Perspectives – State superintendent sets goal to get all California third graders reading by 2026

By Jim Wambach | September 24, 2021

“We already know that when students learn to read, they can read to learn anything and that this is a gateway skill that can carry them to any point in their life, career, and in their journey.” — Tony Thurmond, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Jim Wambach - Executive DirectorLow childhood literacy rates have been a challenge for educators in Oakland. Now, after years of low reading scores statewide, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond has pledged to get all third-grade students in California reading by 2026.

On Tuesday, Thurmond held a joint press event with education leaders from throughout the state where he introduced plans to create a task force to study the problem and make policy recommendations. The task force will be comprised of educators, parents, students, and education experts. In addition to announcing the task force formation, newly-elected Assemblymember Mia Bonta, D-Alameda, has agreed to sponsor legislation to help advance this goal.

“We already know that when students learn to read, they can read to learn anything and that this is a gateway skill that can carry them to any point in their life, career, and in their journey,” Thurmond said. “We also know that when students don’t learn to read by third grade, they are at greater risk to drop out of school, and they are at greater risk to end up in the criminal justice system. From my standpoint, this is a strategy that is about many things: helping children learn to read, but also putting them on a path that can create success for them. Our students can learn and overcome obstacles, but we have to give them the resources to do that, and now is clearly the time to advance this.”

Family engagement is key to learning, and to improving low childhood literacy rates throughout the state.

The task force and legislation, to be formally introduced in 2022, will explore a wide range of areas, including professional learning to teach reading, family engagement strategies, methods for getting books in the hands of students and their families, and “cobbling together” literacy efforts throughout the entire state towards an identified, stated goal.

Although light on details, Children Rising is encouraged by this announcement. It reflects the work that we as an organization have been passionate about for the last 20 years.

“California has to work together to prioritize that early care learning of its youngest children. We believe that early targeted literacy interventions can improve outcomes for an entire generation of Californian’s children.” — Jackie Thu-Huong Wong, Chief Deputy Director from First 5 California

Our community enablement model hinges on professional learning to teach reading to struggling children. We recruit, train, and support caring adults to become literacy tutors so they can step in and help a child from day one. It becomes a type of vocation to which our tutors joyfully and diligently commit. The numbers bear this out as each year, 80% of our tutors return ready to help more eager children.

Family engagement is key to childhood learning. As the pandemic put more and more pressure on families, Children Rising has focused on engaging parents in their child’s tutoring. Our summer POWER Packs and food gift cards have encouraged increased levels of parental engagement and partnership with their child’s literacy. Effectively building relationships of mutual respect between parents and the teacher/tutor are key for parental engagement and accelerated learning.

Our library services team has done a remarkable job of getting books into the hands of eager young readers. By opening elementary school libraries that have stood closed for years, and by supporting libraries short on resources, children have been able to experience the thrill of reading for fun. This, in turn, will help them when it comes time to read to learn.

Partnerships will be crucial for the success of these efforts. By “cobbling together” all of the literacy efforts statewide — including those of nonprofits like Children Rising — California can reach this lofty goal.

One on one tutoring

Children Rising’s community enablement model works because we recruit, train, and support caring adults to become literacy tutors. They can step in and help a child from day one.

“California has to work together to prioritize that early care learning of its youngest children,” said Jackie Thu-Huong Wong, Chief Deputy Director from First 5 California. “We believe that early targeted literacy interventions can improve outcomes for an entire generation of Californian’s children, and we are so grateful and look forward to working with Superintendent Thurmond and the team to make literacy a reality for all California kids.”

Before ending the press conference, Superintendent Thurmond encouraged those interested in participating in this new literacy effort or who wish to learn more to email statewideliteracycampaign@cde.ca.gov. Thurmond also called for efforts to get books in the hands of as many students and families as possible.

Children Rising will continue to be part of the solution of ensuring that every California student will learn to read by third grade by the year 2026. That would indeed make a generational impact in Oakland and all of California.

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