven methods to boost students’ reading skills in the early skills, rooted in strong families, strong communities and strong schools. However, lasting change requires broad community participation and collaboration. First to ensure that local planning reflects local perspectives, conditions, data and assets and then to implement those plans successfully over the long haul.
You may be starting education impact work or you may be broadening from school readiness to a birth-to-8 scope (an increasingly prevalent definition of early childhood). Wherever you are on that continuum, you will find tips, tools and templates to help you mobilize your community around early grade reading.
But keep in mind, the solution isn’t programs or spending. What will move the needle is analyzing local data, understanding underlying issues and engaging with the community and diverse partners to develop thoughtful solutions rooted in research-based strategies. At the same time, it’s critical to elevate the issue and to inform and educate the public about this challenge. Plus, we must offer individuals and organizations the opportunity to be part of the solution in meaningful ways, whether that’s through giving, advocating or volunteering. This toolkit is organized into the essential elements that communities need to tackle to do all of that.