An unmet promise: Early literacy for all in California

Learning to read by third grade is a crucial milestone that sets up students for future success. But millions of California children, particularly in low-income districts, are woefully behind in learning to read.

A lawsuit resulted in millions in state aid directed to about 75 schools across the state where children need the most help. These schools are now trying to overhaul their early literacy strategies and testing best practices. The state is weighing massive funding increases and statewide goals.

A panel of experts discussed what works and what doesn’t when it comes to learning to read and whether California is doing enough to improve early literacy.

Read more about this roundtable.

Please scroll down for more information about the panelists.


Kareem Weaver

Co-Founder | Complete Reading a Universal Mandate

Kareem is Co-Founder and leader of Full and Complete Reading a Universal Mandate (FULCRUM) and a member of the Oakland and California NAACP Education Committee. He is currently working to improve literacy rates across the country by engaging stakeholders around reading instruction and the systematic structures needed to cultivate excellent outcomes for all students.

Kareem previously led the Western Region for New Leaders, an educator development organization that supports the professional growth of teachers and administrators while preparing them to serve schools and communities desiring improved outcomes across a variety of measures. His background as an award-winning teacher and administrator in Oakland, California, and Columbia, South Carolina have provided important insight to his work supporting others.

Kareem has an undergraduate degree from Morehouse College, a master’s in Clinical-Community Psychology from the University of South Carolina, and is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the National Council on Teacher Quality. His professional heroine is the late, great Marva Collins.

Becky Sullivan

Director, K-12 English Language Arts Curriculum & Instruction | Sacramento County Office of Education

Becky Sullivan has been an educator for over 30 years. She has supported schools and districts at the state, district, and site levels. As Director of K-12 English Language Arts at the Sacramento County Office of Education, she is currently the Project Lead for the Expert Lead in Literacy Grant, supporting the Early Literacy Support Block Grant LEAs/sites. Her work within California’s System of Support also includes supporting local districts in Differentiated Assistance. She has a BA in Spanish from UCLA and a MA in Educational Administration. Becky has taught at the elementary and university levels and holds a Reading & Language Arts Specialist Credential. Becky served as a member of the Curriculum Commission (an advisory body to the State Board of Education), co-chair of the ELA/ELD Framework Development Committee, and is a member of the State Literacy Team

Jamie Allardice

Principal at Nystrom Elementary | West Contra Costa Unified

Jamie Allardice has served as Nystrom principal since the 2015/16 school year. During that time, no school in West Contra Costa — district or charter — has showed more combined growth on SBAC (ELA and Math) than Nystrom. He enjoys spending his time on the basketball court with students, and supporting staff and students. Prior to Nystrom, he served as a vice principal and taught at Peres Elementary in WCCUSD and middle school in Compton, Ca.

When not at school he enjoys spending time camping with his family and riding his bike.

Lorraine Zapata

Principal at Joshua Elementary | Lancaster School District

Lorraine Zapata has been in the field of education for over 31 years. Thirteen and a half of those years was spent moulding the lives of her young, bilingual kinder students. She has also worked in migrant education, adult ESL, preschool instruction, reading recovery and discrubiendo la lectura teacher.

Zapata has served as both an assistant principal and principal at the elementary and middle school levels as well as the collegiate level as an adjunct faculty at Cal State Bakersfield focused on ELL & Mulit-Cultural Education. She has supported her schools by participating in successfully writing two Title 7 funded grants. Lorraine has extensive training in trauma informed practices, restorative justice, and equity based practices. She was recognized as Administrator of the Year in 2019, ACSA Region 10 Administrator of the Year in 2013 and awarded the Direct Instruction Administrator Award in 2006.

Her certifications include Milo, AVID, PBIS, CORE, Google and Capturing Kids’ Hearts (CKH). Mrs. Zapata proudly leads a school that has been honored as a CKH National Showcase School for three years running, has pushed through a 1:1 computer initiative, and ushered the campus through a nine year building remodel. Most importantly, she prides herself on leading a team of educators that is currently implementing a literacy grant with such fidelity that members of both local and state organizations are taking notice of her little desert rose of a school.

Mark Rosenbaum

Director | Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law

Mark Rosenbaum is director of Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law, which aims to eliminate economic injustice.

He has argued four times before the United States Supreme Court, more than 25 before the Ninth and Sixth Circuit federal Courts of Appeal, three before the California Supreme Court and before the United States Court of Military Appeals.

Rosenbaum has been principal counsel in landmark cases in the areas of K-12 public and higher education, voting rights, poverty law and homelessness, racial, gender, class and sexual orientation discrimination, health care, immigrants’ rights, foster care and criminal defendants’ rights.

Among his many high profile cases, Rosenbaum was successful in securing over $1 billion for underserved schools in textbooks, qualified teachers and safe and sanitary school facilities (Williams v. California); blocking the Trump administration’s efforts to end the DACA program (DHS v. Regents of the University of California); securing a historic ruling in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recognizing the constitutional right to literacy (Gary B. v. Whitmer); redistricting Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor district lines to end over 118 years of discrimination against Latinos (Garza v. Board of Supervisors); invalidating Proposition 187 (Gregorio T. v. Wilson); overturning the conviction of Black Panther Geronimo Pratt; and obtaining relief on behalf of severely disabled homeless veterans (Valentini v. Shinseki).

He currently teaches law at the University of California Irvine Law School and has also taught at UCLA, USC and Loyola law schools and currently teaches courses in liberty and equality and free speech to Chinese law students at Peking University of Transnational Law in Shenzhen, China. Rosenbaum graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Michigan and from Harvard Law School. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his advocacy – including twice being named “California Lawyer of the Year” in civil rights and being selected to the Daily Journal’s “Top Lawyers of the Decade” for 2011-2020.

He joined Public Counsel from his roles for over four decades with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, most recently as Chief Counsel, and for over two decades as a professor of law at the University of Michigan, most recently as the Harvey Gunderson Professor from Practice, specializing in constitutional and civil rights law courses.

Karen D’Souza

Panel moderator; Reporter, EdSource

Karen D’Souza covers early education. She is an award-winning writer who comes to EdSource after covering lifestyle, parenting, health, housing, education and the arts for the San Jose Mercury News. She is a four-time Pulitzer juror and her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle and Seattle Times. She has an MA in journalism and a BA in political science and dramatic art from UC Berkeley.

Anne Vasquez

Panel moderator; Executive Director, EdSource