Jan 9, 2024 - News

Study: Oakland's early literacy model seeing strong results

Photo of a teacher pointing to a board with a group of small elementary school students

Susy Aguilar, a tutor in Oakland's Literacy Liberators program, teaches a class of students at Manzanita SEED Elementary. Photo: Courtesy of Oakland REACH

A literacy program in Oakland that trains community members to serve as in-school tutors is seeing favorable results in the year since it launched, a recent study found.

Why it matters: Students who received tutoring from the program "made statistically significant gains" during the 2022-23 school year compared with students who did not, according to the research report by Arizona State University's Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE).

How it happened: The pandemic was hard on families in Oakland, which has long suffered teacher shortages.

  • The learning loss from COVID-19 drove a parent-led group, Oakland REACH, to develop a class of educators drawn from the community last February through a partnership with Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and literacy nonprofit FluentSeeds.
  • REACH recruits family members to be tutors — called Literacy Liberators — to K-2 students in Oakland's lowest-performing schools. After teaching and leadership development trainings, they're assigned to a campus to work 30 hours a week with pay and health benefits.
  • "Mostly what we've heard from them is that they're stepping into a call of action," REACH founder Lakisha Young told Axios.

Zoom in: Susy Aguilar, who worked in talent acquisition before joining the program, starts her day alongside her daughter at Manzanita SEED Elementary, where she meets with small groups of students for targeted instruction.

  • "Sometimes the students will tell me something like, 'Today was a rough day for me because the teacher called on me to read and I just had a challenging time,'" Aguilar said.
  • "Because these are kids in my child's backyard, it's a little bit more personal, you know, empowering them and ... making them feel good about themselves," she added.

State of play: Of the 16 trainees in the inaugural cohort, 11 completed onboarding for tutoring positions in OUSD schools and started working in the spring of last year.

  • REACH designed the stipended program to prevent Black, Latino and working-class job candidates from falling out "of the pipeline to traditional education jobs," CRPE wrote in its December report.
  • The recruits also expressed a deeper sense of commitment to literacy needs given their ties to the community, per the study.

Yes, but: OUSD must incentivize tutors to stay in it for the long haul by compensating them properly, Aguilar said.

  • Tutors are currently paid $16-$18 per hour, according to CPRE.

The big picture: Literacy rates across the U.S. plummeted during the pandemic.

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