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About this Toolkit

One in every five students drops out of high school; 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.

United Way has put a stake in the ground around education, income and health.  We focus on these three building blocks to expand opportunities for people to succeed:  a quality education that leads to a stable job, enough income to support a family through retirement, and good health.

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: 3rd grade reading proficiency.  It’s a make-it-or-break-it point. Children who aren’t reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

Children Running

There are proven methods to boost students’ reading skills in the early skills, rooted in strong families, strong communities and strong schools.  But 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.

This toolkit is a resource to United Ways and their community partners to do exactly that.  It’s the result of an ongoing partnership between United Way Worldwide and the Annie E. Casey Foundation

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.  And 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.