Featured Finalist – ACE: A Community for Education

2013 Innovaton & Leadership Finalist

Nominated by: OneStar Foundation
E Newsletter Full Seal color logoACE: A Community for Education is a research-based, bilingual early reading intervention program based at the University of Texas-Austin. ACE AmeriCorps members serve pre-K, kindergarten, first and second grade students using a Response to Intervention model that has been proven effective in helping 75% of students reach or exceed grade level in key literacy skills by the end of the program. Since 1994, ACE has provided tutoring to more than 5,000 students in low-income elementary schools and over one million hours of service to children and families in Central Texas. Also known as our Texas Reading Corps, ACE was the first AmeriCorps program outside of Minnesota to adopt the renowned Minnesota Reading Corps model to meet growing local needs. Today, ACE is still the largest replication site using the MRC model: 120 ACE AmeriCorps tutors provide one-on-one and small-group early literacy intervention each year. After serving, 90% of ACE AmeriCorps alumni continue to serve their communities and 30% of ACE alumni remain in the education field after completing their AmeriCorps service.

When I walked through the door to my first ACE AmeriCorps training, welcomed by what seemed like endless friendly faces, I was pulled aside by someone who turned out to be one of the ACE supervisors. She asked me how I was doing and the question, “Are you ok?” At my previous job, I had never once been asked these questions. At ACE you matter. Everyone does! I heard about ACE through a family member. I’d always known I wanted to teach, but I’d always doubted my abilities to do so. I guess you can say that I’d never believed in myself enough to think that I could do it. I was that nerdy kid in high school with my nose in a book. But, growing up in south Texas, no one talked to me about college and career. In my first year with ACE, I remember having so many doubts about the tiniest things – like my Spanish and whether or not I was capable of being a good reading tutor. At every turn, ACE staff reassured me that I could succeed. I was so honored when they believed in me enough to invite me to return the next year as an ACE leader for new tutors! ACE saw in me what I was never able to see before. I successfully led a team of tutors and started education classes at Austin Community College – something I never thought I’d do. I’ve learned I’m really good at teaching, and this spring I was asked by the principal at my school to apply for a full-time teaching-assistant position for next year while I continue my education. ACE gave me my chance at a life I never thought possible! I will be a teacher and role model for children just like me.” – Rosa C., 2011-2013 ACE Full-Time Tutor and Leader

Central Texas has the fastest growing zero-to-five year old population in the country, and, in the last decade, has experienced a 107% increase in the number of children living in poverty. The English Language Learner population has increased 105%. This has significant implications for our schools. Fewer than 42% of low-income students are “kindergarten ready” by age five. In fact, many low-income students start school already two years behind their more economically advantaged peers in the skills and experiences that predict success in learning to read. Schools and teachers alone cannot close this achievement gap. ACE focuses its efforts here.

ACE is an intensive, data-driven program that works to accelerate reading ability for 2,000 young children each year. On average, at least two-thirds of students annually reach grade level benchmarks in reading and sustain their progress. There are three key factors to ACE’s success. First, ACE is intensive—each child is seen daily for 30 minutes of one-to-one tutoring. Second, ACE is data driven—we monitor each child’s progress weekly, and perform benchmark reading assessments at the beginning, middle, and end of each year. Third, ACE tutors are well-trained and supervised—on average, ACE tutors receive over 60 hours of training in evidence-based, early reading strategies, and are supervised and supported on-site by ACE literacy experts each week. ACE provides tutors a meaningful and transformative service experience. Tutors report that no matter which career they go on to pursue, they understand the power of public education in our democracy and the critical role that literacy plays in all levels of learning. ACE engages a very diverse corps of tutors—about half of ACE tutors are proficient in Spanish and work with bilingual students. ACE has an impressive average retention rate of 97%, and thirty percent of ACE tutors become educators.

ACE is a national partner with the Minnesota Reading Corps in expanding the effective use of AmeriCorps tutors to provide daily, intensive, evidence-based reading tutoring to children who are behind in reading and at risk for falling further behind without early intervention. ACE has been providing early literacy intervention to young struggling readers since its inception in 1994 and is the only AmeriCorps*State program in Texas to be in continuing operation since AmeriCorps began in 1994. Until recently, ACE operated as a relatively small program, annually serving about 250 students intensively with bi-weekly tutoring. However, ACE sought a model that would allow it to scale up quickly to meet more of the critical community need for early intervention. In 2008, ACE began a fruitful, cross-state partnership with Serve Minnesota and its Minnesota Reading Corps (MRC). ACE began to implement the Response-toIntervention strategies and assessments that MRC pioneered. While the two programs have different local funding structures, they both adhere to the same research-based lesson framework, principles for intervention, solid training for tutors, and using data to drive instruction. As a result of this partnership, in three years ACE expanded from 4 to 22 schools and from 250 to 2000 students served. And ACE continues to work with MRC as a partner in learning together how to best expand this model in TX. ACE is also pioneering an innovative partnership with the Texas Region XIII Alternative Certification Program that allows qualified ACE tutors to obtain teaching certification during their term of service in ACE. ACE has always “grown teachers.” Surveys indicate that ACE alumni who teach stay in the classroom longer than the national average of 3-5 years and stay in the education field even if they leave the classroom. Given the growing shortage of teachers, ACE believes that its partnership with Region XIII could become a national AmeriCorps model for members desiring a more gradual pre-service experience prior to teaching their own class, potentially resulting in teachers who embrace teaching as a profession, not as a two-three year service experience.


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