OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Read by 4th

Read by 4th is Philadelphia’s citywide campaign to maximize opportunity for its children by focusing on 3rd graders reading at grade level.

Photo of Rebecca
1 1

Written by

Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Influenced by mentorship feedback, we have refined our idea to focus more specifically on two components of our idea that "Reading is Everywhere": Reading Captains and Book Nooks. These updates are reflected in the "Explain your idea" section below.

Name or Organization

Read by 4th – a collective impact initiative coordinated under the “backbone” organizational leadership of the Free Library of Philadelphia – was formed in 2015 to lead a community-wide response to Philadelphia’s literacy crisis. Now the largest and most comprehensive effort of its kind in the United States, Read by 4th has a partner network of 91 organizations to date, representing local parents, teachers, city agencies, community organizations, health clinics, and afterschool providers.


Read by 4th serves children, parents and caregivers across the city of Philadelphia, PA (USA).

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD


  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Two of three entering 4th graders in Philadelphia cannot read at grade level. As they fall farther behind, they are less likely to graduate high school on time, finish college, or find a living-wage job. Our young people deserve better. Research shows all children can make great strides with help from parents and caregivers, often through small changes in everyday interactions. Read by 4th believes that parents’ love for their children is our most underutilized resource. We leverage this resource by empowering families to create literacy-rich environments for their children from birth.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Network: Connecting people with each other to enhance the reach or effectiveness of new or existing resources.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Read by 4th addresses Philadelphia’s literacy crisis by targeting the areas of: School Readiness/Early Learning; Attendance; Instructional Strategies/Teacher Quality; and Summer/Out-of-School Time Learning. Its six working groups are tasked with implementing our Six Bold Ideas: 1) Every grown-up embraces life’s teachable moments in a city full of learning landscapes. 2) Every new teacher enters the classroom ready to teach reading. 3) Every family makes perfect school attendance a weekly goal because every day counts, start to finish. 4) Every child has a personal home library with the right books. 5) Every struggling reader has access to free reading support in their neighborhood. 6) Every block has a reading captain. For parents of children ages 0-3 in particular, Read by 4th offers easy access to literacy help through vehicles that include: • The “Ready 4K” texting service and “Vroom” app, which offer parents daily tips to help young children build literacy skills in preparation for kindergarten. • The comprehensive Read by 4th website (, which offers parents information on everyday teachable moments, a calendar of literacy-focused family events, directories of high-quality childcare and pre-school programs, and other resources to help children ages 0-3 develop into strong readers. • The Reading Captains program, which trains adult volunteers to help promote early literacy among families in their neighborhoods.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

In 2015, only 37.4% of Philadelphia students were reading at grade level. This literacy crisis has many causes: 26% of residents live in poverty, causing family stressors that lead to chronic school absenteeism/lateness; 74% of parents have a high school degree or less; and nearly ¼ of families speak a language other than English at home. To combat this large-scale challenge, Read by 4th works to create systems-level change and improved life chances for all Philadelphia children.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Read by 4th began as a set of broad ideas aimed at addressing Philadelphia’s acute literacy crisis, with a framework that addressed the following specific areas: School Readiness/Early Learning, Attendance, Instructional Strategies/Teacher Quality, and Summer/Out-of-School Time Learning. As the campaign progressed from the visioning stage to the first phases of implementation, it became more strategic in establishing concrete strategies and milestones. In February 2017 the campaign unveiled its Six Bold Ideas, which have provided greater structure for its working groups and helped partners lay out specific action steps toward their ultimate goal. Read by 4th particularly acknowledges the pivotal role that parents, caregivers and community members play in their children’s ability to succeed. We offer families, caregivers and community members a wide array of resources to help them make reading and early literacy a significant part of their daily lives. In 2016-2017 Read by 4th successfully moved Philadelphia closer to its literacy goals by relaunching and dramatically expanding its website ( to more effectively share resources with parents and partners, including using video for outreach purposes. Read by 4th’s “Reading is Everywhere” video has been viewed more than 12,500 times since the website relaunched. Read by 4th’s family and community resources that can be accessed via include: o Listings of reading-rich after-school and summer programs; o Videos that model “active reading”; o “Conversation starters” that parents can use when meeting with their child’s teacher or caregiver; o Directories of quality early child care centers; o Literacy-rich event listings; o Access to free books for children of all ages and at various reading levels; and o “Attendance trackers” that help parents and caregivers meet their goal of getting their children to school on time every day. To reinforce the campaign’s central idea that “Reading is Everywhere” – including in neighborhoods in all parts of the city of Philadelphia – Read by 4th will particularly focus on the following two initiatives in 2019: • Reading Captains: o This program trains adult volunteers to help promote early literacy among families in their neighborhoods. o We launched our Reading Captains initiative with several volunteer training sessions in September 2017. Each training session included: a brief overview of the early literacy crisis in Philadelphia; background on the Read by 4th campaign and our partners; and basic information on literacy resources that the Reading Captains can share with their neighbors. o Training sessions also provide opportunities for community building among the Reading Captains, including time to do some co-planning with Reading Captains from the same general section of the city. o Finally, the campaign facilitates a closed Facebook group for Reading Captains, through which we share additional information to catalyze group conversations. o As of February 2018, we have trained a total of 70 Reading Captains. • Book Nooks: o “Book Nooks” are placed at popular, non-traditional community locations in high-need neighborhoods. o Made possible by partnerships with Scholastic and Ikea, each Book Nook includes a bookcase with up to 80 children’s books on various reading levels, a colorful throw rug, and matching comfortable reading chairs. o This initiative transforms the waiting areas of barber shops, laundromats, medical offices and other community spaces into sanctuaries where families can spend time reading together. o As of February 2018, we have installed 395 Book Nooks around the city of Philadelphia. In order to track the extent to which the “Reading is Everywhere” message successfully permeates the Philadelphia landscape, Read by 4th will continue its early-stage conversations with technology partners such as Springboard Collaborative to develop web applications (apps) that track family and systems-level behavior changes on a population-wide scale.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Read by 4th is effecting systems- and community-level change in Philadelphia: sharing a collective sense of urgency, building capacity for partners, identifying gaps in services and developing strategies to fill them, and advocating fiercely to change the literacy environment. Read by 4th’s work contributes to the following citywide shifts: • Nearly 300 non-traditional public spaces around the city now host “Read Together” zones. • The School District of Philadelphia has shown its commitment to ensuring 3rd graders are reading at grade level by implementing a system-wide teacher coaching model to improve instruction. • Local universities are recognizing the value of evidence-based instruction in teacher preparation programs, and the School District has committed to only hiring teachers from appropriately accredited universities by 2020 – reshaping the pipeline of teachers hired by Philadelphia schools. • The city’s out-of-school-time providers now better integrate literacy efforts. The Read by 4th collective impact coalition is also well aware that Philadelphia’s literacy crisis is not something that can be “programmed” or even fully funded out of existence. The overarching goal of Read by 4th is to leverage community resources and catalyze behavior changes in homes and within families, reinforcing and filling in the gaps not reached by currently available programs and services while also identifying promising programmatic interventions to bring to Philadelphia.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Recent data show that Read by 4th is producing results, with PSSA state test scores from the 2016-2017 school year revealing that 41.9% of all Philadelphia students are now able to read at grade level – a 4.5% increase in the number of 3rd graders who were able to read at grade level in 2015-2016 (37.4%). The School District of Philadelphia in particular, despite its limited finances and other major challenges, saw its 3rd graders outpace their fellow 3rd graders statewide in terms of growth in reading scores over the past year. There are also fewer District students now reading at the lowest level, with particular gains seen among African American and Latino students. Looking ahead, Read by 4th will focus primarily on ensuring that the positive momentum it has catalyzed will continue to benefit Philadelphia children and families beyond the close of the campaign. In its next phase, the initiative will work to embed the literacy-focused practices and behaviors introduced by Read by 4th into our schools, homes, and community organizations over the long-term. More specifically, we will work to become accessible to families for whom English is not their primary tongue. We will assess whether our messaging and traditional/digital outreach tools resonate with different cultural communities; invite organizations from these communities into our partner network; and explore translating some of our outreach tools into multiple languages.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

One of the most severe in the country, Philadelphia’s literacy crisis has many causes, but pervasive poverty has likely had the greatest impact. Philadelphia is the poorest large U.S. city, with 26% of residents and 39% of children living in poverty. Not surprisingly, living in poverty is a contributing factor in very low student attendance rates among 1st - 3rd graders in the city, as many parents juggling multiple jobs, late shifts and other related stressors have trouble getting their children to school on time or at all. Chronic absenteeism is clearly linked with academic struggle, but chronic lateness is often linked with falling behind as well, as reading is generally taught in the mornings. Additional factors include low educational attainment among parents (74% of parents in Philadelphia have a high school degree or less) and the high percentage of families who speak a language other than English at home (22%). These educational and language barriers make it more difficult for parents to create an English language-rich environment for their children at home. Many low-income children were also unable to receive the support they needed at school. Though Read by 4th has since spurred investment by the School District of Philadelphia to improve the quality of reading instruction for its teachers, knowledge regarding high-quality reading instruction was quite limited among Philadelphia teachers prior to 2015.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Read by 4th's concept is innovative because of its focus on influencing, tracking and assessing population-wide behavioral shifts across families and communities, as mentioned earlier.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

As compared to other grade-level reading campaigns across the US, Read by 4th is unique in scale because of Philadelphia’s substantial population size. As such, Read by 4th’s greatest scaling-related barriers are the challenges inherent in operating at a scale commensurate with the size of our city. At the same time, with even our “pilot” programs serving a significant number of students, Read by 4th can serve as a national model for this work in other large cities. Other barriers include uncertain funding streams in the years ahead. We will therefore embed Read by 4th’s work into the fabric of Philadelphia by exploring place-based strategies and advocating for citywide systems to adopt specific protocols and policies. Read by 4th will: • Identify and focus efforts on particular sectors of our community (e.g., faith-based organizations, the healthcare industry, etc.), and help leaders in these sectors develop key calls-to-action while also activating their constituents. • Build internal capacity for community organizing by forging a network of “community gatekeepers” and grassroots leaders to convene and take action. • Continue to expand our “library” of shared resources that all partners can access (e.g., trainer’s guides for parent workshops, videos, and branded materials). • Increase parent engagement by expanding our parent training/resources.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

As Read by 4th begins its third year of operations, we have demonstrated that our idea is feasible at our current levels of staffing and funding. However, in order to grow the campaign and deepen our impact, we will need to secure greater funding and expand our staff size. To increase our funding, Read by 4th will rely in part on its Funders’ Roundtable, a group of prominent local funders that meets regularly to discuss how Philadelphia’s philanthropic community can best support Read by 4th’s evolving needs. This model allows us to explore ways in which Read by 4th can benefit from collective financing among funders whose missions are closely aligned with the goals of Read by 4th. Upon securing new funding, we will be able to hire additional staff to increase our capacity. Read by 4th will create the following three (3) permanent staff positions: 1) Communications and Public Awareness Director: Read by 4th’s capacity to conceptualize, produce and disseminate informative, visually appealing marketing collateral is essential to the campaign’s success. Working closely with its communications consultant, Read by 4th produces a robust, multi-platform communications strategy for the campaign and each of its working groups. Its thoughtful collateral pieces require significant staff and consultant time to construct. A dedicated, in-house Communications and Public Awareness Director will be able to devote such time, acting as a primary point of contact for our communications consultant and working closely with our partners to coordinate our messaging campaigns. This position will also manage Read by 4th’s social media, website, and email newsletters. 2) Special Projects Coordinator: This position will oversee volunteer coordination (for initiatives such as Reading Captains) and pilot projects. 3) Resource Development Manager: This position will support individual and institutional fundraising efforts for the campaign moving forward. We will also devote significant time and resources to evaluation efforts, with the goal of assessing the extent to which the campaign is meeting its goals. Read by 4th currently assesses its impact by working with an outside evaluation firm to collect quarterly data from our partners via an online survey. The data is then entered into a web platform, producing a results-based accountability dashboard that tracks effort and progress. Other evaluation tools include: holding interviews and focus groups with partners; conducting data collection and analysis of each Read by 4th focus area; and tracking shared measures across the network. Results are shared with all Read by 4th partner organizations, funders, and advisory council members on a regular basis. Moving forward, Read by 4th will broaden its evaluation methods in order to assess behavioral changes within families, in homes, and in classrooms, as well as systemic shifts in how our partners interact with one another.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

Our business model has proven successful on a citywide scale since 2015.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)


Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Though Read by 4th was launched several months prior to the hiring of its Executive Director, Jenny Bogoni, the campaign is very closely aligned with Jenny’s areas of interest and experience. Jenny believes passionately that education is the key to lessening poverty and income inequality in all parts of Philadelphia. Furthermore, she was particularly interested in the position of Read by 4th Executive Director because of her experience working with collective impact initiatives, which she has found to be the most effective approach to combatting seemingly intractable social issues such as systemic poverty and educational inequality. Jenny believes that the power of collective impact initiatives such as Read by 4th lies in the fact that they bring multiple sectors to the table in search of systems-level change, rather than simply looking for temporary fixes. Boosting early literacy skills is not an objective that can be accomplished by early childhood educators and caregivers alone; in order to be truly effective, early literacy goals must be adopted by all of the adults and institutions with whom young children interact. As a parent of elementary-school aged children herself, Jenny understands that parents from all walks of life are in need of support. She has experienced firsthand the benefits of partnerships between parents, teachers, out-of-school time providers, and community leaders in bolstering early literacy skills. Jenny’s career has been spent almost entirely in the education field. As the Founding Executive Director of the Spark Program in Philadelphia, she worked with several schools in North and West Philadelphia to prepare students for success in high school, with the goal of reducing the city’s dropout rate. She was also the Vice President of Leadership and Learning at Philadelphia Youth Network and the Executive Director of ASAP/After School Activities Partnership, among other leadership roles. A former Peace Corps member, Ms. Bogoni was recognized as one of Philadelphia Business Journal’s “40 under 40” city leaders, and has also been recognized as a national leader at the White House Summit on Disconnected Youth. Though Jenny has worked mostly with middle and high school students in her past roles, she is particularly excited about working in the early childhood space with Read by 4th. She believes that it is vital to offer literacy and other academic supports to children as early on as possible, before young people fall so far behind in school that it becomes ever more challenging to catch up. Jenny’s ultimate goal is to work toward creating literacy-rich environments for as many of Philadelphia’s youngest children as possible over the coming years.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

Read by 4th is fortunate to have had a strong staff team and a dedicated network of partners and funders since its inception. As the campaign moves into its next phase of development, it will become even more important to mobilize new communities by expanding our reach and strengthening our partnerships with grassroots, community-based organizations throughout Philadelphia. Engaging more directly with parents and caregivers in their communities will allow us to fully embed the campaign into the fabric of the city, with early literacy becoming an integral piece of the city’s daily operations.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

As a collaborative impact initiative, Read by 4th would welcome the help of Prize participants from a wide range of backgrounds. We are particularly looking for assistance in developing new methods/models for evaluating our impact. As mentioned earlier, Read by 4th plans to expand its evaluation methodology to assess behavioral changes within families, in homes, and in classrooms, as well as systemic shifts in how our partners interact with one another. Outcomes and indicators that we will evaluate may include: a) Individual behavior (e.g., are there any changes in parent awareness of the importance of reading with their children?); b) Funding flows (e.g., has the Philadelphia School District devoted more attention and resources to Read by 4th’s priority areas of early literacy and related teacher training?); and c) Policy changes (e.g., has Read by 4th influenced public opinion through its communications and media outreach around the importance of early literacy?) In the year ahead, Read by 4th will release a new RFP for an evaluation partner to assist us in designing data collection tools (including surveys, focus groups and interviews) that assess outcomes similar to those listed here. As we draft this RFP, we would welcome guidance from other participants with experience conducting systems-level evaluations, particularly in the public health realm. Within the corporate/for-profit space, we would also love to hear from participants who conduct evaluations of especially large-scale programs, as we believe we would benefit from learning more about their specialized experience.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

In addition to mentoring support from those with public health and large-scale evaluation experience, as explained above, we would undoubtedly benefit from mentoring support to strengthen our legislative and policy advocacy efforts. While organizations within our partner network engage in advocacy work on a semi-regular basis, we would love to broaden our knowledge of successful advocacy efforts and models by learning from other Prize participants.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

We had one phone conversation with our mentor, who encouraged us to refine our idea and focus more specifically on the following two components: Reading Captains and Book Nooks. Our mentor also encouraged us to continue exploring the ways in which apps might be useful in helping us track family activities and shifts in behavior.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of MaryKay Mahar

Hi Rebecca,

Thought I would connect as a local partner, PHMC. Very familiar with Read by 4th and your success in our area!