Ready-for-fifth Summary Introduction

© Bill Graham, 2014

Ready-for-fifth is the first year of a multi-year initiative to dramatically improve education for close to 100% of all students.  This phase of the initiative is named “Ready-for-fifth” because the goal is to have every student entering 5th grade in the US in 2015 be 100% grade level ready.

Given that less than 20% of 4th graders in many large cities are currently at full grade level, this sounds crazy.

 Hey Teach

What would it take

Student Motivation is key!

How big a role does confidence in mastery of prerequisite prior knowledge play in student motivation?

How will it happen?


If you want something to happen, it is not enough to talk about it.  You have to cause it to happen.

Making it happen:


  1. 4th Grade Mastery Pledge Campaign: A multi-week, massive publicity campaign combined with local mailing, call and personal visit campaign resulting in millions of 4th grade students, their math teachers and parents to pledge to have close to 100% of 4th graders at close to 100% grade level mastery in math before the end of 4th grade. All will wear colored wristbands as symbol of their commitment.
  2. Student-driven Education for a Better World Campaign: National network of engaged high school students spearheads local awareness, adoption & support of the initiative in every community in the country and also provides local reporters to report successes & failures to local & national press.
  3. Resource Availability Now Campaign: Computing device manufacturers, internet bandwidth providers, education software publishers/education cloud services providers pledge to ensure no student is unable to achieve the initiative goal due to lack of access to resources. A Needs Clearing House web application will facilitate quickly bringing needs to the attention of vendors and getting them satisfied.
  4. Mentoring/Tutoring Assistance Initiative: Tens of thousands of high school-, middle school- and college students, senior citizens & others complete an online tutor training program and volunteer as tutors.
  5. Incentive Pledge Initiative by sports & entertainment celebrities, sports teams, etc. pledge free tickets to sports games or other events or visits by celebrities to schools that achieve at least a certain % or goal achievement, thereby promoting ongoing awareness and interest in the initiative and provide additional motivation for students to strive to achieve the goal.
  6. Community Support Initiative: Local political & business leaders, Chambers of Commerce, religious & youth organizations, service clubs, etc. join together in Community Support Organizations to: actively encourage all students & teachers to pledge to this initiative; actively work to ensure teachers and students have all the resources they need to reach the goal and organize ongoing motivational and support activities during the entire year to make sure every student is progressing as effectively as possible to achieve the goal.
  7. National Press/Media Reporting Campaign: This is a sub-division of the Student-driven Education for a Better World Campaign to publicize what is happening (or not happening) in the community with regard to achieving the goal of getting 100% of 4th graders to 100% grade level mastery by the end of 4th grade. This spreads bragging rights around and maintains high interest & involvement in initiative over entire year.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. Why is this initiative important?
    1. Current situation is worse than many know. In many US cities more than 80% of 4th graders are currently below grade level. 75% of community college freshman in NY are not ready for college work.
    2. Jobs that pay a living wage are disappearing for lesser educated, low qualified workers.
    3. US economy held back by shortage of qualified workers.
    4. % of children living in low income households is rapidly increasing (number of states with more than 50% of children qualifying for subsidized lunch jumped from 4 to 16 in just 11 years).
    5. Increasing numbers of low or no income adults combined with explosion of baby-boomer retirees and a shrinking middle class tax base threatens the social peace and even future of democracy in the US.
  2. Why 4th Grade?
    1. In grade 4, the knowledge/skill gaps are not that great. By 6th or 7th grade or higher, the gaps are significantly greater therefore require much greater perseverance to overcome.
    2. Most 4th graders still respond positively to praise from teachers and parents and are generally receptive to guidance from teachers.
      1. Students in 5th and higher grades that have a history of failure have often adopted a tough outer shell as a defensive move that makes them less receptive to efforts to help them (showing how tough you are is often more important than academic achievement).
      2. There is often increased peer pressure in 5th grade and above to not be perceived as a striver to do well in school.
      3. Keep in mind that at the time the initiative kicks off, we are talking about students that are just a couple of months out of 3rd grade.
    3. 4th grade (maybe 3rd grade in some cases) is the first grade where most students have reached a level of maturity to take some responsibility for their own education.
    4. 4th grade is a grade where the content level is still relatively simple and a large % of the population is able to jump in and help as formal or informal tutors and coaches. This cannot be said for Algebra, Trigonometry, etc.
    5. 4th graders are not yet as impacted by negative behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, gangs, pregnancy, etc.
    6. 4th grade is last chance for many. Many schools are not effective in helping students entering 5th grade far behind grade level recover and become successful.
    7. Perhaps most importantly, 4th graders are not yet impacted by puberty.
    8. Although this initiative is focused on 4th grade, we will also have several programs aimed at students in other grade levels.
  3. Why Math?
    1. We are really talking about Arithmetic and Beginning Geometry here. These have a relatively small finite knowledge base (vocabulary, rules, methods, etc.) as compared to, for example, Language Arts (reading, writing, grammar, etc.) which would be the next logical candidate which would be tackled in the following year.
    2. There are many effective learning tools available for Math (in both English and Spanish).
    3. There are a great many people able to help students in learning K-4 Math (Arithmetic and beginning Geometry)
    4. While Math is the focus of the first year of this initiative, the second year will focus on adding Reading and Writing. To that end, we will be actively encouraging learning aid publishers to use that first year to accelerate development of their tools in preparation for year two.

Find out more:


  1. $Billions, over decades, have failed to bring about any significant lasting improvement in education in the US.
  2. The Ready-for-5th Initiative aims to get 100% of students to be 100% grade level ready and confident in their ability to learn when they enter 5th grade.
  3. The specific goal is to get almost ALL 4th graders to 100% grade level mastery (initially in Math) in just 1 school year! Given that less than 20% of 4th graders in a number of US cities are currently at grade level, this is significant.
  4. Additional grade levels and subjects will be added in each subsequent year.

Unrealistic?   Imagine the following…

  1. National leaders join huge crowd of high school students in Times Square to challenge 4th grade teachers and students to get to get ALL 4th grade students in US to 100% grade level in math before end of school year.
  2. Students and celebrities rally in many major cities around country to join challenge to 4th grade students and teachers.
  3. National celebrities copy the promotion plan for Hour-of-code to promoting Year-of-math.
  4. Millions of tweets and emails show almost universal support of 4th grade education initiative.
  5. Politicians at all levels encourage commitment to 4th grade education initiative.
  6. Device manufacturers and bandwidth providers pledge very quick relief to resource needs. The Needs Clearing House Website matches needs and providers and backers for quick needs elimination.
  7. Khan Academy, McGraw Hill and many other publishers pledge access and special assistance and support to 4th grade teachers and students using their tools.
  8. Corporate ad blitz joins effort to promote 4th grade education initiative.
  9. Sports Teams and others offer free tickets to classes that get 95% or more students to full grade level mastery and pledge additional incentives to motivate students to get entire class on board.
  10. In just 2 weeks, millions of 4th grade students, their teachers & their parents pledge to put in extra effort to achieve 100% grade level before the end of school year and wear colored wristbands as a symbol and daily reminder of their commitment.
  11. Celebrities pledge to visit schools where a high % of 4th graders achieve full grade level mastery.
  12. 4th grade education initiative remains tops in news for multiple weeks.
  13. Engaged high school students spearhead local efforts to ensure all 4th graders reach 100% grade level mastery.
  14. Tens of thousands senior citizens, college and high school students and others volunteer to mentor/tutor and otherwise help 4th graders achieve full 4th grade level mastery.
  15. Community Support Groups pop up all around the country to support 4th grade mastery initiative. Local politicians, Chambers of Commerce, service clubs, churches, synagogues, mosques, youth organizations, etc., form organizations to help ALL 4th graders reach 100% grade level mastery before end of school year.
  16. Media coverage of 4th grade education initiative remains high throughout entire year.
  17. Community rallies all around country honor students that advance local 4th grade education effort (“hero program” to honor students and others that go extra mile to help themselves or others achieve 100% mastery).
  18. Weekly newspapers closely cover local 4th grade initiative. High school students become initiative reporters.
  19. Learn-a-thons, and other imaginative efforts to improve education are visible everywhere throughout country.
  20. 4th students at grade level jumps from less than 20% to over 90% in many US cities.
  21. US jumps to undisputed world education leader in 2015 TIMSS 4th grade international comparison.

It’s real!  It will happen!  Kickoff in September 2014!

Find out more:

Will it Work?

  1. If we get the great majority of students entering 5th grade to be fully prepared to succeed at 5th grade math and have the attitude that a year of successes in 4th grade bring with it, will this make enough impact on the future of these students to significantly improve their chances of succeeding throughout their school experience? In other words, would success in getting almost all students to be at full grade level really that big a deal?
  2. If we get students to successfully master all the learning components for K-4 math in a learning tool like Khan Academy, McGraw Hill ALEKS, etc., would most of these students be prepared to succeed in the 4th grade summative assessment (Common Core or equivalent)?
  3. If we get almost all students putting in the time and effort needed and having access to the needed resources and a learning process tailored to their specific needs with a dedicated mentor/coach for the entire year, will most students be able to complete the learning components in tools such as Khan Academy or McGraw Hill ALEKS in a year?
  4. If we have lots of effective incentives, an effective ongoing local publicity campaign/hero program, access to effective learning tools and dedicated mentor/coaches for almost every student, do you believe the majority of the students that pledged to do so will put in the additional effort to achieve the 100% mastery goal?
  5. If we have the described initiative publicity campaign with all its local facets, do you think we can get the majority of 4th graders to pledge to do their best to achieve the 100% mastery goal to include putting in additional time as needed?

What constitutes success?

Currently, less than half (50%) of 4th graders achieve 100% grade level mastery.  Our target is to increase that to close to 100% of students (we have to aim somewhere).  But what if we only increased that number to 80% or even only to 60%.  Every 10% is about 450,000 students.  How many programs had resulted in 450,000 students doing dramatically better? (One has to keep in mind that most of the failure to improve will be in schools that simply do not participate.  That means there are almost no costs involved.)

What if half the students only put in half the number of desired additional hours and therefore only improved by half as much as we had hoped.  That would mean more than 2 million students do better than they otherwise would.  Is that improvement not significant and valuable?

This is a no-lose initiative.  Every additional hour of effective learning is a plus that remains forever.

Partnerships & Alliances:

It is the intention that the Ready-for-fifth Initiative will partner with many existing organizations to achieve common goals.  These include the national Teachers’ unions, organizations already recruiting and providing mentoring/tutoring resources, organizations providing a resource clearing house web application, organizations providing effective learning resources, organizations working with socially engaged youth, etc.  Examples of such organizations  include NEA, AFT, United Way, AARP Experience Corps,,, iMentor, Khan Academy, etc.

Ready for fifth is Just the Beginning

Ready-for-fifth is just the first year of an 8 year project that would culminate with almost all students graduating from high school (almost no dropouts).

  2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 And so forth
4th grade math math, reading math, reading, etc.  
5th grade   math math, reading  
6th grade     math  
and so on        

In 8 years at the latest, students would be coming through the pipeline with 100% mastery of all core subjects.  It should be noted, however, that in the foundation subjects in lower grades, it is a lot more about individual learning.  In higher grades, collaborative learning, project-based learning and just learning how to be an independent learner will play a more important role.  Such higher order learning, however, is very dependent on the students having mastered the fundamentals of reading, arithmetic, computer/internet literacy, etc.