Why Future Forward Matters

The Need

Learning to read is a skill. The ability to access, comprehend, and apply written instructions is essential to functioning effectively in an information-based society.
Third grade is a critical benchmark: The shift from students learning to read, to students reading to learn. Students without a basic level of reading competency by third grade are more likely to struggle academically and have social and behavioral issues in subsequent grades. These students are four-times as likely to drop-out of high school than proficient readers, and dropouts are more likely to experience negative outcomes, including lower annual earnings and higher potential for mental and physical health problems.
2020 deeply affected student learning, with some of the most vulnerable and underserved students struggling more in recent school years than ever before. Health and social justice crises over the past few years have shed light and attention on the disparate treatment of both students and adults in society. Increased attention on many social disparities has created a national movement to focus on previously underserved students, and given schools and communities an opportunity to shift student outcomes and promote long-term success in school and in life.
Early intervention is key: the likelihood of student dropout can be predicted with up to 70% accuracy by third grade, based on reading ability and prior retention. Given the potential negative long-term consequences of low reading proficiency, the fact that only 37% of fourth graders across the country are proficient in reading underscores the magnitude of the problem on a national scale.
Research from the field also shows us that struggling students are disproportionately students of color and lower socioeconomic status. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test scores reflect persistent achievement gaps between students eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and their non-NSLP counterparts.
In addition, these students demonstrated lower proficiency levels in fourth- and eighth-grade reading than their higher-income peers. With poverty rates rising among public school students, there is a clear and urgent need for cost-effective, research-based interventions that promote positive literacy outcomes for all students.
4th Grade Reading Proficiency in Students Eligible for the NSLP
4th Grade Reading Proficiency in Students NON Eligible for the NSLP (Higher Income Peers)

The Solution

One-on-One Tutoring

Intensive, high-dosage one-on-one tutoring provides students with customized, individualized instruction based on the science of reading. Future Forward tutoring is research-proven to increase student literacy skills, school-day attendance, and overall academic success.

Family Engagement

Highly trained Family Engagement Coordinators connect regularly with parents and caregivers with phone calls and text messages, newsletters, home visits, and fun monthly family events – all designed to increase skills in support of students’ reading and overall academic success.

Future Forward is…

a research-proven, cost-effective, K–3 early reading intervention that answers this need by improving student reading achievement through research-based literacy programming within the school and family. Future Forward was birthed as the SPARK early literacy program in Milwaukee, WI which was classified by the Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE) at Johns Hopkins University as one of a small number of literacy interventions that both work and meet the “strong evidence definitions” laid out in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
In their external evaluation of the The Program Model, the Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education (SREed) at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found that including school-day one-on-one tutoring and intensive family engagements in a literacy model yielded positive and statistically significant impacts on student outcomes. Further, the positive impact of the program was shown to remain stable one year after the end of participation: former participants scored significantly better on the spring STAR Reading assessment compared to control students, and former participants had 2.9 fewer school absences compared to control.
The research evaluation of the program met What Works Clearinghouse standards and suggests promise for Future Forward’s impact as it is currently implemented in 14 sites across three different states. Future Forward expects third party evaluation findings from the federal EIR grant will demonstrate a similar degree of impact on reading achievement and absenteeism.
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  • Fiester, L. (2010). Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  • Fiester, L. (2013). Early Warning Confirmed: Research Update on Third-Grade Reading. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  • Center for Labor Market Studies. (2007). Left Behind in America: The Nation’s Dropout Crisis. Retrieved from
  • Hernandez, D. (2012). Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High-School Graduation. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  • Jones, C. (2015). The Results of a Randomized Control Trial Evaluation of the SPARK Literacy Program. Milwaukee, WI: Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education (SREed).
  • U.S. Department of Education. (1992-2017). Nations Report Card. Accessed from:
  • Jones, C. (2021). Testing the Impact and Scalability of the Future Forward Literacy Program. Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education (SREed).
  • Jones, C. (2021). Sustained Impact of Future Forward on Reading Achievement, Attendance, and Special Education Placement Five Years after Participation. Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education (SREed).
  • Jones, C. (2020). Results from a Multi-Site Regression Discontinuity Impact Study of the Future Forward Literacy Program. Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education (SREed).
  • Christian, M. & Jones, C. (2020). An Innovative Approach that Pairs One-on-One Tutoring with Family Engagement. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk.