Inside Stories

Crisis in Early Childhood Education – Part 3

by Bill Haddad

“We never really leave our non-reading children behind.  we may forget them, but we are chained to them socially and economically. like a ship and its anchor, we must either lift them up or drag them behind.” – Lynn Fielding, past Director of the Kennewick WA Board of Education

By now, you might be wondering “who is Bill Haddad and why is he constantly focusing on Early Childhood Education (ECE)?” Allow me a few paragraphs to answer that question.

My wife and I established our nonprofit, On The Move, Inc,. in 2015. Most of our work is focused on Lowell.

Our Mission is to help close the Preparation and Achievement Gaps between children from low-income families and their middle- and upper-income peers. We collaborate with our Partners to help these children read at 3rd grade proficiency level by the time they complete the third grade.  We are an all-volunteer organization, and 100% of the funds we raise goes to fund our various programs.  The founders pay all the overhead expenses of the organization.

Over the past seven years we have donated over 65,000 requested books to our Partners.  While we are happy to have donated so many books, our emphasis has always been on the quality of the books, not the quantity.  Meaning that they were specifically requested by our school partners to ensure that they were at the proper reading level, of interest to the kids and tied into their curriculum.  Most of these books are given to the children and their parents to take home to keep. In addition to books, we have expanded our relationship with our school Partners to include donations of Decodable books and other reading instructional materials.

What is the impact of our efforts?  Clearly it cannot be measured in months or even a few years.   Covid has had a significant negative impact on the reading skills of these kids as discussed in Part 1 of this article.  Having said that, we are starting to see some improvements in the reading skills of the children that attend our Partner Elementary Schools.  Here is some of the feedback we have received from teachers, Literacy Specialists and Principals.

“You will find that in the foundational reading skills of Phonological Awareness Phonics, High Frequency Words, and Vocabulary our students made great gains.  By the end of the school year there was a 14% increase in students performing at or above grade level in Phonological Awareness (75% at the beginning of the year to 89% at the end), a 25% increase in Phonics (34% to 59%), a 25% increase in High Frequency Words (59% to 84%), and a 22% increase in Vocabulary (22% to 44%).  This demonstrates that more students are approaching the skills that they need to be reading on grade level each year.”

“Your contributions mean so much to us and are already making a significant impact in our school community…. Last year, we started the year with 35 students in second grade on or above grade level for oral reading fluency.  This year we have 49 students in second grade on or above grade level.  That jump is huge for our students and our school”.

As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, the 2023 MCAS scores for Lowell 3rd graders not reading at grade level only improved by 1% from 76% in 2022 to 75% in 2023.  In comparison, the scores for the three schools we work with improved by an average of 4%.

I want to make it clear that we are not taking credit for these improvements.  The staff at the schools are doing the heavy lifting.

But both the research and the feedback from our Partners show that the additional resources that we have been providing them with have been very helpful and has contributed to these the improved results.  We continue to monitor the progress of the children we are trying to help. I am confident that they will continue to see improvement in their reading skills with the support of the additional resources we are providing for the children, the Literacy Specialists, and teachers. Long term we expect to see further improvement in the MCAS scores.

How can all of us who care about the ECE for low-income children in Lowell take on this issue?

We take a look at that next week in the 4th and final part of this series.

(Bill Haddad is the Executive Director of On the Move, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping close the reading preparation and achievement gaps between children from low-income families and their middle and upper income peers)

One response to “Crisis in Early Childhood Education – Part 3”

  1. Ellen Andre says:

    Another eye-opening article addressing these issues with learning loss and reading challenges with our children. I am anxious to see the next part in the series.

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