I once believed that improving reading at a failing school could be a finite job. I thought it meant bringing in a new curriculum, showing teachers how to use it and then lingering long enough to ensure that students receive consecutive years of high-quality instruction.

I was terribly wrong, but my misbelief brought me to work on California’s Early Literacy Support Block (ELSB) grant, and for that I’m grateful.

The early literacy grant resulted from a class-action lawsuit. Students sued California for lacking a plan to address low reading achievement. The result was a $53 million settlement to provide the state’s lowest-performing schools with supplemental funding and guidance. A recent evaluation by researchers at Stanford University found the focus on early literacy turned out to be worth more than the grant’s dollar amount — the program was 13 times more effective than general increases in school spending.

During an EdSource Roundtable on literacy, Mark Rosenbaum, lead attorney in the lawsuit noted, “If this is a pilot program, it has succeeded. We don’t need a task force; we don’t need more studies; we just need a commitment to expand it to every kid, every teacher and every school.”

Improving reading instruction requires a literacy plan backed by strong leadership. It means coordinating resources, monitoring progress, and changing course when needed. It demands making decisions based on evidence, not adult preferences, and prioritizing early literacy so that every child gets off to a good start reading.

I was on a team that helped eligible schools draft literacy action plans for the grant funding. I’d hoped this work would inform statewide planning, but despite the program’s success, California is no closer to a literacy plan.

And worse, in a few months, schools like mine will lose the funding and support that made us briefly successful.

Read the full article about early literacy by Margaret Goldberg at EdSource.