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California Reading Curriculum Report

Reading is the most fundamental skill children must learn to succeed in school and in life.  But today, half of California's students do not read at grade level.  What's worse, among low-income students of color, over 65% read below grade level.  Few ever catch up.

There is a nationwide push for more effective reading programs. But what programs do California school districts use today? The California Reading Curriculum Report brings together for the first time information on the programs used by over 300 of California's largest school districts.

Key Findings (check out the full report for more graphs, tables, and more)

  • Despite “local control,” 81% of districts use one of just three reading programs: McGraw Hill’s Wonders, Benchmark’s Advance, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Journeys. Wonders and Advance alone are used by 72% of districts.

  • Fewer than 2% of districts use programs generally viewed as following the science of reading, including the building of background knowledge, such as those identified by the Knowledge Matters Campaign.

  • There is no strong relationship between the program used and student achievement – the same programs are used by both high and low-performing districts. 

  • The one exception is Heinemann’s Teachers College Units of Study (often referred to by its author, Lucy Calkins). Forty-four percent of districts using Calkins were in the lowest-achieving quintile of all California districts*, especially surprising since half of Calkins’ districts have among the fewest high-need students. This program has received significant negative attention in the past few years, including the lowest rating from EdReports.

Even with "local control," California has created a de-facto statewide standard for teaching reading, without the benefit of formal discussion or policymaking. Unfortunately, the results are not very good.  Addressing this weakness is a critical part of addressing our state-level reading crisis. 


Want to know more about how we gathered our data?  Check out our Sources & Notes page.

* Student achievement is measured using the approach developed for the California Reading Report Card.

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