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Oakland NAACP - Advocates for Foundational Literacy

Literacy advocacy aligns with the goals our Board has set for the Superintendent. The February Board meeting the Board set the following three focus areas:

  • Literacy (Curriculum, instruction and evaluation)

  • School climate and culture

  • Comprehensive District Design

As we continue our advocacy and refine our asks of the Board and District, it would be good to examine and share what other advocacy groups are doing here in Minnesota and around the country.

The Oakland NAACP, under the leadership of the Education Committee Chair Kareen Weaver, has set the education agenda and "it's all about literacy."

They have created their own website where they are directing $ towards three initiatives:

  • Onetab Devices (Literacy tablets no wifi required)

  • Structured Literacy Professional Development of Teachers (CORE)

  • Online Parent Reading Academy

They have filed an administrative petition with the Oakland School District. There are 9 asks which are summarized below.

Some comments from their FAQ include:

Since literacy is a civil rights issue, having the NAACP as the original, sole

petitioner was intentional. Is this a fad or a pendulum swing?


The research has been clear for decades, but OUSD hasn’t followed it.

Balanced literacy, as applied, wasn’t very balanced. OUSD’s chosen curriculum

had good parts that emphasized a love of reading, but it also had holes in

foundational reading skills which underserved a generation of students. People

became defenders of programs, philosophies, and personalities, rather than

adherents to research and science. The community is clear that we demand the

next curriculum choice has evidence of success. For 7 years in a row, Oakland was

the fastest gaining urban district in California. Now, as reported in the Ella T case,

we have 11 of the states’ lowest 75 schools for 3rd grade reading. By comparison,

Los Angeles has only 6 schools. Our precipitous fall was enabled by many things,

but an ill-advised curriculum and philosophical shift was at the center. We don’t

have time for ideological remonstration.

What about Trauma? Doesn’t that limit what children can do?

A. Yes, trauma matters. However….

B. Our children are brilliant.

C. Black children in America have always been traumatized. Google “four little


D. In the information age, illiteracy is a historically peculiar form of trauma.

E. We encourage every educator and stakeholder to read this blog. We

encourage schools to use it for professional development and have

conversations about it.

The main points of the petition from their FAQ include:

  1. Provide a statement of facts that ensures clarity about what and why changes must be made to improve literacy outcomes.

  2. OUSD must provide educators with a reading curriculum that has significant evidence of success for kids from transitional kindergarten through fifth grade. We demand evidence of results, not trends or personal preferences. Our children are not guinea pigs.

  3. OUSD must choose a curriculum that is manageable for educators and allows for full implementation within the bounds of teachers’ contracted hours. If, due to effectiveness and teacher demand, the district selects a curriculum with a larger planning requirement, they must also have a second option (also with evidence of effectiveness) for schools to choose that falls within the planning requirement. Failure to do this produces burnout, resentment, mistrust and structurally undermines children’s educational opportunities.

  4. Ensure that the newly chosen curriculum currently reflects the diversity of Oakland's students or commits to adapting its content, in collaboration with local partners, with time-bound goals and future financial costs baked into any initial agreement. This allows us to move forward with decisive urgency to get our kids reading immediately while also ensuring a clear path to cultural enrichment and affirmation is factored into purchasing decisions.

  5. Ongoing access to professional development for educators on teaching reading, classroom management, dyslexia identification and support, cultural competency, and how to run small groups - NOT just how to implement a specific curriculum.

  6. The NAACP, through FULCRUM, has provided Oakland Unified teachers with access to professional development through CORE and Wilson. The response was overwhelmingly positive. However, there needs to be ongoing institutional investment in teachers’ development needs. Any teacher or school staff that wants to do a 2 hour training through the Reading League, learn Orton-Gillingham methods (HNU offering listed here), or take a 7-10 week CORE class, should be able to do so.

  7. There must be an elevated staff role, within OUSD, dedicated to reading TK-5th grade reading; the person must report directly to the superintendent and collaborate with all stakeholders. They need positional clout, budget, and singularity of purpose to get things done and be held accountable. And, given that many in OUSD leadership promoted a curriculum (for years) that even the authors now admit lacked key pieces… the person who fills this new role must be willing and able to acknowledge mistakes of the past or be someone from outside the organization. The perception that district officials ignored the brain science and research consensus, followed sector trends, promoted the assessment of patterned reading rather than foundational skills, failed to initially consider student success in the new adoption process, silenced internal dissent, and never came before the community to acknowledge their mistakes is not lost on the NAACP. We need to rebuild trust. Relatedly, this level of leadership accountability is important to teachers, most of whom marched to the district’s ideological and pedagogical drum.

  8. There needs to be monitoring and evaluation of Tier2 interventions. There should be pilots for programs like Read-in-40, which have evidence of success with all students, including African-American, English Language Learners, Polynesian, Latino, and students in distressed environments. Currently, OUSD does not pilot and evaluate interventions programs with the same level of scrutiny as the core classroom program. This has to change.

  9. Dyslexia screening for all students, K-2. - California says failure to identify dyslexia is one of the biggest causes of low reading achievement, but we don’t screen for it. Here is a former Oakland student (co-petitioner), who was diagnosed while incarcerated, being interviewed and discussing their reality of getting support in jail while not getting screening and support in school or home. OUSD was also out of compliance with AB1369.

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