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California's Reading Dilemma

EdSource Special Report

California does little to ensure all kids read by third grade

Above: Student Surenaty Gillette, 9, center, reads aloud during a reading lesson at Ethel I. Baker Elementary School in Sacramento in June.

Other states embrace science of reading with books, training, coaching

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California fourth graders trail the nation in reading, and half of its third graders, including two-thirds of Black students and 61% of Latino students, do not read at grade level.

Yet, California is not among the states — including Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida, Connecticut, Colorado, Virginia and New York City — that have adopted comprehensive literacy plans to ensure that all children can read by third grade. And California has not set a timeline or given any indication it intends to create such a plan.

“The problem is we’re still at the first stage of acknowledging there’s a problem,” said Todd Collins, a Palo Alto school board member and an organizer of the California Reading Coalition, a literacy advocacy group.

“We’re just not seeing that same level of involvement and intensity that other states have had,” said Linda Diamond, a retired executive of a California-based reading improvement firm who tracks literacy legislation and teacher preparation programs across the nation.

In 2017, California was the first state to be sued on the grounds that it had denied children’s civil right to literacy under the state constitution. After initially fighting the lawsuit, the state settled the case in February 2020. It agreed to spend $50 million on a three-year reading improvement program for 75 of the lowest performing schools, where at some schools fewer than 10% of children were reading at grade level.

And yet in 800 schools, 75% of students failed to read at grade level, and the state has not recognized their plight beyond those in the settlement, Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney who represented the families in the Ella T. v. the State of California case, said during an EdSource roundtable in April.

The state’s largely hands-off early literacy policy, said Rosenbaum, is “mainly talk, barely walk.”

Meanwhile, galvanized by the success of Mississippi, the nation’s poorest state, many states have overhauled reading instruction in the early grades. Since adopting a package of reading reforms in 2013, Mississippi’s reading scores rose steeply on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which all states take every two years. In 2019, it was the only state to see a rise in scores.

At the same time, articles and podcasts by American Public Media journalist Emily Hanford drew widespread attention to commonly used but ineffective reading methods and to research supporting phonics and other evidence-based techniques collectively called the science of reading.

California has taken some promising steps to adopt elements of the science of reading, including a plan to place reading coaches in some high-poverty schools, to better prepare new elementary school teachers to teach reading and to create a multilingual screening tool to recognize reading challenges in kindergarten through second grade.

Literacy experts say these steps, while useful, will have limited impact unless California and other states take a more muscular and cohesive approach to early reading. Effective, focused instruction in decoding skills, such as phonics, in kindergarten and first grade, as well as attention to vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension, should be part of that effort. Teachers and coaches must be trained in the science of reading; textbooks should support it.

Alberto Carvalho agrees. Before becoming superintendent of Los Angeles Unified this year, he led Miami-Dade County Public Schools.  In 2019, the nation’s fourth-largest school district was the top performer in fourth grade reading and math of the 27 urban districts that every two years take the National Assessment of Educational Program. Los Angeles Unified was fifth from the bottom.

Credit: Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times/Polaris

LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Carvalho’s advice to the state would be the same as for LAUSD, he said: Insist on a rigorous and relevant curriculum; follow the science of reading instruction, “which has proven to be most effective with young learners”; and ensure that graduates of colleges of education are experts in the cognitive development of students who can produce “not only proficient readers, but also lovers of reading.”

All of this, literacy experts say, demands a cohesive approach. Replacing a part or two in a complex system of gears and levers won’t make the machine run better.

“There’s no silver bullet in this; you can’t just change one thing and expect outcomes to change for kids,” said Emily Solari, a professor of reading education at the University of Virginia, who provided a framework for drafters of the new Virginia law.

California’s education leaders acknowledge that the state needs to do more to improve early literacy.

In a wide-ranging interview with EdSource, Linda Darling-Hammond, State Board of Education president and TK-12 adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom, said the state is rethinking how it can improve early literacy. Parents and teachers can expect to see more instructional guidance, teacher training and expert coaches.

What they won’t see is the state requiring a specific curriculum or teaching strategy.

Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the State Board of Education, at Carl B. Munck Elementary in Oakland on Aug. 11, 2021.

California’s laws ensuring local control over many facets of education will constrain actions compared with other states, she said. “But even where there’s local control, the state can lean in — on guidance, on incentives and on resources.” Darling-Hammond detailed her thinking in recent commentaries published by EdSource.

Select California districts — Chula Vista, Clovis, Gridley, Hawthorne, Long Beach, San Diego and Sanger — offer examples of what others can do, she added.

Mississippi directed its money into literacy coaches and intervention specialists in high-needs schools, Darling-Hammond said. “That’s probably the right initial role for the state here, too.”

Credit: Tony Thurmond/Flickr

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, standing, visits a classroom.

In October 2021, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond named a Statewide Literacy Task Force, with the goal of achieving universal literacy in third grade by 2026. Napa County Superintendent Barbara Nemko, one of seven co-chairs, said she hoped the group would write “a report that will give teachers the tools they need to teach reading.”

But so far, the task force has agreed only on noncontroversial things, like expanding students’ access to library cards and providing English learners with more books in their native languages. It’s not clear if the task force will take on the bigger issues of instruction: “What do we have to teach? When do we have to teach it and in what order?” she said.

Whatever directions they choose, state leaders will face the apprehension of veteran teachers and the English language learner community. Teachers with memories of Reading First, a federal initiative in the early 2000s, will worry that the next round of phonics-grounded curricula will be just as regimented. Advocates of structured literacy, which emphasizes reading comprehension as well as decoding skills, say they too don’t favor a repeat of the past.

Advocates of English learners, who comprise one 1 in 4 first graders in California, say they will oppose reading curricula that don’t meet their children’s needs. They raised concerns that a phonics-focused curriculum will exclude other critical skills: developing oral language skills, vocabulary and cross-language connections.

What California isn’t doing

States with comprehensive literacy plans generally have common components. They require the state to oversee or monitor literacy efforts. They include providing common standards for teacher preparation programs and professional development of classroom teachers; hiring or setting requirements for literacy coaches; vetting or sometimes choosing curricula for districts; mandating reporting to parents and the community on the state of literacy.

California’s minimalist approach to early literacy has left every district mostly on its own, creating confusion, uncertainty and sometimes conflicts at the local level, undermining children’s ability to learn to read, according to educators, literacy experts and district and state leaders interviewed for this article.

California does have a policy on the science of reading, which encourages explicit instruction in foundational skills in the early grades. But the policy was poorly promoted and is rarely mentioned or used.

It is tucked in a voluminous document, the English Language Arts/English Language Development Framework for California Public Schools, covering K-12. The State Board of Education adopted it in 2014, and the state summed it up in a 23-page “white paper” on foundational skills. As with other states’ academic frameworks, they consist of recommendations, not requirements.

“There wasn’t a coherent rollout,” Diamond said. “The framework was distributed to districts and county offices, but not through the ranks. So many teachers never really read it. Then, two years later, the state approved a list of textbooks. By then teachers were pulling things off the internet.”

Darling-Hammond acknowledged it is important to reacquaint districts with what is in the frameworks.

Contrary to states with effective approaches, California does not know how well its K-2 children are doing in reading. The first time that the state measures children’s reading skills is in the spring of third grade, with the Smarter Balanced English language arts scores, and those results aren’t public until the students are in fourth grade.

The Department of Education does not collect school or district data on periodic diagnostic assessments, which inform teachers of students’ progress and weaknesses. It doesn’t ask districts to tell them what assessments and textbooks they are using. It doesn’t know if students who need intensive reading help are getting it.

The State Board of Education does not require districts to report on early literacy in their Local Control and Accountability Plans, the document in which districts set three-year academic goals and are held accountable for them. It does not require districts to engage parents on their children’s reading or report to them on how well the district is doing in achieving literacy.

Margaret Goldberg

“When the required data begins in grade three, the resources of a school tend to be targeted towards grade three with a focus on intervention – instead of on high-quality instruction for all students in grades kindergarten and first grade,” said Margaret Goldberg, a literacy coach in West Contra Costa Unified who is instructing coaches from the schools receiving help in the Ella T lawsuit.

Little help with curriculum and instruction

After reviewing scientific research, the National Reading Panel concluded in 2000 that the most effective method to teach children encompasses five pillars — phonemic awareness (the ability to identify individual sounds); phonics (the ability to identify written letters from spoken language); fluency (the ability to read quickly and accurately); vocabulary; and comprehension. But the battle between advocates of structured literacy, and those of balanced literacy, a hybrid that de-emphasizes phonics and explicit instruction, continues in classrooms throughout California and in the textbooks they use. As EdSource has reported, this philosophical tug of war persists despite exhaustive research suggesting most children must be explicitly taught how to connect sounds with letters.

According to a survey by the California Reading Coalition, 70% of districts use two textbooks, Reading Wonders by McGraw-Hill, and Benchmark Advance by Benchmark Education. And those “big-box” publications send “mixed messages,” Goldberg said. They include units on phonics and decodable texts as well as an abundance of material on balanced literacy that publisher focus groups say the market demands.

As a result, districts must piece together materials from multiple sources without guidance from the state. “At my school, we use one program for foundational skills instruction and another program for language comprehension instruction,” Goldberg added.

Collins said that the best curricula for structured literacy aren’t on California’s list of materials. Districts aren’t obligated to buy from the state’s list, and many don’t. Last year, Los Angeles Unified added Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA), a structured literacy elementary school curriculum with a high rating on EdReports, which evaluates school materials. The district said it chose CKLA because it “provides explicit, systematic and cumulative foundational skills instruction.”

The California Department of Education leads the textbook and materials adoption process — a laborious undertaking involving dozens of teachers. The state board adopted the current list in 2015, and the next approval is five years away.

“It would help if the state came out with more information,” said David Schrag, director of elementary education for Pleasanton Unified, a 14,000-student district in the Bay Area where 16% of students are low-income. “Rarely does the latest information come from the state.”

Layleanah Booker, 9, reads from a book during a reading class at Ethel I. Baker Elementary School in Sacramento in June.

Arun Ramanathan, the CEO of Pivot Learning, a national school improvement nonprofit based in Oakland, said districts should seize the rare opportunity to upgrade materials.

“Most of the curricula in California classrooms is low quality and years out of date,” he said. “It is irresponsible for districts to wait for the state to complete its endless adoption process when districts can use their federal Covid relief  funding to buy up-to-date math and English materials and professional development for their teachers right now.”

Collins said state leaders could encourage districts to do so but haven’t.

Not only new teachers but all teachers need good instruction grounded in the science of reading, but many haven’t had it, experts said.

“For teachers who learned a balanced literacy program, it’s a really tough shift,” said Schrag, referring to the blended instruction that includes literature-based learning and phonics. Imagine teachers who believe they have been teaching reading successfully, he said. “‘You’re telling me I have to learn entirely new fundamentals of phonemic awareness, phonology with academic language.’ A lot of stuff they’re not used to.”

North Carolina is paying for all teachers to take LETRS, a widely used but intensive, two-week immersion in science of reading instruction.

All of Pleasanton’s TK-fifth grade teachers will take the training over four to five years.  Schrag wishes California would encourage it. “It’s really important that we agree as a state that this is something you should do. So you don’t have to fight (over it),” he said.

Added Goldberg, “The state is reluctant to tell schools what evidence-based instruction is, how you look for it in a curriculum, making sure that there is an approved list of professional development on the materials, and funds for the materials themselves.”

New standards for new teachers

One area where California has taken a significant step is in preparing future teachers.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, following a 2021 law, is revising standards for reading instruction for teacher preparation programs. The commission is expected to adopt them this fall.

“The law is not ambiguous about what needs to be included in teacher preparation,” said Executive Director Mary Sandy.  “It certainly includes a focus on the science of reading and the foundational skills.”

Starting in 2026, candidates for a TK-to-fifth credential or a multisubject credential for teaching in elementary and middle schools must pass a new performance assessment to demonstrate knowledge of the standards.

Not a funding priority

If learning to read by third grade is a fundamental right and the gateway to success, the Legislature hasn’t prioritized it.  This year’s massive $110 billion TK-12 funding dedicates little for early literacy but districts can decide to spend some of the extra money they are getting  on early literacy staffing, books and training. While the Legislature added $1 billion for community schools, on top of $3 billion last year, and $4 billion for after-school programs, it cut in half the $500 million Newsom sought for reading coaches.

The $250 million that did pass for reading coaches is enough to staff only schools with at least a 97% poverty rate — 440 of the state’s 10,500 schools. And budget language (see SEC. 137) does not require that coaches use evidence-based methods or the science of reading.

At the urging of Newsom, who has been candid about his struggles with dyslexia, the state appropriated $18 million to the University of California San Francisco to create a screening tool in multiple languages to detect reading difficulties, including possible dyslexia. However, the bill to require an annual administration for K-to-3 students — urged by parents of dyslexic children — stalled this year.  Advocates of English learners and the California Teachers Association opposed it. They said they were concerned English learners would be over-identified as dyslexic.

Darling-Hammond said she is open to using incentive grants as an alternative to mandates to fund early literacy initiatives. The ambitious community schools initiative, which Darling-Hammond championed, lists lengthy requirements to participate and includes state monitoring.  But, with budget forecasters projecting flat revenues – less, if there’s a recession — a once-in-a-generation funding opportunity may vanish.

“We’ve missed the window,” Collins said.

Concerns for English learners

Kymyona Burk, who directed Mississippi’s literacy reforms, starting in 2013, and now advises state leaders as policy director for early literacy at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, said she works with states with local control. They at least should educate school boards in the science of reading before they make key decisions.

But states also could pass laws telling districts, “you have to adopt curriculum and professional development grounded in the science of reading and coaches supporting teachers using the science of reading.”

Darling-Hammond said California classrooms are complex. How reading is taught in a district with a majority of Spanish speakers in bilingual classrooms will differ in a district, like San Francisco, where 22 languages are spoken, or districts with mostly English speakers. Providing guidance, not mandating instruction, is the state’s role, she said.

There’s not a lot of disagreement among researchers on how children learn to read, she said. “The disagreement surfaces when you start to talk about what’s happening in particular districts under the banner of science of reading,” she said.

There’s the rub. English learner advocates worry the pendulum will swing too far to phonics.

“Think about our young kids who come to kindergarten who have spoken English for five years before they step into the classroom versus kids who don’t know one word of English,” said Shelly Spiegel Coleman, strategic adviser for Californians Together, which advocates for English learners. “You start dissecting English. Breaking up those sounds and trying to put them together means nothing for a kid who doesn’t know a word of English. It’s a game, it’s not literacy.”

Martha Hernandez

Spiegel-Coleman and Martha Hernandez, Californians Together’s executive director, said they support explicit instruction in foundational skills.  “It’s a matter of dosage and duration. We don’t want the entire literacy block dedicated to foundational skills.”

Researchers and national representatives of proponents of the science of reading and of the multi-language interests, including some California leaders, have met quietly to try to resolve their differences. Darling-Hammond has observed the conversations.

Their fourth meeting is coming up. “Perhaps there might be a joint statement down the line on the things that we agree to do. We’ll have to see,” Hernandez said.

A lot is riding on their success.

The ability to read by third grade is critical. When children needing intensive help become proficient in reading in first and second grade, Goldberg said, “their attitude towards school is different; their engagement in school is different, their feelings of whether they belong there is different.”

“We can change the trajectory of that child’s life — if we have the resources in place.”

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  1. LogicalParent 4 days ago4 days ago

    As for California Department of Education, your focus needs to be on the customers - your students. You exist to service them, not your own pockets. I found a phonics program by googling around for top states with high reading scores. Lexia Core5 is something you should look into for those of you who are instructors: https://www.lexialearning.com/lexia-by-state/california https://www.lexialearning.com/user_area/content_media/raw/2021-22Core5CaliforniaStateReport.pdf References:https://www.education.nh.gov/news/leaning-literacy-lexia-learning-systems-and-gud-marketing Do not be satisfied with what is presented by your major educational resource providers. All you had to do was google for high … Read More

    As for California Department of Education, your focus needs to be on the customers – your students.
    You exist to service them, not your own pockets.

    I found a phonics program by googling around for top states with high reading scores.
    Lexia Core5 is something you should look into for those of you who are instructors:
    https://www.lexialearning.com/lexia-by-state/california
    https://www.lexialearning.com/user_area/content_media/raw/2021-22Core5CaliforniaStateReport.pdf
    References:https://www.education.nh.gov/news/leaning-literacy-lexia-learning-systems-and-gud-marketing

    Do not be satisfied with what is presented by your major educational resource providers. All you had to do was google for high reading score states and look into what they were using to teach their kids. Also, only a few of your school districts are using Lexia Core5, why aren’t more school districts using this product within California?

  2. LogicalParent 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Phonics does work! This was how we got our pre-k daughter to be able to read 3rd grade level a little before K. We had used a product called "Click N' Kids" when it used to exist as an online business. However, they do have "Hooked On Phonics," which still exists. Phonics does work. My daughter was proof of this. She excelled through school, which was a lot of work at home in the earlier phase … Read More

    Phonics does work! This was how we got our pre-k daughter to be able to read 3rd grade level a little before K. We had used a product called “Click N’ Kids” when it used to exist as an online business.
    However, they do have “Hooked On Phonics,” which still exists.

    Phonics does work. My daughter was proof of this. She excelled through school, which was a lot of work at home in the earlier phase of her K-12 years.

    No, you should worry about education. Education does not take care of itself. We were also told by some elementary school instructors Phonics was something they don’t teach, and it does not work well.

    I think the problem might be CA Department of Education does not know how to do a product comparison by testing to determine what is good for the students, or they might be bought by some large educational book manufacturers.

  3. Lisa L Disbrow 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    I'm confused. Parents up and down the beautiful state of CA were begging school boards to open up, to listen to Dr. Jeanne Noble of UCSF on the dangers of masking children, parents, teachers and the public were begging for in person, face to face education because children were depressed, disinterested in learning, lonely and harming themselves. The demand for therapists and counselors in the SF Bay Area exploded. Yet Governor Newsom won the … Read More

    I’m confused. Parents up and down the beautiful state of CA were begging school boards to open up, to listen to Dr. Jeanne Noble of UCSF on the dangers of masking children, parents, teachers and the public were begging for in person, face to face education because children were depressed, disinterested in learning, lonely and harming themselves.

    The demand for therapists and counselors in the SF Bay Area exploded. Yet Governor Newsom won the 2022 National Frank Newman award for educational innovation? Did this commission know that record numbers of Californians left their home state for states where public school students were progressing academically, graduating in person, competing in sports and not in need of counseling? Did this commission question the huge drop in kindergarten enrollment or the unique increase in teacher and administrator early retirements? Did the commission apologize to the other states who consistently score higher than California in academics for less money?

    Did Mississippi’s reading growth not stack up to all our CA innovations? What about the California idea to pay for the credential program costs for district employees who serve in other school departments who want to become teachers or those interested in counseling if they promise to teach or counsel students for several years? Didn’t the overall weak results from Teach For America inform us better?

    And what about the private schools with longer than ever waiting lists of parents wanting to pay for private education in these lean financial times? The commission probably didn’t factor in the increase in homeschooling either. In the Lafayette School District in the SF Bay Area, enrollment dropped 11%. Why? Where are the California lessons learned by past and current poor results? Did this commission really do their homework or are they more comfortable with participation awards versus merit awards?

    In California it is time to Build Back Better Education for all our students and focus on learning like the rest of the global leaders in the world are doing. It is time for academic accountability, abundant professional development focused on proven quality instruction, early screening for dyslexia, autism, ADHD and other disabilities as well as programs for accelerated students. The special interests of students and parents deserve our undivided focus and loyalty.

  4. JACQUELINE VILLALOBOS 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    It's a disgrace how California handles their public schools. The districts are not applying the laws indicated for these students to get and or provide appropriate accommodations, modifications, support, and related services. Public school or Special Education students need this type of help. Without your just living off of an idea of hope. Hope the student will learn. Why not use appropriate accommodations, modifications, support, and related services. I'm sure after that school districts … Read More

    It’s a disgrace how California handles their public schools. The districts are not applying the laws indicated for these students to get and or provide appropriate accommodations, modifications, support, and related services. Public school or Special Education students need this type of help. Without your just living off of an idea of hope. Hope the student will learn. Why not use appropriate accommodations, modifications, support, and related services. I’m sure after that school districts would have more success in the public and private sector of education.

  5. Lisa Disbrow -bilingual Spanish/English teacher 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    The current Education Establishment has abandoned all ethical responsibility to educate our children. Teachers are currently told by administrators that academics are not the focus of our schools but that cultural transformation is the focus. No wonder Gender grants of 200 million dollars are now available for diversity, equity, inclusion, social emotional learning and culturally responsive grading while broken promises from the failed 1990’s of 3rd grade reading proficiency slogans are offered in pre-election media … Read More

    The current Education Establishment has abandoned all ethical responsibility to educate our children.
    Teachers are currently told by administrators that academics are not the focus of our schools but that cultural transformation is the focus. No wonder Gender grants of 200 million dollars are now available for diversity, equity, inclusion, social emotional learning and culturally responsive grading while broken promises from the failed 1990’s of 3rd grade reading proficiency slogans are offered in pre-election media statements from current State Superintendent Tony Thurmond.

    We actually have a serious opportunity to build back better schooling in California if we elect school board candidates, county education office board members and a new state Superintendent of Public Schools who are committed to science based reading instruction because it works for students.

    California needs new education leadership to accomplish this goal. As the newly elected California Superintendent of Schools Lance Christensen, a former teacher, father of 5 and reading science advocate will lead California to follow the reading success of Mississippi students and other states committed to their children more than political visions. He advocates reading proficiency based on research based reading science grounded curricula for all California students. Their futures matter. Our responsibility is to educate them for their future.

  6. Kristen Brown 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Thank you for this disheartening article, because it needs to be repeated again and again. The lack of support for readers is amplified for those with disabilities that further impact their access to reading. Districts refuse to use proper diagnostic terms such as dyslexia, and continue to brush off the science to support fragile readers just as readily. Ask any dyslexia advocate about how public education supports this disability found in 3 out … Read More

    Thank you for this disheartening article, because it needs to be repeated again and again. The lack of support for readers is amplified for those with disabilities that further impact their access to reading. Districts refuse to use proper diagnostic terms such as dyslexia, and continue to brush off the science to support fragile readers just as readily. Ask any dyslexia advocate about how public education supports this disability found in 3 out of 20 students, and you will get an earful over broken promises and absent oversight. Legislation is trying, districts appear to be resistant.

  7. Ray Reinhard 1 month ago1 month ago

    I am appalled, but not surprised, that California is once again fighting the “reading wars” of the early 1990s. Marion Joseph, a former senior education advisory to Superintendent of Public Instruction Wilson Riles, sounded the alarm about the state’s abysmal record at having students be literate by the end of third grade. She diagnosed the problem: an over-emphasis on a trendy “whole language” method and the failure to incorporate the scientifically validated methods of phonics … Read More

    I am appalled, but not surprised, that California is once again fighting the “reading wars” of the early 1990s. Marion Joseph, a former senior education advisory to Superintendent of Public Instruction Wilson Riles, sounded the alarm about the state’s abysmal record at having students be literate by the end of third grade. She diagnosed the problem: an over-emphasis on a trendy “whole language” method and the failure to incorporate the scientifically validated methods of phonics and phonemic awareness. Ms. Joseph served on the State Board of Education and reading task forces and was instrumental in enacting a statute that required phonics be incorporated in reading instruction. She is undoubtedly turning over in her grave.

  8. Brenda Lebsack - Former School Board Member 1 month ago1 month ago

    Question: Since California is failing in teaching kids how to read, how is it that Calif received the National 2022 Frank Newman award for innovation in educating the “whole child” with support services and financial investments to assure “educational equity”? Have we forgotten the purpose of education?https://www.ecs.org/wp-content/uploads/2022-Frank-Newman-Award-for-State-Innovation-release.pdf

  9. Brenda Lebsack- Teacher 1 month ago1 month ago

    Excellent article and painfully honest. The problem is our public school system is an institutionalized monopoly. Monopolies don’t have to work hard to achieve outcomes or please their customers, competitive markets do. The customers of education are the parents and when the National School Board Association called parents “domestic terrorists” it demonstrated how entrenched this one-sided unionized monopoly has become. If we want to stop this downward spiral of becoming an illiterate society, … Read More

    Excellent article and painfully honest. The problem is our public school system is an institutionalized monopoly. Monopolies don’t have to work hard to achieve outcomes or please their customers, competitive markets do. The customers of education are the parents and when the National School Board Association called parents “domestic terrorists” it demonstrated how entrenched this one-sided unionized monopoly has become. If we want to stop this downward spiral of becoming an illiterate society, we need educational reform such as school choice.

    Replies

    • Bruce William Smith 1 month ago1 month ago

      Brenda is right. We should begin by replacing the catastrophic educational failures, Governor Gavin Newsom and Superintendent Tony Thurmond, the latter with Lance Christensen, whom I met after he sponsored a school choice initiative earlier this year, and who therefore has established his credibility with families wanting to establish educational freedom as a human right in California, instead of having to flee this beautiful state's incompetent governance, whose establishment in Sacramento clearly does not deserve … Read More

      Brenda is right. We should begin by replacing the catastrophic educational failures, Governor Gavin Newsom and Superintendent Tony Thurmond, the latter with Lance Christensen, whom I met after he sponsored a school choice initiative earlier this year, and who therefore has established his credibility with families wanting to establish educational freedom as a human right in California, instead of having to flee this beautiful state’s incompetent governance, whose establishment in Sacramento clearly does not deserve all the centralization that Mr Fensterwald’s article implies we are in want of, when the exact opposite is true.

  10. Dmiranda 1 month ago1 month ago

    CA government keeps putting I obstacles for teachers to plan and provide learning to the students. Adding test such as, the RICA or CAL TPA doesn’t proof how good or bad a teacher is. Hopefully they consider to reform our education system for the benefit of our students and have effective and excellent teachers.

  11. Redwood 1 month ago1 month ago

    Thanks for this article on an incredibly important topic. One point to make: The California Reading Coalition is not an entity in any real sense. No members, no board, no output of anything. It appears that Todd Collins is a concerned citizen with no real expertise or qualifications in this area. He has created an entity in which he is the sole member. You have quoted him extensively, but I … Read More

    Thanks for this article on an incredibly important topic. One point to make: The California Reading Coalition is not an entity in any real sense. No members, no board, no output of anything. It appears that Todd Collins is a concerned citizen with no real expertise or qualifications in this area. He has created an entity in which he is the sole member. You have quoted him extensively, but I think his bona fides bear some additional scrutiny. There are plenty of other worthy entities to interview rather than the head of an astroturf organization.

  12. Beth Bowen 1 month ago1 month ago

    Thank you for this excellent review of the state of literacy in California. Indeed, this is an embarrassment for all California education leaders responsible for teaching our children. It's bigger than an embarrassment; this is fraud and criminal activity worthy of prosecution. Why would California employers and parents accept the status quo and continue to bear the social cost of educating our youth after they leave the K-12 system? Does anyone wonder why families are … Read More

    Thank you for this excellent review of the state of literacy in California. Indeed, this is an embarrassment for all California education leaders responsible for teaching our children. It’s bigger than an embarrassment; this is fraud and criminal activity worthy of prosecution. Why would California employers and parents accept the status quo and continue to bear the social cost of educating our youth after they leave the K-12 system? Does anyone wonder why families are leaving the state in droves in search of adequate literacy education for their children?

    It sounds like we have a golden opportunity to make significant improvements in reading outcomes for students simply by educating districts. We have a literacy framework, but most communities have not adopted it. Many districts are not teaching the evidence-based science of reading and are still teaching literacy with less effective programs such as balanced literacy. We can inject focus and funds into the Local Control Funding Formula to teach and measure literacy. We can package COVID relief and any other funding with explicit instruction on how to spend it on quality programs that lead to measurable literacy improvements.

    Our children deserve the best education, and we are not doing enough! Who would like to join me to create change in the state education system today?

  13. Lori DePole 1 month ago1 month ago

    Thank you for an excellent article on the CA literacy crisis. California continues to throw money at our literacy crisis with little to no guardrails as to requirements that the money be grounded in the science of reading. Spending even the meager $250 million on “reading coaches” is money wasted if those coaches are trained in failed whole language and balanced literacy practices. In addition, the use of state incentive grants as an alternative … Read More

    Thank you for an excellent article on the CA literacy crisis. California continues to throw money at our literacy crisis with little to no guardrails as to requirements that the money be grounded in the science of reading. Spending even the meager $250 million on “reading coaches” is money wasted if those coaches are trained in failed whole language and balanced literacy practices. In addition, the use of state incentive grants as an alternative to mandates to fund early literacy initiatives only works if there are requirements on how the grant funding should be spent. California continues to offer current grant funding to fund failed whole language-based programs that were used statewide in the 1980s-1990s (see EdSource’s “California Reading Wars History”). Not only do these programs not incorporate well-researched, evidence-based literacy practices, they are actually detrimental to poor readers. When California recently applied for federal grant funding, it touted that it would use its grant funding on failed whole language and balanced literacy programs. State-level staff and state websites continue to espouse whole language and balanced literacy practices so this recent shift in conversation to now a focus on science of reading will only be lip service without some re-education at a state-level on the latest in reading science.

    State officials use the excuse that CA is a “local control” state and that their hands are tied thus washing their hands of any responsibility for our state’s poor literacy outcomes. However, as Dr. Burk points out, other states that are local control-based are instituting comprehensive literacy approaches by allowing local educational agencies to choose their own curriculum, interventions, and professional development within a required framework that they must be grounded in the science of reading.

  14. Jim 1 month ago1 month ago

    Kudos to Tony for trying to do something but Gavin will sideline anything he comes up with.

  15. Joan Sutter 1 month ago1 month ago

    I am a true believer in the science of reading. With class sizes creeping back to 30 in many k-3 classes, the science of reading isn't the only thing we should be looking at. We need to pilot a packaged approach. The science of reading instruction in Education programs and professional development for teachers is a must. We must have a way to help our dual language students succeed. A screener in multiple languages … Read More

    I am a true believer in the science of reading. With class sizes creeping back to 30 in many k-3 classes, the science of reading isn’t the only thing we should be looking at.

    We need to pilot a packaged approach.

    The science of reading instruction in Education programs and professional development for teachers is a must. We must have a way to help our dual language students succeed. A screener in multiple languages is needed. We can’t forget class size and RTI support. Reading coaches are great, but we need intervention specialists working with students. Class size reduction must be considered in the K-3 classes. The demands put on primary classroom teachers with 30 students are debilitating.

    We all want our students to succeed. We have to address all the components of this complex, bent system.

  16. Ann 1 month ago1 month ago

    Judging from comments from ‘leaders’ in the ed establishment and ‘advocates’ of ELLs, California is going nowhere fast…this article could have been written 5-10-15 years ago. By the way, the opposition to Reading First was entirely political. Playing politics with generations of kids is abominable, shameful and common in California.

    Replies

    • Kristen Brown 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      I echo the concern that politicians, not people who understand child development, are making decisions about education.

  17. Krista Ostoich 1 month ago1 month ago

    My son was at a highly ranked, highly funded, public elementary school in Monterey County from TK until we pulled him half way through 4th grade due to the fact that the school choose to stay remote. My son has always struggled with reading, but when I tried to discuss getting help from his second grade teacher, a very experienced educator, she told me he did not qualify for extra help and that he just … Read More

    My son was at a highly ranked, highly funded, public elementary school in Monterey County from TK until we pulled him half way through 4th grade due to the fact that the school choose to stay remote. My son has always struggled with reading, but when I tried to discuss getting help from his second grade teacher, a very experienced educator, she told me he did not qualify for extra help and that he just needed to work harder. She also told me he was lazy.

    In third grade, when I raised concerns that his reading was far behind, his teacher told me that my son was “tall, popular and well liked.” For that teacher, apparently that meant my son didn’t need any extra help. During distance learning it was clear to me that my son could not actually sound out the words. We moved him to a private school that agreed to look into his reading. Low and behold, my son had no idea how to read, he had just memorized a lot of the words. He had no understanding whatsoever of phonetics. He was so far behind it was hard to understand how his highly compensated, experienced public school teachers didn’t notice.

    After a year of intensive phonetic instruction, my son is finally reading. He has a lot of catch up to do because he is now in 6th grade. It has been explained to me that my son would never have learned to read without the phonetic instruction. It is beyond frustrating to me that we know many kids will not become proficient readers without phonetics, yet are elementary schools are not teaching our kids to read using phonetics.

    I have an older son who learned fine with the balanced literacy approach, but clearly it does not work for all and if we cannot even teach our kids to read, why are we investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into their k-12 education?

    Replies

    • Kristen Brown 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I am sorry the system impacted your son's learning and am grateful you found a solution to help. I am a special advocate volunteer in my community, and not a year goes by without hearing of a child in 5th or 6th grade whose illiteracy is revealed to the parents. It is troubling how they can pass that long without a teacher spotting there is an issue … Read More

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I am sorry the system impacted your son’s learning and am grateful you found a solution to help. I am a special advocate volunteer in my community, and not a year goes by without hearing of a child in 5th or 6th grade whose illiteracy is revealed to the parents. It is troubling how they can pass that long without a teacher spotting there is an issue in their literacy skills. On the other side, how impressed were you with your son’s ability to work around with memory skills? That is amazing.