Innovative literacy programs in Oakland USD proving successful

A duo of recent reports from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) detail a movement of community involvement taking place in Oakland’s education system that is improving literacy rates.

Communities in the driver’s seat: Intensive training, deep investment power parent-led literacy programs in Oakland and Teachers and tutors together: Reimagining literacy instruction in Oakland, both released in December, outline key takeaways from Oakland Unified School District’s community partnerships that other local educational agencies may benefit from.

Communities in the driver’s seat

As schools grapple with learning recovery, a teacher and staffing shortage, debates about curriculum and looming literacy goals for third graders, The Oakland REACH’s Literacy Liberator Model and Fellowship proves that there are pools of untapped talent, and that with the right support, those individuals can address current needs, deliver individualized instruction and advocate for change.

Through a partnership with Oakland USD and literacy nonprofit FluentSeeds, the program recruits and trains family and community members to be effective literacy instructors.

“The Liberator Model can not only address longstanding human capital challenges in public education but can also shift the power dynamics and inequities that have thwarted systemic improvement,” the report states. “The fellows’ experiences and the systems created to support them suggest a potential model for community-designed tutoring programs in other areas, programs that could equip community members to play a more active leadership role in school systems.”

Key findings from a case study on the program found that:

  • The Oakland REACH’s intention was to aid fellows in becoming effective advocates for improved literacy instruction and student needs in addition to good tutors.
  • Tutors’ own experiences and struggles with reading deepened their commitment to meeting students’ literacy needs.
  • Training covered national and local struggles with literacy instruction, training on the science of reading and lessons on how to meet the needs of groups like bilingual students and those with learning differences. Training was available during evening hours.
  • Fellows received stipends from REACH, which also qualified them for medical and retirement benefits. REACH also “navigated district bureaucracy to increase fellows’ chances of placement in a tutoring position by the end of the fellowship.”
  • The training could have a broader impact if done on a larger scale and include more community members serving in roles besides tutoring.
  • The training was intended to inspire fellows to pursue advancements in their careers or stay employed with Oakland USD.

Teachers and tutors together

In its 2021–24 strategic plan, Oakland USD committed to a new early literacy strategy that includes early literacy teachers who support differentiated literacy instruction using the SIPPS curriculum. Tutors work alongside classroom teachers to accomplish literacy goals. The early literacy program is managed in collaboration with The Oakland REACH and FluentSeeds, which recruit, train and support the tutors.

The Teachers and tutors together report looks at how the district designed and implemented a program with embedded tutoring support from partners and the program’s impact on tutors, students and teachers.

Key findings related to Oakland’s literacy tutoring strategies include:

  • The introduction of early literacy tutors let schools offer more differentiated instruction, which allowed teachers to better tailor lessons to meet student needs.
  • Students who worked with tutors made more significant gains than those who didn’t have small group instruction.
  • Literacy gains among tutored students varied from 79 percent to 188 percent.
  • Tutoring may be most effective at campuses where tutors are integrated into a coherent, school-wide approach to supporting literacy.
  • Staffing, facilities and scheduling constraints proved to be obstacles in optimizing the work of tutors.
  • Inadequate pay was an obstacle in recruiting and retainment efforts.

Recommendations for other LEAs that may be considering a shift in literacy instruction and want to accelerate outcomes include:

  • Leveraging tutors and paraprofessionals to remake the traditional classroom model.
  • Building coherence and systematize collaboration across teacher and tutors’ work.
  • Investing in intentional recruiting, training and support structures for tutors.
  • Optimizing tutors’ working conditions and monitor implementation.