How well are schools teaching disadvantaged students to read? In California, it depends where you live.

Todd Collins:

How do we know if a school district is doing one of its most basic jobs—teaching students to read? That’s one of the main questions the California Reading Coalition, which I helped organize earlier this year, set out to answer with the California Reading Report Card, released in September.

Early reading achievement has gained increasing popular attention with the emergence of the “science of reading” and the success of Mississippi (and before it, Florida) in raising fourth grade NAEP reading scores, especially for low-income and Black and Brown students.

In California, reading results are grim. The state ranks fortieth in fourth grade NAEP reading for all students, and thirty-first for Latino students, who make up almost half of our 6 million students (Florida and Mississippi are first and and second for Latino students, respectively). Two out of every three low-income Black and Latino California students are below grade level.

But reading is tricky, since schools aren’t the only place kids learn to read. Particularly in families with affluence and educational attainment, learning to read starts at home, with everything from bedtime stories to direct phonics instruction. It’s not surprising that in California, over 75 percent of high-income White and Asian third graders read at grade level. Even if the school fails them, their parents can pick them up.