Fourth-grade students raise their hands in class.

Only about 25 percent of California’s fourth-graders meet national standards for grade-level reading, according to a new report by Children Now analyzing national education data. The state ranks 47th in the nation for fourth-grade reading proficiency. The report also finds the gap in reading ability between high and low-income fourth-graders has widened by nearly 30 percent in California in the past decade. What can the state do to improve students’ reading skills?

Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, a national research and advocacy organization based in Oakland

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Same old same old study that we have heard for decades.

    How about we actually DO something about our educational system, as well as telling parents to shut off the tv, high tech toys and READ with and to your children?

    It’s a well known fact that children who grow up in homes where books are valued and enjoyed, become good readers and better students!

    • Bob Fry

      Agree that endless studies don’t help…let’s take some action.

      However, while it’s true that parents bear responsibility too, it doesn’t help. Take it to an extreme: abolish compulsory schooling and save the tax money. Hey, it’s up to parents to educate their kids! Society figured out 100+ years ago it didn’t work, and society was better off paying for ALL kids to be educated regardless of the degree of parental responsibility.

      Likewise we simply can’t depend on all parents to shut off the distractions and actually be great parents. Society, through schools, are going to have to help…and we’ll all be better off.

      • thucy

        “Society, through schools, are going to have to help…and we’ll all be better off.”

        You said it. Separate from the issue of reading, I’m reminded that Louis Armstrong, who made so many great cultural exports for the US, wasn’t taught to play music by his parents. He was taught to play music in school, then later in reform school.

        Take-away point: No parents, still Satchmo. But no school, no Satchmo.

        • Another Mike

          Did any great musicians come out of the California Youth Authority?

          • thucy

            Have any great musicians emerged out of Julliard lately? Any to rival Gershwin through John Coltrane? Let’s face it, Mike, we’re not producing great art, music, or literature anymore.
            The point I made, however, stands. No school, no Satchmo.

    • Joe

      Not all reading improves intelligence. For instance, religious books and books about business management fads seem to lower it…

  • Michael Hites

    In your introduction, why the need to disparage other states? California kids are struggling with reading. So are kids in Louisiana. Why not leave it at that, instead of implying that Louisiana belongs at the bottom while California should be much higher. The Bay Area is supposed to be a tolerant, nonjudgmental place.

  • $22911251

    Culture plays a larger role in academic achievement than the schools and politicians are prepared to accept. I ran book circles in 4th grade under the classroom teacher direction. There were always 5 kids out of 20 unwilling to make a sincere effort, sad to say those kids were black and they all had a chip on their shoulder.

    • Kathryn Hopping

      Research why. I will tell you that traditionally teachers disparaged kids who come from black families. Dont judge the child. Judge the way far too many white teachers have been inadequately prepared to teach multi cultural students.

      • Another Mike

        I’m going to say that the reason is peer pressure. Black kids do not do noticeably better under black teachers or even in an all-black school.

        • thucy

          I think you mean “under-funded” all-black schools. The issue is multi-factorial, but where and when parents fail, schools MUST step in. Recognizing that not every poor person, regardless of race, can be a “Tiger Mom”, and for us taxpayers to step in to fill the void, is a requirement of living in a civilized society.

          • Another Mike

            If you weren’t hampered by lack of funds, what would you propose?

    • thucy

      What’s the chance that “the chips on the shoulders” you noticed were placed there by your own bias upon entering the classroom? I come from that vaunted “model minority” of Asians, mom had me reading long before we started school. But I had plenty of racist white teachers and parent-volunteers, and my performance in those classrooms lagged my performance in classrooms where I trusted that the teachers were fair to kids of all backgrounds.

      • $22911251

        What’s the chance? answer: Absolutely none.
        nice try race baiting, a skill developed in today’s schools.

        you don’t even know what color I am, yet you assume…..

        • thucy

          I disagree that my point constituted race-baiting, however, your initial comment certainly qualifies as race-baiting, as well as being racist. As for “absolutely none” as a response to a sincere question about your bias playing a role, it’s clear that you can’t even consider the possibility, which speaks volumes about your bias.

      • Joe

        Racial bias among students also harms students’ performance.

        If a student assumes a teacher or other students are racist, that assumption can be a strong distraction that taints their experience and can make a kid hate a subject or even school itself.

  • Skip Conrad

    Have you considered the effects of immigration? i.e. the large number of non-native English speakers.

  • Another Mike

    Regarding class size: I still have my 1st Grade class picture from 1961. There were only 16 boys, but there were also 24 girls. Somehow we all learned to read.

    • SomeSonomaGuy

      Let me guess, all of you were born to parents who were also born and raised in the US. The story these days is that so many people immigrate to the US lacking basic literacy in even their own native languages. How can you teach your kids to read if you yourself are not literate in any language? It goes far beyond just showing up to school. Kids are only at school for half of their waking hours, and less than half of that time is spent on reading instruction. A class moves at a certain pace, and if you’re not a special education student, then you get left behind if you aren’t up to par when the rest of the class moves forward. And then what?

      • Another Mike

        How (and where) in the world can you not get a fourth grade education?

        • SomeSonomaGuy

          Take a minute to think about what you just asked.

          Then consider the fact that in many countries, school is either unavailable or isn’t compulsory. Then take into consideration the fact that many countries that have schools don’t have good teachers and programs. Then, consider how a fourth grade education may be defined across the world, especially in poorer countries.

          • Another Mike

            Can you expand upon this “many countries” hypothesis? As a counter example, Six years of schooling is compulsory in Mexico, where the lowest literacy rate among adults is still more than 70%.

          • thucy

            I’m inclined to agree that literacy in Mexico could be higher, based only on the number of my Mexican and Central American colleagues’ obsession with reading the bible during lunch break.
            But I’m also inclined to recall that reports of high literacy are not always pure, e.g., literacy rates during the Cultural Revolution were close to 100% thanks to Mao’s little red book, the Communist Party claimed. However, that turned out to be horse manure.
            Little red books, little black bibles. Whoever knows?

          • Another Mike

            These are the countries that send the most immigrants to the US. In which is school either unavailable or not compulsory? In which do schools lack good teachers and programs. And how do their fourth graders match up to ours?

            1. Mexico
            2. China
            3. India
            4. Philippines

            5. El Salvador
            6. Vietnam
            7. Cuba
            8. Korea
            9. Dominican Republic
            10. Guatemala

            These countries account for 60% of recent immigrants.

  • Matt V

    We keep talking about this correlation to race and ethnicity and keep glossing over what that means for low income families of color. In CA where the number of immigrant families is on the rise, that means parents who are english learners where their youth may be their primary navigator, parents working multiple jobs and unable to find time to read, folks who have no access to enrichment programs. Also lets talk about how low school funding, zero tolerance policies, drop out rates, and the policing of youth prepare students for prisons rather than higher education. We need to end the prison industriL complex and zero back in on education.

    • Another Mike

      Immigrants sending their kids to school in a language they don’t know is a recurring part of American education. My mother didn’t speak English till she started Kindergarten, and the same was true of one of my college buddies.

      Do we need to go back to the educational methods used in the 1960s or the 1930s?

      • Matt V

        No.. we have a totally different immigrant population that is widely diverse. If we keep flattening the issue of immigration and refuse to acknowledge the diversity in broad terms like “Latin@, African American, or Asian” then we’ll never figure out solid, sustainable, and culturally sensitive solutions.

        • Dana Garcia

          What is meant by “flattening”? Do you mean that Asian immigrant kids are successful and hispanics are not?

    • wandagb

      Seems to me the obvious path to arrest the downward decline in academic achievement is to reduce immigration: this would reduce the number of poor Californians, reduce the number of low achieving students – and as a bonus reduce the insatiable demand of water (or perhaps listeners thought that immigrants brought water with them.)

      Alas, Congress is proposing to double immigration so I guess we can look forward to a Forum program informing us we are now number 50.

  • Kathryn Hopping

    I would love to hear a forum discussion on how jarvis gann decimated our school funding and our schools. I was here when that law wad passed and the results were immediate. Now that brown is back maybe we should demand that he undo the damage he oversaw and repeal this horrible law. Reprioritze education indeed!

    • Another Mike

      Funding schools with property taxes guarantees that rich people’s kids will get a better education than the poor, because rich people can buy more expensive housing, and they can vote to tax themselves more without feeling any pain.

      Further, homeowners have no control over the assessed value of their home. The taxes that were affordable when you bought your house were outrageous ten years later. Your neighbor who cashed out and moved took a tidy profit, but that did not put another dime in your pocket.

      The only fair taxes are those based upon ability to pay, and those that are levelled between rich communities and poor communities. The state income tax and state sales tax qualify.

  • Guest

    “What can the state do to improve students’
    reading skills?” Invest in families first. 10 Books A Home does just that. Our #1
    stakeholder is the preschool-aged child and their parent. We provide a free
    home-based learning program in East Palo Alto, CA in which a
    community volunteer provides direct school-readiness instruction and book
    donations to a child from the time s/he is three until the year kindergarten begins.
    Because this service has real market value (i.e. higher income parents purchase
    home tutoring services) under-served parents are willing to participate. Parents sit in
    on every weekly lesson, complete required family reading, and practice
    learning activities between lessons. The result is that children and parents
    are prepared for a successful transition into kindergarten. Our first group of Learners
    started kindergarten this school year and at the close of quarter 1 were either at
    or above grade level. And, a world-renown research university is designing a
    randomized control study to examine our program later this year.

    Parents are always mentioned as being the driving
    force behind their children’s academic achievement, but most interventions don’t
    target family-focused solutions. Take a peek at high performing school
    districts and you’ll see parents are the movers and shakers. Resources
    play a vital role, but mindset and values are the real drivers behind
    whether children take school seriously. That’s something any parent can
    implement, because how many parents do you know who don’t want their children to
    succeed? Great schools depend on great parents.

    • Another Mike

      While great schools may require great parents, shouldn’t “good enough” schools require only “good enough” parents? All but the worst parents want their children to succeed in life.

  • wandagb

    The photo is rather misleading. Contrast…

    with the mix of today’s classroom …

    According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “Nearly 25 percent (or 1.4 million) of the students in California’s public schools are English Learners.”

    California has plenty of ‘challenges’ in our educational system. Importing problems is not a wise decision.

    • Another Mike

      Three-quarters are not proficient readers, while only one-quarter are English learners. So “the misleading photo” doesn’t account for half the student population.

  • Another Mike

    Looking at the report snapshot published by the Annie E. Casey Fourndation is enlightening:
    1. All states are failing. Even in the best (MA) 53 percent of 4th graders do not read proficiently. The worst is 79%.
    Even among immigrant states, border states score the worst: California
    73%, Arizona 72%, New Mexico 79%, Texas 72%. Compare to Illinois 66%,
    Florida 61%, New York 63%, New Jersey 58%.

  • amy vegan

    Perhaps it’s actually the English spelling that is difficult for our vast population of multicultural English learners. Read these words and think as an English learner: blue/zoo/through/you/chew/to. All words have the “oo” sound with different spellings. Phone, fish, rough (f sound). City/Sit (s sound). Cat/kite (k). Pleat/complete…Eight/ate/weight, etc.. etc… Musician/promotion/shun/compassion. How about reed/read? Red/read. Updating the spelling of English and standardizing spelling sounds would improve reading by leaps/bounds.

  • Steve

    I’m sure there are a lot of different reasons for the outcome of the study, but as a native Californian and observer of the population for 30 years, it seems fairly obvious the major reason for the poor ranking is the fact that we have a huge immigration population who’s first language is not English. Combine that with the fact that these are generally families that do not have much of an education themselves, so more than likely are not able to help much at home. Some one mentioned that immigration has always been a part of California and we didn’t have these issues in previous generations. The difference now, is that these days, we do not fund our education system the same way we used to. When I went to grade school, the schools provided pretty much all material I needed for classes. Paper, pencils, books, etc. Teachers had more time with smaller classroom sizes. These days they don’t, and individual families have to provide their own supplies. So poor families struggle to provide these necessities. So we can’t compare past immigrant performance with today as it is a much different system. But the bottom line is that immigration is major contributor to what is causing the low ranking.

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