3rd Grade Reading Success Matters

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Pacesetters 2014: California

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California stands out for significant state-level leadership and action on issues and opportunities related to third-grade reading on a number of fronts.

This is notably evident with respect to the community solutions areas:

  • Chronic absence: Top California officials – including State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakaute, among others – have made reducing chronic absence a high priority. Thanks to broad awareness about the issue that resulted from their leadership and efforts by groups such as Attendance Works, Children Now and the Partnership for Children and Youth, a new Local Control Funding Formula enacted in 2013 includes a requirement that school districts monitor and address chronic absence as part of their Local Control and Accountability Plan.


  • Summer learning: Summer Matters is the first-ever statewide campaign focused on creating and expanding access to high-quality summer learning opportunities for all California students. Chaired by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and co-chaired by Jennifer Peck, executive eirector of Partnership for Children & Youth, the Summer Matters campaign is raising awareness about the devastating effects of summer learning loss and the beneficial impact of summer learning programs. A diverse statewide coalition of educators, policymakers, advocates, school district leaders, mayors, parents and others working collaboratively to promote summer learning in California, Summer Matters is increasing the number of students served by summer learning programs and generating momentum and support for summer learning among education, elected, business, civic and philanthropic leaders across the state. Statewide coalition collaborators include California School Boards Association, California State PTA, California Library Association, California State Parks, Great Schools and American Camp Association. The effort is supported by a number of California funders, including the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, a founding co-investor of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.


  • Readiness: The state’s tangible commitment to its young children and their families predates the GLR Campaign. In 1998, voters passed a 50-cent tax on each pack of cigarettes to create First 5 California, which distributes funds to 58 local First 5 county commissions to be used to address local needs. Today, there is promising intersection and growing alignment between First 5 and grade-level reading efforts. Current First 5 programming centers around the child, parent and teacher to improve early childhood outcomes in the areas of health and nutrition, early literacy and language development, quality child care and smoking cessation, and First 5 California is sponsoring a major media campaign urging parents to talk, read and sing with their babies and toddlers. There is some consideration being given to extending the focus at a policy and systems level beyond ages 0-5, which would increase alignment with the GLR Campaign’s Birth-Through-Third frame. And perhaps most significant of all, First 5 county commissions lead the grade-level reading sponsoring coalitions in five GLR Network communities and are partners in all but one of the other communities.

California’s “big tent” includes other key partners and unusual allies that are making valuable contributions. For example:

  • The California Library Association (CLA) and the Pacific Library Partnership are working to enhance the role of libraries across the state in helping young children achieve early literacy. Summer programming is a particularly strong focus. CLA and the California Summer Meal Coalition are partnering to offer Lunch at the Library, a program in which libraries and meal sponsors collaborate to offer nutritious meals and reading-related activities at libraries during the summer. The program operated at 65 sites last summer and is projected to grow this coming summer. California’s innovation has inspired others in the GLR Network, including Georgia, which replicated the program in 22 counties last summer. Tutoring, reading programs and parent and caregiver education are among the other ways libraries are encouraging and supporting early reading achievement.
  • The California Association of Housing Authorities is encouraging public housing authorities around the state, which serve a large number of low-income children and families, to take action. Some early responses include working with the local library system to open an on-site satellite library and organizing after-school tutoring. The National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials is paying close attention to what is happening in California, with plans to replicate model programs and practices in housing authorities across the country.

Not to be overlooked, of course, is the vibrant activity taking place in local communities throughout the state. With 19 GLR Network communities, California is second only to Arizona in the number of places working on grade-level reading. Three of those communities have earned 2014 Pacesetter honors themselves:  Fresno has seen measurable improvement in school readiness rates; Tahoe Truckee has decreased chronic absence among K-3 students; and more than 20,000 Stockton-San Joaquin County children started the school year off right with perfect attendance in September 2014!

Finally, California philanthropy is rallying behind grade-level reading and supporting work in GLR Network communities. And leadership from the philanthropic sector is garnering national attention and resources — the Silicon Valley Community Foundation won a $7.5 million federal Social Innovation Fund grant to boost third-grade reading proficiency rates in San Mateo County.