Successful literacy development offers a lesson for California politicians

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A decade ago, California’s political establishment finally recognized a yawning achievement gap in its public schools, separating poor and English-speaking students from their more privileged classmates. .

While overall, California’s nearly 6 million K–12 students underperform on state and federal tests of academic achievement, the deficits are particularly apparent among Latino and black children from poor families.

The political response of Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers is the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, which provides additional funding to local school systems, with many children “at risk” of failing to expect the money to be spent primarily on improving their results.

Tens of billions of dollars have been spent on LCFF grants, but the results have been, at best, marginal, and there is an ongoing political and legal battle over accountability for spending too much money and its effects.

Brown, for vague reasons he drew from a Catholic Church doctrine, refused to include an accountability component, saying he trusted local school officials to do so. the right thing. That hands-off position is, not surprisingly, strongly supported by the educational establishment, especially the teachers’ unions.

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However, education reform and civil rights organizations are holding their own, demanding accountability and using lawsuits if necessary. One aspect of that effort was a lawsuit filed six years ago that said the state violated its own constitution by failing to ensure that children learned to read, even after developing a plan to improve reading instruction.

The case was settled three years ago with a pledge that the state would spend $50 million—a pittance in a K-12 school system that spends $130 billion a year—to improve children’s reading skills at the lowest achievement levels.

On Sunday, Stanford’s Graduate School of Education released a study on the effects of spending $53 million on targeted reading instruction, concluding that it led to a sharp increase in the reading ability of the program’s third graders. .

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In fact, accelerated reading Instruction relies heavily on phonics—or the “science of reading,” as some call it—to achieve results. California, which has harmed generations of students, has, for decades, stubbornly eschewed phonics in favor of more fashionable theories.

Thus, the $53 million program not only shows that even a small amount of money, if used appropriately, can have positive results but also proves once again that the key to better reading skills—the gateway to all learning—is phonics.

“The takeaway is that targeted, well-designed science in reading interventions can make a big difference,” said Sarah Novicoff, a doctoral student who worked on the study. “It shows that efforts like this are worth pursuing.”

The Early Literacy Support Block Grant is a small step in the right direction to make reading skills the moral imperative they need to be in an educationally backward state.

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The latest round of state academic test results revealed that less than half of students met state standards in reading and other English skills, and nearly a third were proficient in math.

“This study shows that we can eradicate illiteracy at warp speed,” said Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer behind the lawsuit. “I’m not surprised by the results. But I was impressed with the speed, especially during a pandemic. ”

Governors and lawmakers in California believe that educational deficiencies can be fixed by simply throwing more money into the pot, but it’s clear from the Stanford study that how the money is spent is a critical factor.

LCFF has little to show for its billions of dollars. It is time that politicians and taxpayers insist on accountability for verifiable results.