Recruits, trains, and deploys volunteers to provide weekly 1:1 literacy tutoring to struggling readers in elementary school, employing a structured program overseen by professional staff

180 Grand Ave.
Ste. 800
Oakland, CA 94612

Countries Served
United States


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In grades 1 to 3 students learn to read. Thereafter, students read to learn.

Students not reading at grade-appropriate proficiency levels by the end of the 3rd grade are four times as likely to drop out before high school graduation.

Only one in five low-income 4th grade students in the U.S. reads at grade level.

Limited school district budgets and rising class sizes reduce the capacity of classroom teachers to provide the 1:1 attention that many elementary school students struggling with reading require to catch up to grade level.

Programs Offered

Reading Partners recruits and trains local volunteers to tutor students 1:1 twice weekly for 45 minutes following a step-by-step, research-based literacy curriculum. The program works in low-income elementary schools to support students who are reading six months to 2.5 years below grade-level. A full-time staff member is always available at the reading center to assist tutors and students and to coordinate with the school’s principal and teachers. Students are assessed three times each year to track progress.

Reading Partners complements tutoring with home involvement strategies like the Take Reading Home program, which provides free, skill-appropriate reading materials for students to start home libraries.

Historical Results

In the 2017-2018 school year, Reading Partners helped more than 10,919 students from 212 schools in 10 states and Washington, D.C., engaged 12,302 community volunteers who helped deliver 373,032 tutoring sessions, and achieved the following outcomes:

  • 90% of K-2 students mastered key foundational reading skills needed to read at grade level.
  • 85% of all Reading Partners students met or exceeded their end-of-year literacy goal.
  • Based on survey responses, 94% of principals reported improved school-wide reading progress, 100% of teachers reported Reading Partners is valuable to their school, and 95% of volunteers were satisfied with their Reading Partners experience.

A year-long study released in 2014 by MDRC, a nonpartisan social policy and education research firm, confirmed Reading Partners’ impact. MDRC conducted a rigorous, randomized control study of the Reading Partners program in 19 schools in three states (including schools in Greater Los Angeles region) involving more than 1,200 students. The study’s findings included:

  • Reading Partners had a positive and statistically significant impact on all three measures of student reading proficiency examined: reading comprehension, reading fluency, and sight-word reading for second- to fifth-graders. In particular, reading comprehension is often difficult to affect through tutoring programs.
  • Tutoring by Reading Partners community volunteers twice a week for 45 minutes each session resulted in an additional 1.5 to 2 months of growth in literacy for Reading Partners students, compared to a control group of students who received other forms of supplemental reading services.
  • The Reading Partners program was found effective for a wide variety of students: those with different grades or baseline reading achievement levels, male or female students, and non-native English speakers.

Use Of Funds

  • $50 funds onboarding and training for a group of new volunteer tutors.
  • $100 allows 20 students to take a book home to keep.
  • $325 stocks a reading center with supplies, including individual white boards, stickers, student boxes, printer ink, pencils, and paper.
  • $500 provides a Read Aloud Library for a reading center, including a unique discussion guide for each book.
  • $1,100 supports one student’s participation in Reading Partners for a full school year*
  • $5,500 supports five students’ participation in Reading Partners for a full school year*

*National average cost per student. Source: MDRC Study.

Path to Credibility

The partnership between Focusing Philanthropy and Reading Partners began in 2012. Focusing Philanthropy staff regularly visit Reading Partners regional programs and leadership, school-site reading centers, and the Reading Partners national program office and team in Oakland, CA. To date, Focusing Philanthropy team members have conducted 12 program site visits to six of the 14 Reading Partners regions.

→ Read Denver, Colorado Trip Report

Focusing Philanthropy has served as the lead supporter of two separate multi-year district-wide expansions of the Reading Partners model.

Reading Partners only operates at schools with the official support of the relevant school district and school principal. The program has never been asked to leave a school where it has operated, has often been asked to add schools in districts in which it is active, and has a substantial waiting list of schools across multiple states that have made credible requests for Reading Partners to expand to their site.

Reading Partners has received several highly-competitive expansion grants, including a $3.5 million three-year Social Innovation Fund grant administered by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation in April 2011.

Reading Partners became a national AmeriCorps program and leverages the service of hundreds of AmeriCorps members each year.

Multiple other current and potential Focusing Philanthropy featured recipient nonprofits have interacted with Reading Partners and have expressed very positive sentiments about the experience.

The Stanford University School of Education worked with Reading Partners to develop its initial curriculum, and a group of leading experts continues to work with the program to monitor and refine the tutoring protocols, teaching materials, and impact assessments. Reading Partners’ instruction is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and best practices in reading instruction to promote student mastery through alignment with classroom expectations. 

The Founders of Focusing Philanthropy are donors to Reading Partners.

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