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Why is this Important?

Why this is important for our work and our community?

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Nelson Mandela

Education is often considered to be the great equalizer for all but is especially true for the disadvantaged. Nelson Mandela’s experiences have demonstrated the great power that education holds for people throughout the world. We believe that the best strategy for success in the short and long-term is to be sure that our educational systems are effectively meeting the needs of all people. 

Poverty is not a choice nor is it a life sentence. It is a reality in life that can be changed through effective action on the contributing factors of this harsh reality. Poverty is very complex with many factors. The factor that offers the most hope for improvement is education. The Gallup organization has done research on hope through their Gallup Student Poll. Their survey measures hope, engagement, and well-being. According to Gallup: “Hope predicts academic success more than traditional measures; Nationwide, 28 % of students are disengaged--a figure that mirrors the overall dropout rate; The poll’s measure of well-being estimate both academic achievement and a young person’s ability to flourish.”This is very powerful information to consider and include as we travel on our journey to reduce poverty in our communities.

Education on any level, early childhood through adult literacy, brings benefits to the individual, family and community. Income is greatly increased for parents who earn their high school equivalency diploma, over $700, 000 over their working lifetime more than someone without the degree. In addition to reducing poverty for the family, an increase in the number of adults with high school equivalency diplomas, industry-recognized credentials, and the benefit of soft skill training can increase the skill of the workforce to meet the needs of the community’s employers.

Early Childhood:

Early childhood, beginning in infancy, is a period of profound advances in reasoning, language acquisition, and problem solving, and importantly, a child’s environment can dramatically influence the degree and pace of these advances. By supporting development when children are very young, early childhood development and education programs can complement parental investments and produce large benefits to children, parents, and society. In total, the existing research suggests expanding early learning initiatives would provide benefits to society of roughly $8.60 for every $1 spent, about half of which comes from increased earnings for children when they grow up.

  •    High-quality early education for all would narrow the achievement gap. Early childhood education increases cognitive and achievement scores by 0.35 standard deviations on average, or nearly half the black-white difference in the kindergarten achievement gap. Since higher income children are currently more likely to have access to high-quality early education, expanding access to all would narrow the achievement gap.
  •      Early childhood education can boost children’s earnings later in life. Long-term analyses suggest that early childhood education can increase earnings in adulthood by 1.3 to 3.5 %. These earnings gains alone are bigger than the costs of such programs.
  •       Earnings gains from increased enrollment in early childhood education would provide benefits that outweigh the costs of the program. Researchers estimate the gain in income for recent statewide programs over a child’s career to be $9,166 to $30,851, after taking out the cost of the program. If all families were able to enroll their children in preschool at the same rate as high-income families, enrollment would increase nationwide by about 13 percentage points and yield net present value of $4.8 billion to $16.1 billion per cohort from earnings gains alone after accounting for the cost of the program. In the long run, these earnings gains translate into an increase in GDP of 0.16 to 0.44 %.
  •       High-quality, affordable child care can help parents balance work and family responsibilities. Studies show that providing better access to and lowering the cost of high-quality care can significantly increase mothers’ employment rates and incomes. This increase in family income has been shown to improve children’s outcomes as well. Children who enter school at higher levels of readiness have higher earnings throughout their lives. They are also healthier and less likely to become involved with the criminal justice system. These positive spillovers suggest that investments in early childhood can benefit society as a whole.
  •      Early childhood education can lower involvement with the criminal justice system. Research shows that improving cognitive and socio-emotional development, investments in early childhood education may reduce involvement with the criminal justice system. Lower crime translates into benefits to society from increased safety and security as well as lower costs to the criminal justice system and incarceration.
  •         Early childhood interventions can reduce the need for remedial education. Research shows that benefits in children’s development may also reduce the need for special education placements and remedial education, thereby lowering public school expenditures.


Public preschool enrollment


All enrollment


FRPL enrollment


% FRPL enrollment


Minority enrollment


% Minority enrollment



The following information is taken from the United Way of Central Iowa Education White Paper. The full report may be found at:

Birth-to-Kindergarten Readiness

One of the primary steps to third grade reading proficiency is to ensure children enter school ready to learn and are on pace with other students and class standards. For that to happen, intervention has to take place as early as the first trimester of the pregnant mother and has to continue.  According to Leila Fiester et al (p. 15), children who enter school ready must have quality early learning opportunities and environments that foster comprehensive growth cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically. This, the author says, should start as early as the prenatal stage of pregnant mothers. Strategies ensuring babies born at normal birth weight are critical to kindergarten readiness strategies and subsequent third grade reading proficiency


After the child is born, the readiness gap continues between birth and kindergarten, due to differences in children’s resources and opportunities for comprehensive development. This is especially true for children from low-income households. Disparities in developmental outcomes emerge in infancy and widen in toddlerhood, according to the 2010 KIDS COUNT (p. 16) report that references a National policy statement on early childhood systems. By the time children from low-income families enter kindergarten, they are typically 12-14 months below national norms and pre-reading skills. It is crucial that these children get access to adequate resources and opportunities that enhance physical, linguistic, cognitive, social, emotional and behavioral development.


For a child to get ready to go to school requires considerable amount of social and emotional skills necessary to function within a structured environment. However, high risk children from distressed neighborhoods or low-income families lack those skills in comparison to middle income or wealthier children.  This could be due to various factors ranging from family instability/mobility to poverty to poor health conditions. Giving access/enrollment to such children to high quality pre-school programs can reduce the readiness gap to enter school.

From: Steps Needed to Ensure Equity and Access. December 2013, Charles Bruner and Anne Discher

Kindergarten to 3rd grade

Although many important questions about participation remain (questions an expanded statewide longitudinal data base should be able to answer with little or no addi­tional data-reporting requirements for districts 1), there is already sufficient data to say that, although Iowa’s pre­school program is described as “universal,” there are sub­stantial differences in participation rates by income, race/ethnicity, English language learner status and geography. Black and Latino children and English language learners are much less likely to have partici­pated in preschool, as low-income children. This is true for the SVPP program and for paren­tal reports of preschool participation.

There are many reasons for this gap—from lack of trans­portation or wrap-around care to language or cultural barriers—but there is nothing in SVPP legislation (govern­ing the state’s largest program) to encourage or require local districts to reach out specifically to these populations or to support the services needed to do so, even though early-childhood education is one part of a broad strategy to narrow the achievement gap in subsequent years. Once the child enters the educational system, school has a significant role in the early development of the child. Accessing quality schools with rigorous curricula and qualified teachers with personal student-teacher experience can significantly enhance the performance of the child. Unfortunately, too many children attend low-performing schools or schools that are not ready to teach at high standards. Therefore, systems-level intervention at the school level is an inevitable necessity if the child needs to make further progress in his or her journey toward high school graduation and further.


While intervention at the school level is essential, it is equally important to focus on the child’s performance in school. Various studies indicate that absenteeism is a strong predictor for dropping out. This problem starts as early as kindergarten. Chronic absence[1] in kindergarten is associated with lower academic performance in first grade and in subsequent grades. If this trend continues, by the time the child reaches sixth grade, students who attend less than 80% of the time have only 10% to 20% chance of graduating on time. And by ninth grade, missing 20% of school can predict dropping out better than eighth grade test scores. (Leila Fiester et al 2010, p. 18; Belfanz, R 2009, p. 4; Chang H et al 2008). Therefore, it is crucial to identify and address this issue in the earliest possible grades. Chronic early absence can signal problems within the school or community or family related issues such as parent’s physical and mental condition, family violence, substance abuse issues and or child abuse/neglect. Appropriate measures need to be in place to identify such problems.


Unlike children from low-income households, children from more affluent families have fewer such issues. They are more likely on-track to move to the next grade. Children from higher-income families engage with school in some way throughout the year, including summer; thus they are ready to progress during school months. As a result of summer learning loss, children from lower-income families lag and eventually may drop out.

% proficient in 3rd grade reading


All tested


All proficient


All % proficient


Minority tested


Minority proficient


Minority % proficient


FRPL tested


FRPL proficient


FRPL % proficient



According to the National Research Council, academic success, defined as high school graduation, can be predicted with reasonable accuracy from a student’s reading skill at the end of third grade. A person who is not at least a modestly skilled reader by that time is unlikely to graduate from high school. Up until the end of third grade, most children are learning to read. Beginning in fourth grade, however, they are reading to learn” (Leila Fiester et al 2010, p. 9). Simply put, third grade reading is a strong and early predictor for on-time high school completion.

Source: Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success by Nonie L.esaux Ph.D.

Closer to home, in the state of Iowa, two out of every three fourth graders scored below proficient reading level as measured and defined by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test in 2009. If the same data is broken down by race and Hispanic origin, 78% of African American children and 80% of Hispanic children scored below proficiency levels. The scenario also holds true for children eligible for free and reduced price lunches (FRPL), a general indicator of family income. Per the 2009 NAEP test results, 79% of FRPL-eligible kids scored less than proficient in comparison to 58% of the non-eligible FRPL kids who scored less than proficiency (Leila Fester et al 2010, p 44-46). If proper intervention is not applied, there is high probability that these children in eight to nine years’ time may not graduate on time.

4th grade to 8th grade

According to the Children’s Reading Foundation, up to half of the printed fourth grade curriculum is incomprehensible to students who read below that grade level. In other words, beginning in fourth grade, children are reading to learn, using their skills to read math, and science, to solve problems and to critically think what they are learning. (Leila Fiester et al 2010, p. 9). This, of course, is the desired state for all children. In reality, not all children read or perform at grade level. There are many reasons why, from family to socioeconomic to individual to institutional. Because our core purpose is to ensure school success by way of children staying in school; performing at grade level and ultimately graduating on time, we need strategies in place to stem early warning signs of school failure.

A number of researchers identify middle school as the time when many students become lost. In other words, this is the time when many things happen in a student’s life that require double attention to the child’s academic and personal needs. Failing to do so can permanently hamper the child’s ability to succeed educationally. There are predictive indicators that teachers and parents can use for potential future outcomes.

9th grade to 12th grade

Freshman transition programs

The first year of high school is a critical transition period for students. According to Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR), students who succeed in their first (freshman) year are more likely to continue to do well in the following years and eventually graduate. Several studies have found that students who perform poorly in the ninth grade are more likely to drop out of school even when controlling for individual student and school characteristics and previous academic performance (CCFP, Duke University, p. 12).


Freshman performance indicator system

Schools require a comprehensive system of early monitoring and intervention to track certain early-warning data, risk factors, or on-track measures for every individual student. Research suggests that such a system with predictive power can help guide the schools, states and support organizations to embed prevention and intervention strategies early in a student’s education career that he or she will be on-track to graduation. Early warning data also can be used to better understand—and target resources to—low-performing schools where concentrated numbers of students require significantly improved schools in order to succeed. Just as in middle school, students in high school can stay in school and eventually graduate if they have good class performance (GPA), enough credits, have good social and emotional development appropriate to the grade and have regular class attendance. There is enough research to show the impact of these variables on on-time graduation.


4 year graduation rate


All - enrollment


All - graduated


All - % graduated


Minority- enrollment


Minority - graduated


Minority - % graduated


FRPL- enrollment


FRPL- graduated


FRPL - minority graduated



So far in this brief compilation, we have examined prevention strategies at the early childhood level and early school years. Having quality early education can prevent student in the future from falling through the cracks. Unfortunately, despite best efforts, students do fall through the cracks for various reasons. A safety net of strategies is needed to catch these falling students at the right time. In other words, the more we identify at-risk students at the right time, the better are the outcomes. Good strategies and appropriate timing is crucial for successful intervention. While we have preventive and intervention measures, we need to address the needs of those students who fall anyway or who have already left the system. We need strategies in place to bring them back into the system so they can graduate on time or prepare them for future economic opportunities (bridge to economic self-sufficiency).


In Central Iowa, 33,329 people do not have a high school diploma or equivalency (6% of the population) with

26,288 between the ages of 18-64. 55% are young adult males between the ages of 18-24; 37% are foreign born; and 27% are either African American or Hispanic. In our community, people without a diploma are unemployed at a rate of 9.3%, which is a much higher rate than the state's overall 4.1% rate. People without a diploma are only qualified for low-skill jobs because they lack education or training required by middle and high skill jobs. In order to find a job that pays a living wage, an individual needs to have at least a high school equivalency diploma (HSED) or higher degree.


Middle-skill jobs are plentiful in Iowa and comprise 50% of all jobs statewide. However, only 33% of the labor market has the necessary skills to fill these jobs, which is a 17% GAP (IWD, 2012.) Most middle skill jobs in Iowa are in the areas of advanced manufacturing, energy/construction, financial services, and health care. These jobs require a credential beyond a high school diploma (such as an Associate's Degree, a certificate, or other industry-recognized credential), but not a four-year degree. With a focus on increasing the number of individuals who achieve a HSED and pursue additional training up to an Associate’s Degree – we are not only increasing the individual’s long-term financial potential, but we are also increasing the pipeline of skilled workers, essential to our Central Iowa economy.


Individuals who achieve their HSED are better positioned to increase their lifetime earnings. It is estimated that with a high school equivalency diploma or higher degree an individual is able to earn more than $700,000 over their lifetime versus individuals who do not have a high school diploma or equivalency. The HSED, coupled with post-secondary training and education (credit of non-credit), further advances an individual’s ability to increase their earning potential and move from poverty into financial independence.


In 2014, 2,838 adults enrolled in the HiSET (high school equivalency exam) preparation program; 1,206 completed the program; and 827 earned their High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) from the State of Iowa. In order for more Central Iowans to improve their financial position in today’s economy through the attainment of a HSED, we need to grow our community’s capacity to engage more individuals and enhance the preparation process to ensure successful completion. However, without large-scale collaboration and an infusion of funds, the gap in this region's labor force will persist, and we will continue to have individuals unable to become financially self-sufficient. UWCI is prepared to make a commitment to lead this change effort through Bridges to Success.


[1] Chronic absence means missing 10% or more of the school year, for any reason.