“Communities can catalyze systemic change,” according to a new Strategies for Children (SFC) brief that highlights year one of the Massachusetts Third Grade Reading Proficiency Learning Network, a collaborative effort to improve outcomes.
The brief, “Changing the Trajectory: Communities Take Action to Increase Reading Proﬁciency,” chronicles SFC’s creation of the Learning Network — an innovative model focusing on alignment between state policy and community-level action and data. The work done in the founding communities — Boston, Holyoke, Pittsfield, and Springfield — has produced key lessons that can help guide community leaders’ efforts both here in Massachusetts and across the country.
This work is essential because as the commonwealth’s MCAS scores show, too many children are behind in reading.
“Reading is the foundation of success in school, the workplace and civic life,” the brief says. “Yet, despite Massachusetts’ reputation as a national leader in education, 43% of third graders are not able to read proficiently, a critical predictor of their future success.”
As the brief says, “Local, coordinated, and cross-sector community efforts are collectively in the best position to address and support the needs of children and families, as well as those of the adults working with them.”
That’s why at Strategies for Children, we’re not just sounding the alarm on promoting children’s reading proficiency; we’re using the brief to show how some Massachusetts communities have invested in strategic B-8 planning to ensure sustainable and systemic change to improve children’s reading outcomes.
A new model for impact
Several aspects of the Learning Network model offer a framework for communities to consider when they are planning how to have a systematic impact on children’s early education and literacy. First, alignment is key: community planning and action must be aligned with research and policy.
In addition, the Turning the Page report by Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Nonie Lesaux provides the research foundation and guiding framework. And as they work with SFC, communities are able to stay connected to other recent research developments and policy opportunities, both at the state level and nationally through the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. These include opportunities to secure new resources at the local, state, and national levels.
Next, facilitated peer learning can expand community capacity. While community-level work can be insular, the Learning Network allows leaders from member communities to work across sectors and across communities as they develop strategic plans to boost reading outcomes. Participants both support and gather feedback from other teams that are facing common challenges. Through a cycle of support, SFC provides each community with customized research and technical support.
The brief also explains how communities can build the “ideal B-8 team,” uniting school personnel, early education and care leaders, and key community members.
Finally, the brief notes that all available community resources—time, money, and human capital—must be intentionally deployed for both individual and collective impact. “The critical linchpin of creating systematic and sustainable efforts leading to children’s outcomes entails a comprehensive analysis of a community’s resource allocation.”
The last page of the brief showcases a matrix that outlines the Network communities’ key lessons and outcomes that have emerged over the past year. These examples can help communities that are new to these efforts understand and engage in B-8 literacy work.