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California students sued because they were such poor readers. They just won $53 million to help them

December 22, 2020


Two years ago, a group of students and their teachers sued the state of California for doing a poor job teaching kids how to read — 53% of California third-graders did not meet state test standards that year, and scores have increased only incrementally since. On Thursday they won $53 million so that the state’s lowest-performing schools have the resources to do better.

Under the settlement with the state, most of the funding will be awarded over three years to 75 public elementary schools, including charters, with the poorest third-grade reading scores in California over the last two years. The agreement comes after the novel lawsuit contended that the students’ low literacy levels violated California’s constitutional mandate to provide all children with equal access to an education, said attorney Mark Rosenbaum at the pro bono law firm Public Counsel.

“We shouldn’t have to be filing lawsuits to establish a right to read,” Rosenbaum said.

The plaintiffs included current or former students and educators at La Salle Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles; Van Buren Elementary School in Stockton; and the charter school Children of Promise Preparatory Academy in Inglewood. La Salle and Van Buren will be among the schools that receive funding, Rosenbaum said, but not all the recipient schools have been named.

“We know that literacy is the foundation for all learning, and it’s an essential part of participating in democracy. People who can’t read and write are often uninformed, are more easily manipulated and less likely to vote,” said Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at UCLA. This settlement is “just a step, and I think we shouldn’t exaggerate how big a step.”

A Times analysis of the 75 lowest-performing schools on the state’s English language arts test, based on California’s Common Core standards, illustrates the depth of the reading problem. Seven out of 10 third-graders in these schools did not meet the standards, according to state data from 2018 and 2019. The schools have about double the English learners of other elementary schools, and more than 90% of students at those schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunch — a poverty indicator.

The schools with the lowest test scores also tend to enroll higher percentages of homeless students and foster students, Noguera said.

The settlement money to improve learning will exclude hundreds of elementary schools whose students are also struggling to meet reading standards.

In more than 500 of the state’s approximately 6,000 elementary schools, the majority of third-grade students scored Level 1 — the lowest — in English tests, according to the Times analysis. About 80% of the schools’ population are black and Latino, higher than the state average of 60%.

The scenario is also troubling in the fourth grade, with California students lagging behind the national averages in reading on the 2019 National Assessment of Education Progress, a standardized test taken across the country.

Rosenbaum, who filed the suit along with the law firm Morrison & Foerster, said he hopes the state will expand the targeted funding to more schools without more litigation. But settling for 75 schools now means that students will get help sooner.

The heart of their argument — rooted in the state’s constitutional mandate for an equal education for all students — is one that public interest lawyers have successfully used before, though not for reading specifically. In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union settled for about $1 billion a lawsuit that accused the state of denying poor children adequate textbooks, trained teachers and safe classrooms.

Suing the state is more effective than suing individual districts, Rosenbaum said, because “the relief can be applied to every child in California.”

“This is a way to get a lot more far-reaching reforms and I think it’s good to remind everybody about the state’s obligations to provide that education for all students,” said Victor Leung, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California who specializes in education issues.

Literacy experts including Nell Duke, a University of Michigan education professor, analyzed school records, depositions and assessment results at the schools named in the lawsuit to determine how well they taught reading. They found problems with classroom instruction, discipline and the lack of adequate intervention for struggling students — all of which probably contributed to the low literacy rates, Duke said.

She believes that California will be a model for other states.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if other suits in other states follow and I wouldn’t be surprised if some states and jurisdictions take this as a cautionary tale” and start directing more aid toward helping their neediest students learn to read, Duke said

“The settlement is a step in the right direction, but only a small step,” L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner said in a statement. California schools lag behind most states in per-pupil funding and need more to adequately educate students, he said. “There is talent in every seat in every classroom in every one of the 1,386 schools in Los Angeles Unified. But there is not always opportunity.”

To receive their grant, each school will design a California Department of Education-approved plan that analyzes why its reading rates are so low and identifies how it will measure progress and spend the money, which can be used for a range of services, including literacy coaches, social-emotional learning, bilingual reading specialists, and training teachers on methods to improve school discipline that can disrupt education. The funding is meant for students in grades K-3, and is contingent on the state Legislature’s approval of the governor’s block grant. If denied, the case goes back to court.

“California is committed to closing opportunity gaps by directing extra support and resources to school districts and schools that serve students who need extra help,” Gov. Gavin Newsom’s spokeswoman Vicky Waters said in an email statement. In addition to Newsom’s budget proposal to spend $600 million on grants and services for low-performing, high-poverty schools, the literacy settlement “focuses on strengthening early literacy programs, which are critical to a child’s later success in school,” she said.

The settlement includes up to $50 million in grants for the elementary schools, plus $3 million to support the schools’ plans, including a literacy expert to guide them from the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a state agency that assists schools and districts in capacity-building.

Such support is important, Noguera said, especially at schools that are already struggling.

“You don’t want to just pour money into failing schools that don’t have capacity to use it,” Noguera said.

Results will vary at schools. Some may see fast growth in state standardized test results, Noguera said, although that kind of improvement typically takes time, he said.

One of the plaintiffs, retired La Salle teacher David Moch, said he is most heartened that the settlement requires schools to garner parent and community feedback on the plans, as well as provisions that allow the funding to be used for creating safer and more welcoming learning environments for children who have experienced trauma. He would look not just at test results to measure improvement, but at parent involvement in the schools, and whether suspensions and referrals to school administrators decrease.

Moch taught for 20 years in South L.A.’s Vermont corridor, an area of high crime rates in the city.

“We had to always teach with the recognition that we have to understand and make accommodations for whatever it is they went through that night or that evening or that morning,” Moch said. But when he had enough supports in his classroom — 10 students in a specialized literacy program and computers and money for culturally relevant resources—the students thrived.


At a Loss for Words-How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers

May 28, 2020

beautiful-facial-expression-girl-2168800August 22, 2019 | by Emily Hanford

For decades, schools have taught children the strategies of struggling readers, using a theory about reading that cognitive scientists have repeatedly debunked. And many teachers and parents don’t know there’s anything wrong with it.

Molly Woodworth was a kid who seemed to do well at everything: good grades, in the gifted and talented program. But she couldn’t read very well.

“There was no rhyme or reason to reading for me,” she said. “When a teacher would dictate a word and say, ‘Tell me how you think you can spell it,’ I sat there with my mouth open while other kids gave spellings, and I thought, ‘How do they even know where to begin?’ I was totally lost.”

Woodworth went to public school in Owosso, Michigan, in the 1990s. She says sounds and letters just didn’t make sense to her, and she doesn’t remember anyone teaching her how to read. So she came up with her own strategies to get through text.

Strategy 1: Memorize as many words as possible. “Words were like pictures to me,” she said. “I had a really good memory.”

Strategy 2: Guess the words based on context. If she came across a word she didn’t have in her visual memory bank, she’d look at the first letter and come up with a word that seemed to make sense. Reading was kind of like a game of 20 Questions: What word could this be?

Strategy 3: If all else failed, she’d skip the words she didn’t know.

Most of the time, she could get the gist of what she was reading. But getting through text took forever. “I hated reading because it was taxing,” she said. “I’d get through a chapter and my brain hurt by the end of it. I wasn’t excited to learn.”

No one knew how much she struggled, not even her parents. Her reading strategies were her “dirty little secrets.”

Woodworth, who now works in accounting, says she’s still not a very good reader and tears up when she talks about it. Reading “influences every aspect of your life,” she said. She’s determined to make sure her own kids get off to a better start than she did.

That’s why she was so alarmed to see how her oldest child, Claire, was being taught to read in school.

A couple of years ago, Woodworth was volunteering in Claire’s kindergarten classroom. The class was reading a book together and the teacher was telling the children to practice the strategies that good readers use.

The teacher said, “If you don’t know the word, just look at this picture up here,” Woodworth recalled. “There was a fox and a bear in the picture. And the word was bear, and she said, ‘Look at the first letter. It’s a “b.” Is it fox or bear?'”

Woodworth was stunned. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, those are my strategies.’ Those are the things I taught myself to look like a good reader, not the things that good readers do,” she said. “These kids were being taught my dirty little secrets.”

She went to the teacher and expressed her concerns. The teacher told her she was teaching reading the way the curriculum told her to.

Woodworth had stumbled on to American education’s own little secret about reading: Elementary schools across the country are teaching children to be poor readers — and educators may not even know it.

For decades, reading instruction in American schools has been rooted in a flawed theory about how reading works, a theory that was debunked decades ago by cognitive scientists, yet remains deeply embedded in teaching practices and curriculum materials. As a result, the strategies that struggling readers use- memorizing words, using context to guess words, skipping words they don’t know-are the strategies that many beginning readers are taught in school. This makes it harder for many kids to learn how to read, and children who don’t get off to a good start in reading find it difficult to ever master the process.

A shocking number of kids in the United States can’t read very well. A third of all fourth-graders can’t read at a basic level, and most students are still not proficient readers by the time they finish high school.

When kids struggle to learn how to read, it can lead to a downward spiral in which behavior, vocabulary, knowledge and other cognitive skills are eventually affected by slow reading development. A disproportionate number of poor readers become high school dropouts and end up in the criminal justice system.

The fact that a disproven theory about how reading works is still driving the way many children are taught to read is part of the problem. School districts spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on curriculum materials that include this theory. Teachers are taught the theory in their teacher preparation programs and on the job. As long as this disproven theory remains part of American education, many kids will likely struggle to learn how to read.

The origins

The theory is known as “three cueing.” The name comes from the notion that readers use three different kinds of information — or “cues” — to identify words as they are reading.

The theory was first proposed in 1967, when an education professor named Ken Goodman presented a paper at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in New York City.

In the paper, Goodman rejected the idea that reading is a precise process that involves exact or detailed perception of letters or words. Instead, he argued that as people read, they make predictions about the words on the page using these three cues:

  • graphic cues (what do the letters tell you about what the word might be?)
  • syntactic cues (what kind of word could it be, for example, a noun or a verb?)
  • semantic cues (what word would make sense here, based on the context?)

Goodman concluded that:

Skill in reading involves not greater precision, but more accurate first guesses based on better sampling techniques, greater control over language structure, broadened experiences and increased conceptual development. As the child develops reading skill and speed, he uses increasingly fewer graphic cues.

Goodman’s proposal became the theoretical basis for a new approach to teaching reading that would soon take hold in American schools.

Previously, the question of how to teach reading had focused on one of two basic ideas.

One idea is that reading is a visual memory process. The teaching method associated with this idea is known as “whole word.” The whole word approach was perhaps best embodied in the “Dick and Jane” books that first appeared in the 1930s. The books rely on word repetition, and pictures to support the meaning of the text. The idea is that if you see words enough, you eventually store them in your memory as visual images.

The other idea is that reading requires knowledge of the relationships between sounds and letters. Children learn to read by sounding out words. This approach is known as phonics. It goes way back, popularized in the 1800s with the McGuffey readers.

These two ideas — whole word and phonics — had been taking turns as the favored way to teach reading until Goodman came along with what came to be known among educators as the “three-cueing system.”

In the cueing theory of how reading works, when a child comes to a word she doesn’t know, the teacher encourages her to think of a word that makes sense and asks: Does it look right? Does it sound right? If a word checks out on the basis of those questions, the child is getting it. She’s on the path to skilled reading.

Teachers may not know the term “three cueing,” but they’re probably familiar with “MSV.” M stands for using meaning to figure out what a word is, S for using sentence structure and V for using visual information (i.e., the letters in the words). MSV is a cueing idea that can be traced back to the late Marie Clay, a developmental psychologist from New Zealand who first laid out her theories about reading in a dissertation in the 1960s.

Clay developed her cueing theory independently of Goodman, but they met several times and had similar ideas about the reading process. Their theories were based on observational research. They would listen to children read, note the kinds of errors they made, and use that information to identify a child’s reading difficulties. For example, a child who says “horse” when the word was “house” is probably relying too much on visual, or graphic, cues. A teacher in this case would encourage the child to pay more attention to what word would make sense in the sentence.

Goodman and Clay believed that letters were the least reliable of the three cues, and that as people became better readers, they no longer needed to pay attention to all the letters in words. “In efficient word perception the reader relies mostly on the sentence and its meaning and some selected features of the forms of words,” Clay wrote. For Goodman, accurate word recognition was not necessarily the goal of reading. The goal was to comprehend text. If the sentences were making sense, the reader must be getting the words right, or right enough.

These ideas soon became the foundation for how reading was taught in many schools. Goodman’s three-cueing idea formed the theoretical basis of an approach known as “whole language” that by the late 1980s had taken hold throughout America. Clay built her cueing ideas into a reading intervention program for struggling first-graders called Reading Recovery. It was implemented across New Zealand in the 1980s and went on to become one of the world’s most widely used reading intervention programs.

But while cueing was taking hold in schools, scientists were busy studying the cognitive processes involved in reading words. And they came to different conclusions about how people read.

Scientists take on three cueing

It was the early 1970s, and Keith Stanovich was working on his doctorate in psychology at the University of Michigan. He thought the reading field was ready for an infusion of knowledge from the “cognitive revolution” that was underway in psychology. Stanovich had a background in experimental science and an interest in learning and cognition due in part to the influence of his wife, Paula, who was a special education teacher.

Stanovich wanted to understand how people read words. He knew about Goodman’s work and thought he was probably right that as people become better readers, they relied more on their knowledge of vocabulary and language structure to read words and didn’t need to pay as much attention to the letters.

So, in 1975, Stanovich and a fellow graduate student set out to test the idea in their lab. They recruited readers of various ages and abilities and gave them a series of word-reading tasks. Their hypothesis was that skilled readers rely more on contextual cues to recognize words than poor readers, who probably weren’t as good at using context.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

“To our surprise, all of our research results pointed in the opposite direction,” Stanovich wrote. “It was the poorer readers, not the more skilled readers, who were more reliant on context to facilitate word recognition.”

The skilled readers could instantly recognize words without relying on context. Other researchers have confirmed these findings with similar experiments. It turns out that the ability to read words in isolation quickly and accurately is the hallmark of being a skilled reader. This is now one of the most consistent and well-replicated findings in all of reading research.

Other studies revealed further problems with the cueing theory:

  • Skilled readers don’t scan words and sample from the graphic cues in an incidental way; instead, they very quickly recognize a word as a sequence of letters. That’s how good readers instantly know the difference between “house” and “horse,” for example.
  • Experiments that force people to use context to predict words show that even skilled readers can correctly guess only a fraction of the words; this is one reason people who rely on context to identify words are poor readers.
  • Weak word recognition skills are the most common and debilitating source of reading problems.

The results of these studies are not controversial or contested among scientists who study reading. The findings have been incorporated into every major scientific model of how reading works.

But cueing is still alive and well in schools.

Picture Power!

It’s not hard to find examples of the cueing system. A quick search on Google, Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers turns up plenty of lesson plans, teaching guides and classroom posters. One popular poster has cute cartoon characters to remind children they have lots of strategies to use when they’re stuck on a word, including looking at the picture (Eagle Eye), getting their lips ready to try the first sound (Lips the Fish), or just skipping the word altogether (Skippy Frog).

There are videos online where you can see cueing in action. In one video posted on The Teaching Channel, a kindergarten teacher in Oakland, California, instructs her students to use “picture power” to identify the words on the page. The goal of the lesson, according to the teacher, is for the students to “use the picture and a first sound to determine an unknown word in their book.”

The class reads a book together called “In the Garden.” On each page, there’s a picture of something you might find in a garden. It’s what’s known as a predictable book; the sentences are all the same except for the last word.

The children have been taught to memorize the words “look,” “at,” and “the.” The challenge is getting the last word in the sentence. The lesson plan tells the teacher to cover up the word with a sticky note.

In the video, the wiggly kindergarteners sitting cross-legged on the floor come to a page with a picture of a butterfly. The teacher tells the kids that she’s guessing the word is going to be butterfly. She uncovers the word to check on the accuracy of her guess.

“Look at that,” she tells the children, pointing to the first letter of the word. “It starts with the /b/ /b/ /b/.” The class reads the sentence together as the teacher points to the words. “Look at the butterfly!” they yell out excitedly.

This lesson comes from “Units of Study for Teaching Reading,” more commonly known as “reader’s workshop.” According to the lesson plan, this lesson teaches children to “know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.”

But the children were not taught to decode words in this lesson. They were taught to guess words using pictures and patterns — hallmarks of the three-cueing system.

The author of Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Lucy Calkins, often refers to cueing in her published work. She uses the term MSV — the meaning, structure and visual idea that originally came from Clay in New Zealand.

Then there is Fountas and Pinnell Literacy, started by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, teachers who learned the MSV concept from Clay in the 1980s.

Fountas and Pinnell have written several books about teaching reading, including a best-seller about a widely used instructional approach called “Guided Reading.” They also created a reading assessment system that uses what are called “leveled books.” Children start with predictable books like “In the Garden” and move up levels as they’re able to “read” the words. But many of the words in those books — butterfly, caterpillar — are words that beginning readers haven’t been taught to decode yet. One purpose of the books is to teach children that when they get to a word they don’t know, they can use context to figure it out.

When put into practice in the classroom, these approaches can cause problems for children when they are learning to read.

‘That is not reading’

Margaret Goldberg, a teacher and literacy coach in the Oakland Unified School District, remembers a moment when she realized what a problem the three-cueing approach was. She was with a first-grader named Rodney when he came to a page with a picture of a girl licking an ice cream cone and a dog licking a bone.

The text said: “My little dog likes to eat with me.”

But Rodney said: “My dog likes to lick his bone.”

Rodney breezed right through it, unaware that he hadn’t read the sentence on the page.

Goldberg realized lots of her students couldn’t actually read the words in their books; instead, they were memorizing sentence patterns and using the pictures to guess. One little boy exclaimed, “I can read this book with my eyes shut!”

“Oh no,” Goldberg thought. “That is not reading.”

Goldberg had been hired by the Oakland schools in 2015 to help struggling readers by teaching a Fountas and Pinnell program called “Leveled Literacy Intervention” that uses leveled books and the cueing approach.

Around the same time, Goldberg was trained in a program that uses a different strategy for teaching children how to read words. The program is called “Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words,” or SIPPS. It’s a phonics program that teaches children how to sound out words and uses what are known as “decodable books.” Most words in the books have spelling patterns that kids have been taught in their phonics lessons.

Goldberg decided to teach some of her students using the phonics program and some of her students using three cueing. And she began to notice differences between the two groups of kids. “Not just in their abilities to read,” she said, “but in the way they approached their reading.”

Goldberg and a colleague recorded first-graders talking about what makes them good readers.

One video shows Mia, on the left, who was in the phonics program. Mia says she’s a good reader because she looks at the words and sounds them out. JaBrea, on the right, was taught the cueing system. JaBrea says: “I look at the pictures and I read it.”

It was clear to Goldberg after just a few months of teaching both approaches that the students learning phonics were doing better. “One of the things that I still struggle with is a lot of guilt,” she said.

She thinks the students who learned three cueing were actually harmed by the approach. “I did lasting damage to these kids. It was so hard to ever get them to stop looking at a picture to guess what a word would be. It was so hard to ever get them to slow down and sound a word out because they had had this experience of knowing that you predict what you read before you read it.”

Goldberg soon discovered the decades of scientific evidence against cueing. She was shocked. She had never come across any of this science in her teacher preparation or on the job.

And she started to wonder why not.

Balanced Literacy

People have been arguing for centuries about how children should be taught to read. The fight has mostly focused on whether to teach phonics.

The whole language movement of the late 20th century was perhaps the zenith of the anti-phonics argument. Phonics instruction was seen as tedious, time-consuming and ultimately unnecessary. Why? Because — according to the three-cueing theory — readers can use other, more reliable cues to figure out what the words say.

Marilyn Adams came across this belief in the early 1990s. She’s a cognitive and developmental psychologist who had just written a book summarizing the research on how children learn to read. One big takeaway from the book is that becoming a skilled reader of English requires knowledge of sound-spelling correspondences. Another big takeaway is that many kids were not being taught this in school.

Soon after the book was published, Adams was describing her findings to a group of teachers and state education officials in Sacramento, California. She was sensing discomfort and confusion in the room. “And I just stopped and said, ‘What is it that I’m missing?'” she recalled. “‘What is it that we need to talk about? Help me.'”

A woman raised her hand and asked: “What does this have to do with the three-cueing system?” Marilyn didn’t know what the three-cueing system was. “I think I blew all of their fuses that I did not [know what it was] since this was so fundamental to being an elementary reading teacher,” she said. “How could I present myself to them as an expert on reading and not know about this?”

The teachers drew her a Venn diagram of the three-cueing system. It looked something like this:

Semantic/Meaning Cues-Does it make sense?

Syntactic/Sentence Structure Cues-Does it sound right?

Graphic/Visual Cues (Letters)-Does it look right?

Adams thought this diagram made perfect sense. The research clearly shows that readers use all of these cues to understand what they’re reading.

But Adams soon figured out the disconnect. Teachers understood these cues not just as the way readers construct meaning from text, but as the way readers actually identify the words on the page. And they thought that teaching kids to decode or sound out words was not necessary.

“The most important thing was for the children to understand and enjoy the text,” Adams said. “And from that understanding and joy of reading, the words on the page would just pop out at them.”

She would explain to teachers at every opportunity that explicitly teaching children about the relationships between sounds and letters is essential to ensure all kids get off to a good start in reading. But she got tons of pushback from teachers. “They didn’t want to teach phonics!” she recalled in frustration.

In 1998, Adams wrote a book chapter about how the three-cueing system conflicts with what researchers have figured out about reading. She hoped it would help put three cueing to rest.

By this time, the scientific research on reading was gaining traction. In 2000, a national panel convened by Congress to review the evidence on how to teach reading came out with a report. It identified several essential components of reading instruction, including vocabulary, comprehension and phonics. The evidence that phonics instruction enhances children’s success in learning how to read was clear and compelling. National reports on reading a few years later in the United Kingdom and Australia came to the same conclusion.

Eventually, many whole language supporters accepted the weight of the scientific evidence about the importance of phonics instruction. They started adding phonics to their books and materials and renamed their approach “balanced literacy.”

But they didn’t get rid of the three-cueing system.

Balanced literacy proponents will tell you their approach is a mix of phonics instruction with plenty of time for kids to read and enjoy books. But look carefully at the materials and you’ll see that’s not really what balanced literacy is mixing. Instead, it’s mixing a bunch of different ideas about how kids learn to read. It’s a little bit of whole word instruction with long lists of words for kids to memorize. It’s a little bit of phonics. And fundamentally, it’s the idea that children should be taught to read using the three-cueing system.

And it turns out cueing may actually prevent kids from focusing on words in the way they need to become skilled readers.

Mapping the words

To understand why cueing can get in the way of children’s reading development, it’s essential to understand how our brains process the words we see.

Reading scientists have known for decades that the hallmark of being a skilled reader is the ability to instantly and accurately recognize words. If you’re a skilled reader, your brain has gotten so good at reading words that you process the word “chair” faster than you process a picture of a chair. You know tens of thousands of words instantly, on sight. How did you learn to do that?

It happens through a process called “orthographic mapping.” This occurs when you pay attention to the details of a written word and link the word’s pronunciation and meaning with its sequence of letters. A child knows the meaning and pronunciation of “pony.” The word gets mapped to his memory when he links the sounds /p/ /o/ /n/ /y/ to the written word “pony.”

That requires an awareness of the speech sounds in words and an understanding of how those sounds are represented by letters. In other words, you need phonics skills.

Here’s what happens when a reader who has good phonics skills comes to a word she doesn’t recognize in print. She stops at the word and sounds it out. If it’s a word she knows the meaning of, she has now linked the spelling of the word with its pronunciation. If she doesn’t know the meaning of the word, she can use context to try to figure it out.

By about second grade, a typically developing reader needs just a few exposures to a word through understanding both the pronunciation and the spelling for that word to be stored in her memory. She doesn’t know that word because she memorized it as a visual image. She knows that word because at some point she successfully sounded it out.

The more words she stores in her memory this way, the more she can focus on the meaning of what she’s reading; she’ll eventually be using less brain power to identify words and will be able to devote more brain power to comprehending what she’s reading.

But when children don’t have good phonics skills, the process is different.

“They sample from the letters because they’re not good at sounding them out,” said David Kilpatrick, a psychology professor at SUNY Cortland and the author of a book about preventing reading difficulties. “And they use context.”

In other words, when people don’t have good phonics skills, they use the cueing system.

“The three-cueing system is the way poor readers read,” said Kilpatrick.

And if teachers use the cueing system to teach reading, Kilpatrick says they’re not just teaching children the habits of poor readers, they are actually impeding the orthographic mapping process.

“The minute you ask them just to pay attention to the first letter or look at the picture, look at the context, you’re drawing their attention away from the very thing that they need to interact with in order for them to read the word [and] remember the word,” Kilpatrick said. In this way, he said, three cueing can actually prevent the critical learning that’s necessary for a child to become a skilled reader.

In many balanced literacy classrooms, children are taught phonics and the cueing system. Some kids who are taught both approaches realize pretty quickly that sounding out a word is the most efficient and reliable way to know what it is. Those kids tend to have an easier time understanding the ways that sounds and letters relate. They’ll drop the cueing strategies and begin building that big bank of instantly known words that is so necessary for skilled reading.

But some children will skip the sounding out if they’re taught they have other options. Phonics is challenging for many kids. The cueing strategies seem quicker and easier at first. And by using context and memorizing a bunch of words, many children can look like good readers — until they get to about third grade, when their books begin to have more words, longer words, and fewer pictures. Then they’re stuck. They haven’t developed their sounding-out skills. Their bank of known words is limited. Reading is slow and laborious and they don’t like it, so they don’t do it if they don’t have to. While their peers who mastered decoding early are reading and teaching themselves new words every day, the kids who clung to the cueing approach are falling further and further behind.

These poor reading habits, once ingrained at a young age, can follow kids into high school. Some kids who were taught the cueing approach never become good readers. Not because they’re incapable of learning to read well but because they were taught the strategies of struggling readers.

‘So what if they use the picture?’

Once Margaret Goldberg discovered the cognitive science evidence against cueing, she wanted her colleagues in the Oakland school district to know about it too.

Over the past two years, Goldberg and a fellow literacy coach named Lani Mednick have been leading a grant-funded pilot project to improve reading achievement in the Oakland schools.

They have their work cut out for them. Nearly half the district’s third-graders are below grade level in reading. Goldberg and Mednick want to raise questions about how kids in Oakland are being taught to read.

They meet every couple weeks with literacy coaches from the 10 elementary schools in the pilot program. They read and discuss articles about the scientific research on reading. At a meeting in March, the coaches watched the video of the “picture power” lesson.

“This teacher meant well,” Mednick said to the coaches after they watched the lesson. “It seemed like she believed this lesson would ensure her students would be on the road toward reading.”

Mednick wanted the coaches to consider the beliefs about reading that would lead to the creation of a lesson like “picture power.” The Oakland schools purchased the Units of Study for Teaching Reading series, which includes the “picture power” lesson, as part of a balanced literacy initiative the district began about 10 years ago. The district also bought the Fountas and Pinnell assessment system.

The coaches saw right away that “picture power” was designed to teach kids the cueing system. But they said many teachers don’t see any problem with cueing. After all, one of the cues is to look at the letters in the word. What’s wrong with teaching kids lots of different strategies to figure out unknown words?

“I remember before we started looking at the science and everything, I thought to myself, ‘Reading is so hard for kids, so what if they use the picture?'” said Soraya Sajous-Brooks, the early literacy coach at Prescott Elementary School in West Oakland. “Like, use everything you’ve got.”

But she’s come to understand that cueing sends the message to kids that they don’t need to sound out words. Her students would get phonics instruction in one part of the day. Then they’d go reader’s workshop and be taught that when they come to a word they don’t know, they have lots of strategies. They can sound it out. They can also check the first letter, look at the picture, think of a word that makes sense.

Teaching cueing and phonics doesn’t work, Sajous-Brooks said. “One negates the other.”

Goldberg and Mednick want to show the district there’s a better way to teach reading. Schools in the pilot project used grant money to buy new materials that steer clear of the three-cueing idea. Two charter school networks in Oakland are working on similar projects to move their schools away from cueing.

To see what it looks like, I visited a first-grade classroom at a charter school in Oakland called Achieve Academy.

One part of the day was explicit phonics instruction. The students were divided into small groups based on their skill level. They met with their teacher, Andrea Ruiz, at a kidney-shaped table in a corner of the classroom. The lowest-level group worked on identifying the speech sounds in words like “skin” and “skip.” The highest-level group learned how verbs like “spy” and “cry” are spelled as “spied’ and ‘cried” in the past tense.

There were also vocabulary lessons. The entire class gathered on a rug at the front of the classroom to talk about a book Ms. Ruiz read out loud to them. One of the words in the book was “prey.”

“What animals are a chameleon’s prey?” Ms. Ruiz asked the children. “Or we can also ask, what animals do chameleons hunt for food?”

The kids turned and talked to each other. “A chameleon’s prey are bugs and insects and other chameleons and mice and birds,” a little boy explained to his classmate. “That’s it.”

Other vocabulary words these first-graders had learned were posted on cards around the classroom. They included: wander, persevere, squint and scrumptious. The kids weren’t expected to read those words yet. The idea is to build their oral vocabulary so that when they can read those words, they know what the words mean.

This comes straight from the scientific research, which shows that reading comprehension is the product of two things. First, a child needs to be able to sound out a word. Second, the child needs to know the meaning of the word she just sounded out. So, in a first-grade classroom that’s following the research, you will see explicit phonics instruction and also lessons that build oral vocabulary and background knowledge. And you will see kids practicing what they’ve been taught.

After their vocabulary lesson, the kids did “buddy reading.” They retreated to various spots around the classroom to read books to each other. I found Belinda sitting on an adult chair at the back of the classroom, her little legs swinging. Across from her was her buddy Steven, decked out in a yellow and blue plaid shirt tucked neatly into his jeans. He held the book and pointed to the words while Belinda read.

“Ellen /m/,” Belinda paused, sounding out the word “meets.” She was reading a decodable book about some kids who visit a farm. Almost all of the words in the book contain spelling patterns she’d been taught in her phonics lessons.

“I am a farm here,” Belinda read.

Steven did a double-take. “A farmer here,” he said gently. Steven’s job as Belinda’s reading buddy was to help her if she missed a word or got stuck. But that didn’t happen much because Belinda had been taught how to read the words. She didn’t need any help from the pictures, either. She barely glanced at them as she read.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with pictures. They’re great to look at and talk about, and they can help a child comprehend the meaning of a story. Context — including a picture if there is one — helps us understand what we’re reading all the time. But if a child is being taught to use context to identify words, she’s being taught to read like a poor reader.

Many educators don’t know this because the cognitive science research has not made its way into many schools and schools of education.

Ruiz didn’t know about this research until the Oakland pilot project. “I didn’t really know anything about how kids learn to read when I started teaching,” she said. It was a relief when she came to Oakland and the curriculum spelled out that kids use meaning, structure and visual cues to figure out words. “Because I came from not having anything, I was like, ‘Oh, there’s a way we should teach this,'” she said.

I heard this from other educators. Cueing was appealing because they didn’t know what else to do.

“When I got into the classroom and someone told me to use this practice, I didn’t question it,” said Stacey Cherny, a former teacher who’s now principal of an elementary school in Pennsylvania. She says many teachers aren’t taught what they need to know about the structure of the English language to be able to teach phonics well. She says phonics can be intimidating; three cueing isn’t.

Another reason cueing holds on is that it seems to work for some children. But researchers estimate there’s a percentage of kids — perhaps about 40 percent — who will learn to read no matter how they’re taught. According to Kilpatrick, children who learn to read with cueing are succeeding in spite of the instruction, not because of it.

Goldberg hopes the pilot project in Oakland will convince the district to drop all instructional materials that include cueing.

When asked about this, the Oakland superintendent’s office responded with a written statement that there isn’t enough evidence from the pilot project to make curriculum changes for the entire district and that the Oakland schools remain committed to balanced literacy.

Oakland’s situation is no different from many other districts across the country that have invested millions of dollars in materials that include cueing.

“It feels like everyone’s trusting somebody else to have done their due diligence,” Goldberg said. “Classroom teachers are trusting that the materials they’re being handed will work. The people who purchase the materials are trusting if they were on the market, that they will work. We’re all trusting, and it’s a system that is broken.”

‘My science is different’

If cueing was debunked decades ago by cognitive scientists, why is the idea still in materials that are being sold to schools?

One answer to that question is that school districts still buy the materials. Heinemann, the company that publishes the Fountas and Pinnell and Lucy Calkins’ products that the Oakland schools use, earned somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million in 2018, according to earnings reports.

I wanted to know what the authors of those materials make of the cognitive science research. And I wanted to give them a chance to explain the ideas behind their work. I wrote to Calkins, Fountas and Pinnell and asked for interviews. They all declined. Heinemann sent a statement that said every product the company sells is informed by extensive research.

I also asked Ken Goodman for an interview. It’s been more than 50 years since he first laid out the three-cueing theory in that 1967 paper. I wanted to know what he thinks of the cognitive science research. Of the major proponents of three cueing I reached out to, he was the only one who agreed to an interview.

I visited Goodman at his home in Tucson, Arizona. He’s 91. He uses a scooter to get around, but he’s still working. He just finished a new edition of one of his books.

When I asked him what he makes of the cognitive science research, he told me he thinks scientists focus too much on word recognition. He still doesn’t believe accurate word recognition is necessary for reading comprehension.

“Word recognition is a preoccupation,” he said. “I don’t teach word recognition. I teach people to make sense of language. And learning the words is incidental to that.”

He brought up the example of a child who comes to the word “horse” and says “pony” instead. His argument is that a child will still understand the meaning of the story because horse and pony are the same concept.

I pressed him on this. First of all, a pony isn’t the same thing as a horse. Second, don’t you want to make sure that when a child is learning to read, he understands that /p/ /o/ /n/ /y/ says “pony”? And different letters say “horse”?

He dismissed my question.

“The purpose is not to learn words,” he said. “The purpose is to make sense.”

Cognitive scientists don’t dispute that the purpose of reading is to make sense of the text. But the question is: How can you understand what you are reading if you can’t accurately read the words? And if quick and accurate word recognition is the hallmark of being a skilled reader, how does a little kid get there?

Goodman rejected the idea that you can make a distinction between skilled readers and unskilled readers; he doesn’t like the value judgment that implies. He said dyslexia does not exist — despite lots of evidence that it does.52 And he said the three-cueing theory is based on years of observational research. In his view, three cueing is perfectly valid, drawn from a different kind of evidence than what scientists collect in their labs.

“My science is different,” Goodman said.

This idea that there are different kinds of evidence that lead to different conclusions about how reading works is one reason people continue to disagree about how children should be taught to read. It’s important for educators to understand that three cueing is based on theory and observational research and that there’s decades of scientific evidence from labs all over the world that converges on a very different idea about skilled reading.

The cognitive science does not provide all the answers about how to teach children to read, but on the question of how skilled readers read words, scientists have amassed a huge body of evidence.

Goldberg thinks it’s time for educators across the country to take a close look at all the materials they use to teach reading.

“We should look through the materials and search for evidence of cueing,” she said. “And if it’s there, don’t touch it. Don’t let it get near our kids, don’t let it get near our classrooms, our teachers.”

What parents of dyslexic children are teaching schools about literacy

May 1, 2019


Photo from Pexels


PBS Newshour Full Transcript

Fewer than 40 percent of fourth and eighth grade students nationwide are proficient readers. Now, led by parents of children with dyslexia, a learning disability that makes reading and spelling difficult, some states are trying to change how reading is taught. Special correspondent Lisa Stark reports from Arkansas, where a group of determined advocates have upended traditional reading instruction.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The reading gap among school children in this country is disturbing. Fewer than 40 percent of fourth and eighth graders are considered proficient readers.

    There is a push to change how students are taught to read, and it is being led by parents whose children have dyslexia.

    Special correspondent Lisa Stark of our partner Education Week reports from Arkansas for our education segment, Making the Grade.


  • Lisa Stark:

    Meet the families who changed how every child in Arkansas will learn to read, because they know what it’s like for kids to struggle with reading. Here’s Kim Head:


  • Kim Head:

    My kid is crawling under the table, stomach aches, doesn’t want to go to school. We’re in tears.


  • Lisa Stark:

    Amber Jones.


  • Amber Jones:

    The psychological damage that happens to them when they cannot figure out reading.


  • Lisa Stark:

    Scott Gann.


  • Scott Gann:

    He said, “I told you I can’t read. Nobody believes me.”


  • Lisa Stark:

    These families have spent thousands of dollars on educational testing and tutoring to discover their children have dyslexia, a learning disability that makes it difficult to spell and read.

    It affects one in five individuals. Here’s Dixie Evans:


  • Dixie Evans:

    Not being able to get the help from your school, the people that are supposed to know, that are supposed to have the answers, not being able to get that help and having to go out and find it on your own.


  • Audi Alumbaugh:

    The sense of urgency with us is, while the schools are trying to figure their way, these kids, they don’t have time to wait.


  • Lisa Stark:

    Audi Alumbaugh has led the push to pass new state laws on reading instruction. She has a niece with dyslexia.


  • Audi Alumbaugh:

    She is not a strong reader still because of our delay in figuring out what was going on, but she will be a success. And I saw how it impacts every fiber of the family, which is what everybody here says. And there’s just no need.

    We have a system in place to fix this.


  • Lisa Stark:

    That system includes explicit instruction in phonics, teaching students how letters and sounds go together to help the brain process the written word.


  • Woman:

    If we have the word brush and we want to take away the buh, we are left with?


  • Children:



  • Woman:

    Very good.


  • Sarah Sayko:

    We absolutely know that this is the best way the teach children to read.


  • Lisa Stark:

    Sarah Sayko with the National Center on Improving Literacy says this approach works well for all students, not just those with dyslexia.


  • Sarah Sayko:

    We know without a doubt that reading is not a natural process. Reading has to be taught. And it needs to be taught systematically.


  • Lisa Stark:

    Here’s what that looks like at Springhill Elementary in Greenbrier, Arkansas, where students with characteristics of dyslexia get intensive reading instruction.


  • Children:



  • Woman:

    Rain. Oh, I tried to trick you all on that one. Very good.


  • Lisa Stark:

    Why are you in those groups? Do you know? What’s that for?

    Dan, do you want to say something about that?


  • Dani Fulmer:

    To help us spell better, I think.


  • Lisa Stark:

    What about you, Cord?


  • Cord Beaird:

    Read better.


  • Ace Newland:

    Write better.


  • Lisa Stark:

    Ace, Cord, and Dani are taught to use their senses of touch, feel, and movement to help imprint words into their brains.


  • Ace Newland:

    And like pounding tapping helps me like write it.


  • Lisa Stark:

    So it helps to pound the word out and tap the word out?


  • Ace Newland:



  • Lisa Stark:

    And why is that, do you think?


  • Ace Newland:

    Because you’re sounding out each letter.


  • Lisa Stark:

    And letters become words. Words become stories. Reading is no longer something to avoid.


  • Cord Beaird:

    And then now I know a lot about reading. And, when I go to a book chapter I will not get stuck on big words.


  • Dani Fulmer:

    I would like to see words. And, I would like to just see them and say, oh, I know that word and then just keep on reading.


  • Lisa Stark:

    Are you able to do that at all yet?


  • Dani Fulmer:

    Some words.


  • Lisa Stark:

    For those who can’t read well by the end of third grade, there are lifelong consequences, including higher school dropout and poverty rates. Arkansas ranks in the bottom third of states when it comes to reading, and this group is determined to change that.

    They have fought for laws to transform reading instruction, often battling an education establishment resistant to change, says Dallas Green.


  • Dallas Green:

    They didn’t want us around. They would see us at educational things, and it would be like, oh, lord, here they are.


  • Lisa Stark:

    But perseverance paid off. Seven years and at least eight bills later, Arkansas is revamping everything, from dyslexia screening, to reading instruction, to teacher take and licensing, costing the state $6 million a year.


  • Stacy Smith:

    Statewide, we have embraced this. And it’s not been easy.


  • Lisa Stark:

    Not easy, but a watershed moment, says Stacy Smith, who oversees curriculum and instruction in Arkansas.


  • Stacy Smith:

    When we saw schools who started implementing dyslexia programs, kind of more school-wide, and all of a sudden their reading literacy results were improving, it was kind of that moment of, wait a second, not all these kids are dyslexic.


  • Lisa Stark:

    This type of reading instruction is the most beneficial for early readers. That was the conclusion of the federally appointed National Reading Panel nearly two decades ago.


  • Stacy Smith:

    So, there is actual scientific evidence about how students learn to read. And it’s largely been ignored.


  • Lisa Stark:

    Ignored largely because of years of ideological fights over how to best teach reading. Should lessons be heavy with phonics or steeped in good literature?

    Smith says sure kids of course need time with good books, but from what she’s seen in Arkansas, the first step is comprehensive phonics instruction. That’s why the state is moving to teach every student this way.


  • Stacy Smith:

    Golly, you think, what have we done? What have we done for generations to kids that we didn’t really teach to read?


  • Lisa Stark:

    Arkansas is now retraining thousands of its educators who were never taught this method of teaching.


  • Miranda Mahan:

    When I first started teaching, I honestly didn’t know how to teach kids to read. I didn’t. I taught them some sight words. I taught them the letters and what sounds they make. And I hoped that they put it all together. Rush.


  • Lisa Stark:

    Teacher Miranda Mahan no longer has to hope. She knows kids are learning to read.


  • Miranda Mahan:

    I know that we’re sending better readers to first grade now than we did, and first grade’s going to send better readers to second grade. And I feel that there’s not going to be as many students who fall through the cracks.


  • Lisa Stark:

    This is happening around the country, with parents leading the way. Over 40 states have laws, pilot programs, or bills ready to be signed around reading and dyslexia.

    But the requirements and mandates vary widely. In Arkansas, by the school year 2021, all elementary and special ed teachers must show that they know how to teach reading based on the science. At Springhill, they will beat that deadline.

    For principal Stephanie Worthey, this is personal. Remember that student Ace Newland? That’s her son.


  • Stephanie Worthey:

    I was an educator. And I struggled with my own child. And had this not come out and I was able to learn about dyslexia, I wouldn’t even have been able to help my own child, rather less a whole building full of children.


  • Lisa Stark:

    So is this new approach working?

    Let’s go to the source.


  • Ace Newland:

    Reading is kind of fun for me now that I know how and stuff.


  • Lisa Stark:

    The efforts are still so new, they haven’t yet moved the needle on state tests. For those pushing for the changes, there’s little doubt they will.

    Would you say that teaching your children a different way has made a difference for your child?


  • Woman:



  • Woman:



  • Lisa Stark:

    How much of a difference?


  • Woman:

    Life-changing, completely.


  • Lisa Stark:

    Life-changing when children are truly learning to read.

    For education week and the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Lisa Stark in Greenbrier, Arkansas.

Magic of Storytelling

February 1, 2019

‘A To Zoom’ by Leonard C. Duncan

November 24, 2018


About The Author:  Leonard C. Duncan taught grades 2,3,5,6,7 and 8 as a teacher in Los Angeles for 37 years. As an educator, Mr. Duncan taught many students how to read English and taught his five daughters as well. He added the techniques of phonics to the sight reading method being used at that time, introduced his list of essential words (words that are necessary for reading at any level) and put an emphasis on spelling and grammar to teach children how to read. Today, Mr. Duncan enjoys organizing his materials into new and innovative ways to teach reading. He also enjoys his time with his family and his dog Fritz.

Washington State Works to Meet Needs of its Homeless Students

November 2, 2018



Photo from Pexels

Nov. 2, 2018, at 6:00 a.m

By Casey Leins, Staff writer and producer at U.S. News & World Report

The lack of affordable housing in Washington state continues to critically impact families and children, and it’s led to a record number of homeless students in the state’s public school system.

Wi-Fi Hot Spots Help Homeless

About 1 in every 25 Washington K-12 public school students, or about one child in every classroom, will experience homelessness this year, according to a report released in May by the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. In Seattle, that rate jumps to 1 in 13 students.


For these students who are living on the street, in shelters or moving from place to place, completing a homework assignment or studying for a test isn’t usually their most pressing concern, making it difficult for them to excel in school – or even just attend.


“If you don’t have a stable place to live, and you don’t have secure food, the learning is so minor in their priority array,” says Superintendent Chris Reykdal, who was elected in November 2016 and assumed office in early 2017.


Washington’s housing affordability crisis is fueled in part by its large population growth, according to the state’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board. Rents increased 18 percent between 2006 and 2016, while the median income for low-income households remained unchanged.


Beyond the state’s lack of affordable housing, many other factors contribute to student homelessness, such as family mental health issues and unemployment.

Reykdal says his office and others throughout Washington are working to provide homeless students with the resources to graduate. He spoke with U.S. News & World Report about these efforts and what approaches are successful. The interview has been edited for length and clarity:


What are some efforts your office has implemented to help Washington’s public schools better meet the needs of their homeless students?

What we have tried to do is engage our Legislature over the last couple years to say that there’s some federal money (designated to address student homelessness), there’s some McKinney-Vento (Homeless Assistance Act) dollars given to our state to try to help, but we don’t think that’s enough. And so our state Legislature has put additional state money into programs.


Of course, getting to the root of (student homelessness) has been very challenging because of growing income inequality, family opioid addiction, mental health issues, chronic substance abuse, and then just affordability. It just flat out is a reality that we have a housing supply shortage in our state.


So we’ve focused mostly on transportation as a system that can’t exactly solve the root causes right away, but we’ve tried, for example, regional grant programs. We said, ‘Gosh, the students are homeless and they’re moving or they’re couch surfing, or they’re mobile in communities, but we know the research says that they’re best able to perform in school if they stay in their home district.’ We’ve actually provided transportation dollars to get them to their home district.


(Washington) has identified a homeless coordinator in every one of our 295 school districts. I’d say in the early years, it was all about “who are these students and how do we create a system of accountability for identifying them,” and now we’re onto better solutions like transportation.


Homeless Students Face Additional Struggle

Besides these transportation efforts, are there any other initiatives that have proven to be successful?


I can’t say it’s consistent from one district to another, but we’ve definitely seen success in some of our districts that use what we call a “community in schools” model. So they have either taken money that they have access to from their local school levy, or they’ve received grant dollars from various sources and they’ve created networks of support within their communities.

So they’ve literally brought in dentists who put forward hours for dental care, or they have brought in their local food bank and have created a sort of consistent approach for food, particularly on weekends. So some of these students who are getting two meals a day through their school system are still getting calories over the weekend. This community in schools model is very, very powerful and it works remarkably well. We have this model in our Bellingham area near the Canadian border and down in the Vancouver area near the Oregon border. These are two really good model districts doing that work.


Beyond general funding, what else can be done at the state level?


From a reaction standpoint, we’d like to have more transportation grants, a bigger emphasis again on these community models and certainly health care at a minimum for our homeless youth, and mental health support.


The root cause issues, of course, are much bigger, and I would love to see our state take on a more significant role in trying to figure out housing affordability. The city of Seattle wants to build their way out of this with low-income housing. Other places want to use voucher systems and other models. I don’t necessarily have the right model in my mind, but I know you have to address housing affordability and income inequality if you’re going to address (student homelessness).


Homeless in Seattle

It’s also that we have to be nontraditional in our outcomes for kids, so this sort of 20-year testing obsession doesn’t work for a kid that’s highly mobile and highly food insecure, for example. So one of the other things we’re doing that’s not unique to homeless youth, but I think can help them, is we really are trying to figure out ways where they get credit for prior learning, and they get credit for service and they get credit for work.

And so if you can imagine that there’s an entire skill set that’s actually learned by survival … we want to find a way to give students some kind of credit for that as long as it meets learning outcomes. But that isn’t the standardized test, that is learning by life, and those students should get some credit for that.


Is there anything in the works for this yet?


We have a little bit of stuff already on prior learning credit for sure. Right now our governor has what we call “Career Connect Washington.” We’re trying to figure out graduation pathways for students their junior and senior years that includes getting high school credit and maybe even some college credit, when appropriate, for work. And we’ve got some businesses in our state that are already cranking it up.


Switzerland has the model everyone’s pointing to and trying to figure out for how, if traditional school isn’t the root for every student, can we get them into a workplace setting and then recognize some credit for that. So there’s little pockets of excellence around the state, and we’re sort of building that formal system right now. And the governor will put something forward to our legislature this year to try to bring that to a bigger scale.

California isn’t doing enough to teach kids how to read, lawsuit says

December 30, 2017


Shavalo Wooley, 8, uses 3-D glasses along with magnifying glasses while participating in a new program to improve children’s reading skills by addressing problems with eye movement during the reading process at La Salle Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles in March. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

By Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2017

Too many California children can’t read, and the state doesn’t have an adequate plan to fix the problem, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court by the advocacy law firm Public Counsel, alleges that the state is not meeting its constitutional responsibility to educate all children.

California lags behind the national average in both reading and writing for fourth- and eighth-graders, according to national education data.

California scores below average on a national reading assessment (U.S. Department of Education)

About five years ago, the state superintendent and state board of education president commissioned a report with suggestions to improve literacy in California. The state has not adopted or implemented an adequate plan based on those suggestions, the lawsuit alleges.

In recent statewide English assessments, fewer than half of California students met the state’s literacy standards for their grade. The lawsuit cites the case of Los Angeles Unified School District’s La Salle Elementary, where fewer than 10 of 179 tested pupils met state English standards this year.

“This is in full view of the state,” said Public Counsel lawyer Mark Rosenbaum. “They haven’t done anything in terms of working with the district or working with the school to address a problem that has …persisted year after year after year.”

The plaintiffs are current and former students and teachers at La Salle Elementary School; Van Buren Elementary School, in Stockton; and the charter school Children of Promise Preparatory Academy, in Inglewood. The lawsuit places the onus of responsibility on the state, rather than the districts, because the problem spans schools throughout California, Rosenbaum said.

David Moch, one of the plaintiffs and a retired teacher who taught at La Salle Elementary for 18 years until 2014, said he sometimes used kindergarten reading tools to help children as high as third and fifth grade. Some of the programs the district instituted did help older students learn to read, he said, but they were not long-term programs.

“We need citizens that can read. We need citizens that can vote,” Moch said. “Once you get behind, if there’s no intervention, there’s no catching up. The level of the work is getting more intense and multiplied at every level.”

The complaint calls for better teacher training and more resources for teachers. It also demands that once students are identified as having difficulty reading, the state help schools to implement “proven methods of literacy instruction,” said Rosenbaum, who filed the lawsuit along with law firm Morrison & Foerster.

The state does not have a current plan in place that assesses each school’s literacy instruction, Rosenbaum said. “There’s no accountability system in place to ensure that literacy is being delivered.”

California Department of Education spokesman Robert Oakes declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said in an email that the state allocates additional funding for high-needs students and makes data available for “school communities” to use in the “targeting of resources.”

The Gap In The G20 Agenda (And Why World Leaders Should Listen To Rihanna)

August 21, 2017



Photograph: Al Pereira/WireImage

Article by Julia Gillard, A Labor party politician, was prime minister of Australia from 2010 to 2013. The Guardian, Education and Opinion, Sunday 2 July 2017

Germany’s goal for the G20 meeting in Hamburg is to make globalisation work for everybody. World leaders will discuss how to achieve sustainable growth in Africa, women’s economic empowerment and how to create more jobs for a rapidly growing youth population. Investment and infrastructure are the buzzwords for the day.

It’s an excellent mission, and one I support wholeheartedly, but there is a serious gap in the agenda, which is investment in education. Without better teaching and outcomes for all children, it is hard to see how the G20’s agenda can be realised.

Such is the learning crisis that, in low-income countries across sub-Saharan Africa, only one in 10 children will gain basic secondary school skills by 2030 – the target year for achievement of the UN-agreed sustainable development goals. The vast majority, nine in 10 children, will barely complete primary school. Even in middle-income countries, home to the largest populations, only half of young people are likely to attain minimum secondary school results by 2030.

At the same time, billions of low-skilled jobs will be lost to automation all over the world, and employers will require significantly higher skills from prospective employees. And in an uncertain world, we also know that educated populations are more resilient and able to recover. Literacy and the ability to seek out and act out on information are critical to rebuilding communities affected by conflict, climate change and natural disaster.

Without increased investment for quality education for all, the G20 agenda is on shaky ground. Economic growth driven by large-scale infrastructure investments without equitable provision of education will leave hundreds of millions of people behind, exacerbating inequality, disillusion and instability.

Yet investment in education aid by key donors is falling. Recent analysis by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report says educations’s share of global aid has fallen for six years running even though total aid has grown by 24% over the same period and aid is not going to the countries and children most in need. In fact, aid for education in Africa is down substantially.

If G20 leaders are serious about sustainable growth and job creation, and want them to stem migration flows and promote long-term stability, education is an essential investment. But this has to be equitable investment which means ensuring the poorest have the same opportunities to learn as the privileged, girls are promoted to stay in school, and disabled and excluded children are served by a functioning, inclusive education system, for which government is accountable.

A literate, skilled workforce is essential for low-income countries to attract investment and fill jobs with local rather than imported labour. Middle income countries need to attend to the education of their poorest people to build their economies and ensure long term stability. Wealthy countries have an interest in building stable and prosperous partners for a sustainable future.

I do believe this is education’s time, I was delighted that pop music icon Rhianna, who is also the Global Partnership for Educations’ global ambassador, tweeted a number of world leaders at the weekend – calling on them to #Fund Education.

Rhianna’s tweets created quite a storm and community activist organisation Global Citizen will be on the case with a big concert in Hamburg in a few days time, on the eve of the G20 summit. Along with many others including Shakira, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg, I will be on stage – not singing I assure you – but urging donors and developing countries alike to fund education, particularly through the Global Partnership for Education’s replenishment early next year which asks donors for $3.1bn for 2018 to 2020.

Let’s hope the G20 are listening, not only to each other, but to Rhianna and the millions of young people whose skills and talents must be nurtured through a major increase in investment in learning.