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Professor Nell Duke and SOE alumnae assess reading instruction for right to read lawsuit

February 28, 2020

Professor Nell Duke, alumna Lauren Katz—a founder of the Literacy, Language, and Learning Institute—, and alumna Crystal Wise—an SOE research fellow—analyzed school records, depositions, and assessment results to determine how well some California schools taught reading.


They did this work in response to a two-year legal battle between the state of California and a group of students and teachers whose lawsuit claimed that California did a poor job teaching reading.

The lawsuit contended that low K–3 literacy levels violated the state’s constitutional mandate to provide equal access to education. In 2018, 53% of California third graders did not meet state standards for reading, and scores have only improved slightly since then. On February 20, the plaintiffs won their case, and a settlement will award funding to the 75 public elementary schools with the poorest third-grade reading scores in California.

Duke, Katz, and Wise’s analysis uncovered specific issues, which included problems with classroom instruction, discipline, and a lack of adequate intervention for struggling students—all of which probably contributed to the low literacy rates.

Duke believes that California will be a model for other states. “I wouldn’t be surprised if other suits in other states follow, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some states and jurisdictions take this as a cautionary tale,” she said, adding that this decision may lead states to direct more aid toward helping their neediest students learn to read.

To receive their portion of the settlement grant, each of the 75 schools will design an analysis of its low reading rates and explain how it will spend the money and measure progress. Funding can be used for K–3 literacy coaches, social-emotional learning, bilingual reading specialists, and training teachers on classroom management methods that decrease classroom disruptions.

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Professor, Marsal Family School of Education

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