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Funder Collaborative for Reading Success

Funder Collaborative for Reading Success (FCRS)

The Reading Success by Fourth Grade initiative (RS4G) was launched in 2010 by the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation. It has catalyzed cross-sector efforts by schools, community-based providers, faith-based organizations, the private sector, families, media and policy/advocacy initiatives to boost Springfield’s third grade reading proficiency. In 2011, Springfield grant-makers formed the Funder Collaborative for Reading Success (FCRS) to support the work of RS4G.

FCRS’ funding priorities for its first three years were informed by Reading Success by Fourth Grade: A Blueprint for Springfield and Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor Dr. Nonie Lesaux’s Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success:

  • Family education and engagement focused on building families’ capacity to support children’s language, emergent literacy and reading skills
  • Increasing the capacity of early education and care, out-of-school time, and summer learning programs to provide high-quality support for children’s language, emergent literacy, and reading skills
  • Increasing children’s opportunities to access high-quality early education and care, out-of-school time, and summer learning programs that impact their language, emergent literacy, and reading skills

FCRS members include 16 funders that contributed $1,365,716 to the Reading Success by Fourth Grade Fund at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts: Babson Capital; Bank of America, Charles Hall Foundation; Baystate Health; Berkshire Bank Foundation; Beveridge Family Foundation; Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts; Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation; First Niagara Bank; Hampden Bank Foundation; MassMutual Financial Group; Nellie Mae Foundation; Peoples United Community Foundation; TD Charitable Foundation; United Bank Foundation; United Way of the Pioneer Valley; and the SIS Fund at the Community Foundation.

FCRS has funded 12 programs for a total of $1,002,388. FCRS meets monthly to review and assess programs, conduct site visits, plan and implement grant-making rounds and build grant-maker knowledge about early literacy best practices. Funding decisions are made by the group after significant discussion. A consultant with expertise in education and early literacy provides about 12 hours of technical support to the group per month.

To inform our FY 15 grant allocation decisions, we examined the landscape of Springfield programs aimed at boosting early literacy skills through a continuum developed by Professor Lesaux and the statewide advocacy and research organization Strategies for Children. The continuum enables cities to map their programs from the lower-touch efforts aimed at Raising Awareness to the more intensive initiatives that aim to Change Behaviors. The five dimensions used to place each program on the continuum are:

  1. Core mechanism: how is program delivered? 
  2. Population profile (how were needs identified?) 
  3. Dosage (frequency, time, intensity) 
  4. Staff training 
  5. Evaluation

The mapping exercise indicated that programs in Springfield tip more toward Raising Awareness than toward Changing Behaviors. As a result of this learning, FCRS made a conscious decision to support only evidence-based programs focused on and equipped to Change Behaviors in FY 2015:

In addition to our program grants, FCRS has catalyzed and contributed to several key developments that will position Springfield well for scaling and sustaining our work. For example:

  • Springfield was selected to receive $3.6 million a year for 4 years (subject to appropriation) as part of the Commonwealth’s preschool expansion grant from the federal government. This grant will enable 195 additional Springfield children per year to access preschool. 
  • The Springfield Public Schools leadership is in conversations with FCRS grantee Talk/Read/Succeed to support replication in a new site. Created as a partnership among the Housing Authority, the schools, the Regional Employment Board and community-based organizations, Talk Read Succeed provides comprehensive outreach, engagement and support for more than one hundred of Springfield’s most vulnerable families with young children. Members of FCRS led the advocacy and education effort that resulted in state support of $250,000 in FY15, and $150,000 for FY16 for Talk/Read/Succeed. 
  • A prominent private funder is considering a substantial commitment to helping FCRS grantee Massachusetts Reading Corps expand in Springfield. Led by Springfield College, this program replicates the Minnesota model, training AmeriCorps volunteers to tutor preschool children.
  • The City of Springfield recently purchased the Early Childhood Center, a preschool facility serving over 300 low income children that closed abruptly in December of 2013. Because of the commitment of the members of the FCRS, Davis and others, the City has recognized the important role quality Pre K can play in the lives of Springfield’s youngest children. 
  • During the City of Springfield’s negotiations with casino operator MGM, the city had an opportunity to request funding for educational priorities as part of host agreement. The Mayor and Superintendent made a joint decision to exclusively prioritize support for high quality early education leading to third grade reading success.

In the spring of 2014, we learned that 62% of Springfield’s third graders fell short of reading proficiently, per the MCAS results. A report of the National Early Literacy Panel underscores the importance of continuing FCRS efforts. It suggests about three-quarters of third graders who do not read well will continue to struggle throughout their school careers. They are far less likely to graduate from high school than classmates who are good readers. Children who do not read proficiently by the time they enter fourth grade are less likely than their classmates to develop the skills needed to succeed in the knowledge-based workforce of today and tomorrow. They are less likely to find jobs with decent wages. They are less able to become informed, effective citizens and face higher rates of incarceration.

FCRS recognizes that a sustained effort is needed and that much can be gained from collective efforts. We are embarking on a second phase of the initiative with a fundraising goal of $1.5 million. The Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts have also pledged an additional $150K to match new or increased pledges to FCRS. Proposals are currently pending with several other FCRS members for their continued participation, and FCRS is now determining specific strategic goals and desired outcomes for the second phase. We will continue to refine the collaborative model in order to develop best practices for the future.

Endnotes:

1. National Early Literacy Panel. (2008). Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy. [original source: Fletcher, J. M., & Lyon, G. R. (1998). Reading: A research-based approach. In W. M. Evers (Ed.), What’s gone wrong in America’s classrooms (49–90). Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.]

2. Grunewald, R and Rolnick, A. (March 2003). “Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return” Fedgazette. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

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