Early Literacy

Investing in the foundation for future learning and success

We cannot significantly increase the nation’s high school graduation rate unless and until we increase dramatically the number and proportion of children from low-income families who are reading on grade level by the end of third grade. – Ralph Smith, Managing Director, The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

The ability to read is foundational for future learning and success in school and life. By the end of third grade, students are expected to have proficient reading skills so that they can read to learn other subjects and more complex material starting the next year. As a result of years of advocating for a focus on third-grade reading proficiency, the city of Oakland, Oakland Unified School District, and community partners have aligned and are committed to our shared ambitious goal of improving third grade reading proficiency to 85% by the year 2020. While there has been measured improvement, the work is far from over. We’ve only seen third-grade reading proficiency, as measured by the Reading Inventory (formerly the Scholastic Reading Inventory or SRI) assessment, grow by roughly five percentage points in the last four years. (For more information on how third grade reading proficiency is measured click here.) At this rate, it will take a minimum of 25 years to reach our collective 85% goal. Oakland students deserve better. Reaching this goal will take a collaborative effort of families, schools, and community partners working to improve classroom literacy instruction, provide appropriate reading interventions and support services, expand opportunities, and remove barriers to learning that exist outside of school.

By 2020, literacy grantees will provide evidence-based interventions and support services to a minimum of 2,500 K-3 public school students, stronger systems will be in place to support schools to strategically partner with effective and appropriate interventions, and early literacy will be reflected in community priorities and investments, with the shared goal of increasing third-grade reading proficiency to 85%. To accomplish this, the Foundation will focus on supporting early literacy service providers, public schools and school operators, and families of children ages 0-8.


Our Focus on Early Literacy

  • Investing in evidence-based reading interventions and supports for early elementary students and educators. Children have diverse learning needs, and even with effective classroom instruction, there will always be students who require additional support in order to learn to read. Our work in early literacy will focus on identifying and supporting reading intervention providers working with K-3 students to grow their impact by expanding their reach, improving their practice, and strengthening systems for coordination and strategic partnership with schools and educators. Part of identifying high quality evidence-based reading interventions also means investing in the increased capacity to collect, analyze, and use data in service of better serving students. The Foundation remains committed and best positioned to support early literacy programs grounded in academic best practices.
  • Aligning investments across the Foundation’s Quality Schools and Blended Personalized Learning initiatives. A significant portion of the Foundation’s strategy connects through schools as the unit of change. We know that improving classroom instruction is critical for transforming third-grade reading outcomes. Oakland Unified School District’s implementation of a Balanced Approach to Literacy and Common Core aligned reading curriculum and assessments, along with the Foundation’s work in Blended Personalized Learning, are among the efforts underway to equip teachers with new tools and models to boost student achievement and reduce the need for additional intervention outside of the classroom. Through our work in early literacy, the Foundation will support select professional development opportunities to further strengthen the ability of Oakland educators to provide effective and relevant literacy instruction in the early elementary grades.
  • Strengthening the Service Provider Field. The launch of the Oakland Literacy Coalition as a fully operational and independent nonprofit organization in 2016 continues to strengthen the field of literacy service providers to achieve more powerful impact together. While the Foundation and the Coalition continue to work in close alignment, this new structure has been pivotal in enabling both of our organizations to take on separate roles and approaches in how we support the field. As an anchor institution for literacy efforts in the community, the Coalition creates space for literacy providers to come together to learn, collaborate, and champion early literacy. With its newly launched Member Network and expanding staff, the Coalition offers additional capacity to the community including access to pro-bono consulting services for nonprofits, funder engagement, and specialized professional development opportunities. Further, the Coalition plays an instrumental role in coordinating several literacy data projects aimed at measuring programmatic impact, improving classroom alignment, and deepening partner collaboration. The Coalition continues to be a key implementing but autonomous agent for the Foundation’s literacy goals, and the Foundation remains a critical and active partner in the Coalition’s work to strengthen the service provider field.
    • Oakland Reads: Building awareness and community engagement for early literacy and fostering literacy-rich environments. The Coalition continues to spearhead the Oakland Reads campaign to ensure early literacy is reflected in community priorities and investments, as well as connect students and families with literacy resources. Since the 2016-17 school year, the Coalition’s mini-grants program has awarded over $121,607 to organizations and schools to host Family Reading Celebrations and Summer Reading Event, and has distributed over 18,800 books in service of building awareness of early literacy and fostering literacy-rich environments.



LitMap is a joint effort between the Oakland Literacy Coalition, Oakland Unified School District, and Rogers Family Foundation, with the goal of mapping literacy resources across the city of Oakland. The hope is that LitMap will be used by school leaders and decision-makers, teachers, partner organizations, and community members, to get a better sense of the literacy service providers available to best serve our students and families. Visit https://oaklandliteracycoalition.org/resources/litmap/ to explore LitMap.


Oakland Starting Smart and Strong Resources

Oakland Starting Smart and Strong and their partners are researching, developing, and testing solutions that support parents, caregivers, and educators as they prepare children to be healthy and ready for school. Visit http://www.oaklandsmartandstrong.org/resources.html for a complete list of resources and research.


OUSD Balanced Approach to Literacy Implementation Guide

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has developed a Balanced Approach to Literacy (BAL) Implementation Guide to provide a basic introduction to how the District defines this work, outline how the different components of the approach work together, and share links to resources to help teachers implement the approach into their classroom.


Campagin for Grade Level Reading

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort by foundations, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states, and communities across the nation to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship. The Campaign focuses on an important predictor of school success and high school graduation—grade-level reading by the end of third grade.


State of Early Literacy: August 2018

This update aims to refine our Early Literacy strategy based on learnings to date and in light of changes across the Oakland eduction landscape.