Op-Ed: SB County Advances on Literacy Reform but California Teachers Union Tanks Statewide Bill

By Cheri Rae and Monie de Wit

The Santa Barbara County Education Office has taken an important step forward in the battle for literacy in public schools, even as powerful political forces in Sacramento appear to have derailed hopes for statewide reading reforms.

On April 11, Ellen Barger, Associate Superintendent, Curriculum and Instruction. made a comprehensive presentation to county school board members about the Science of Reading. . Although the county education office does not formally control curricula, Superintendent Susan Salcido’s embrace of the policy sends a strong message to the county’s 20 school districts—stretching from Carpinteria to Guadalupe—about the need for change.

With less than 40 percent of students countywide demonstrating literacy proficiency, a shake-up in instructional approaches is clearly the direction to go. And following the scientific research about reading clearly is the pathway to follow.

On the very same day, however, came major bad news from Sacramento.

Local literacy leadership was offset when the chair of the Assembly Education Committee, Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), refused to schedule a hearing for AB2222, a key legislative bill that would have required the science of reading taught in California classrooms.

Authored by Assemblymember Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), the bill would have placed California in the company of some 37 other states that have adopted similar legislation. It also included provisions for teacher training, and requirements for textbooks purchased from a list approved by the State Board of Education.

The bill had the support of 16 bi-partisan co-authors; more than 1,000 letters from individuals and 41 from school district leaders; and 69 organizations, including co-sponsors Decoding Dyslexia, EdVoice, and Families in Schools. The California Reading Coalition, the California State Parent Teacher Association and our own Santa Barbara Reading Coalition and The Dyslexia Project, along with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the NAACP California Hawaii Conference, also sent letters of support.

The demise of AB2222

Unmoved by this large coalition, Assembly member Muratsuchi was persuaded instead by the opposition of the California Teachers Association, considered the most powerful lobbying organization in the Capitol.

The union’s opposition was based on claims that the needs of English language learners would not be met, as well as concerns about losing local control, undermining other literacy efforts,, as well as cost. They were joined by the California Association for Bilingual Education, Californians Together, an advocacy group for English Language Learners, and Loyola Marymount University Center for Equity for English Learners.

Such domination of the democratic process is not new by the CTA. Senate Bill 237, co-sponsored by Sen. Monique Limon in 2021-2022, addressed the need for universal screening for dyslexia, which affects one-in-five students, It passed unanimously in the Senate, but like AB 2222, was held up in the Assembly Education Committee and never even brought to the floor.

These are the latest developments in the long-running conflict about literacy instruction at the state level. While powerful union lobbyists and politicians mouth platitudes about engaging stakeholders and serving the needs of a diverse community, and taking time to study the issue, California kids continue to lag behind their counterparts in dozens of states — including Mississippi.

That perpetually low-scoring, high-poverty state has moved up from 49th to 22nd in literacy proficiency, leading many to call it the “Mississippi Miracle.”

But it was no miracle, simply an example of what can happen when informed decision-makers transcend personal beliefs and political positions to work together, developing public policies that are aligned and committed to problem-solving.

The Magnolia State combined leadership, science-based curricula, and emphasis on high-quality professional development and support of teachers to achieve results.

It is Happening Here

Barger’s recent presentation to the school board about the Science of Reading was the most hopeful sign that the students of Santa Barbara County have a better chance at reaching their full potential by attaining the right to read, and the latest evidence of a notable evolution in thinking about literacy here.

There was a clear signal of significant progress in literacy leadership last fall, when we were invited to participate in a workshop hosted by the County Office of Education.

It featured the brilliant researcher, Dr. Maryanne Wolf, to share her insights at an in-person session for local educators. Wolf’s international prominence in literacy and neuroscience has led to her election as one of just 80 permanent members of the Pontifical Academy of Science.

She also is the founder and director of the UCLA Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice.

Her presence in Santa Barbara is about as good as it gets when it comes to bringing settled science into classroom practices. And the follow-up online study sessions of her book, The Reading Brain, simply reinforced our realization that the science of reading is taking hold at the county level.

As longtime advocates in this space, we commend Dr. Salcido and her team for their study, understanding of and commitment to evidence-based instruction, professional training, and support of educators.

While Sacramento continues to play politics at the expense of our children, our county leadership has made clear that there is no need to wait for opposing forces to settle their differences; the children of our county have no more time to wait.

This example serves to empower school district officials, board members, parents, and community members throughout the county to take another look at their literacy instruction practices and how science makes sense.

Find more articles about the Science of Reading here.

Literacy advocates Cheri Rae and Monie de Wit write frequently about the right to read. They do community outreach through The Dyslexia Project and their initiative, Literacy is For Everyone. Contact them at TheDyslexiaProject@gmail.com 

Op-Ed’s are written by community members, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the author’s.
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  1. The Teacher’s unions, once again, proves itself to be an enemy of the people. They are a garbage organization, who only serve the needs of their members. It’s completely perverse that the public has to negotiate with their own civil servants. Their solution to poor performance is always the same, “Give us more money and control”.

  2. The CTA California Teachers Union is extremely powerful and their interests sadly do not align with meeting the need of our most vulnerable students. If we all focused on student need and test scores
    we would be able to give these students the interventions they need to be successful. So sad to me how
    politics and organizations that ought to put vulnerable students needs first simply don’t. Speaking out and
    educating the public on policies that benefit vulnerable students is worthwhile. How have we ever normalized that over half our students can’t read proficiently and sadly math is actually worse. The public needs to be engaged because those that fall through the cracks wind up in the criminal justice system because we failed them in their early years. Sad but true.

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