Research finds that the inability of a student to read at grade-level by the end of third grade – a period when students begin “reading to learn” versus “learning to read” – is correlated with long-term academic disadvantage. One study, for example, indicates that students who don’t read well by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. This is aggravated by a phenomenon known as “summer slide,” where students regress academically during the summer months – a problem more prevalent in students who lack the resources to participate in summer learning opportunities. In fact, it’s estimated that two-thirds of the achievement gap between high- and low-income students can be blamed on summer learning loss.
This research has led a growing number of states across the country to adopt legislation aimed at identifying and intervening with students who do not meet reading benchmarks by third grade. In 2015, Iowa joined these states, passing legislation requiring that students read at grade-level by third grade in order to advance – or to enroll in a summer program to catch up with their peers if they don’t want to repeat third grade.
The passage of this legislation left many school districts scrambling; Iowa state test results showed that about 1 in 4 Iowa third graders are not reading at grade-level. Moreover, the new requirements posed a particular challenge for districts serving low-income students, for whom summer school options are limited.
750 rising third-graders in Cedar Rapids will be enrolled this summer in Kids on Course University, a six-week summer program with proven results.
As school districts look for solutions, one Iowa community is testing a new program – called Kids on Course University – that could serve as an effective and affordable model intervention, potentially for the entire state. This summer, Kids on Course University will be available in 15 schools in Cedar Rapids, serving 750 students, thanks in part to efforts by the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation.
The Zach Johnson Foundation, a private family foundation based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, first brought the Kids on Course program to three Cedar Rapids Community School District elementary schools in 2011. The year-round program integrates Kids on Course staff into schools – providing additional academic, enrichment, and family engagement support. The program helps students address barriers to academic and personal success.
Children enrolled in Kids on Course have outperformed their peers in reading and computational skills.
Kids on Course also offered a six-week summer program, known as Kids on Course University, which provided transportation, meals and academic learning to students who were falling behind in reading and math. The results of the summer program had been impressive – with a 15 percent increase in reading skills and a 129 percent increase in math computation skills – but it was unclear whether a summer program could stand on its own.
To test this out, the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, along with two families holding “donor-advised funds” (DAFs) that allow community foundation donors to be active in making gifts to causes they care about, helped fund a standalone summer program pilot in the summer of 2015 at two elementary schools in Cedar Rapids. The results turned out to be impressive.
This summer pilot program, supported by donors Brent and Dawn Cobb and Loren and Patti Coppock, helped students at the Hiawatha and Nixon Elementary Schools who attended the summer program in some cases even outperform their peers. 76 percent who attended the Kids on Course University last summer reversed, reduced or eliminated their summer slide, and 46 percent grew their skills.
These results were in fact impressive enough to support a federal grant request to help fund the expansion of Kids on Course to all 15 of the schools in Cedar Rapids that receive federal funding under Title I. In April 2016, the school district won a three-year matching grant of $675,000 from the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative.
The Community Foundation also stepped in after the award of this grant to help cover a $105,000 shortfall in commitments for philanthropic funding to match this grant. The Community Foundation hosted a Philanthropy Roundtable, which provided donors who had expressed a philanthropic interest in children and education the opportunity to learn more about the importance of reading proficiency and the Kids on Course Summer University program expansion effort in the community. The Community Foundation encouraged donors to consider supporting a Kids on Course University school site for the upcoming summer. Within days of the Roundtable event, all 15 schools received funding commitments from private donors.
The expansion of the Kids on Course program this summer could bring enormous benefits not just to the children of Cedar Rapids, but to children across the state if the results of the pilot program can be replicated on a broader scale. Impacts like these are why the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation is committed to supporting collaborative efforts like the one that brought summer learning opportunities to Cedar Rapids schools. And for Iowa students, the Community Foundation is proud to have helped lead an important effort that could have major bearing on their future success.
Les Garner is the President & CEO of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation.
Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation
Kids on Course University