Like most of us, I don’t remember very much about learning how to read. I just remember loving it. I read in the car, I read while walking down stairs, which drove my parents crazy, and I frequently had to be chided to put the book down and go outside and play. My daughter, 12, was much the same, so honestly until we launched California’s Reading Dilemma, a series digging into why nearly 60% of California children don’t meet state standards by third grade, I had never given much thought to how reading is taught.

I assumed reading might come naturally, like walking and talking. I was wrong. It turns out that while some children will learn to read no matter how you teach them, many will struggle unless they get the kind of lessons they need. This disconnect between what the exhaustive scientific research tells us about how kids learn and what actually happens in the classroom is what we’ve tried to explore in this special project.

Now, I want to cut to the chase for time-pressed parents and caregivers about the bottom line on the literacy crisis, an ongoing problem deepened by pandemic learning loss. I reached out to a group of literacy experts and advocates to ask them what parents most need to know about early literacy given the national debate over how best to teach reading. What should parents do, especially if they notice their child is falling behind?


This is the ninth in an occasional series on the dramatic national push to revamp how reading is being taught in the earliest grades. This EdSource special report examines the state of early reading in California, the needs of special learners, teacher preparation and training and curricula and textbooks that drive instruction.

Rose Ciotta, investigations and projects editor

I asked them all to answer this one question: If you could ensure that every parent in California knows one thing about how their child is being taught to read or what to look out for, what would it be? Here is their advice. 

My personal takeaway is a renewed sense of optimism. The reading crisis is unsettling, but the fact remains that we already know how to help kids who struggle to read. If your gut is telling you that your child needs help, listen to it. Many parents have walked this road before you. Take heart. 

Lakisha Young, founder and CEO of Oakland Reach, a parent advocacy organization, wants parents to feel empowered to lobby for their children’s needs at school.

Lakisha Young

“You can, and must, ask questions. The sooner the better. Ask how many kids are reading at or above grade level at your school. Ask if the curriculum is evidence-based — is it working? Ask for a comprehensive assessment of your child. Your child may have a learning need that will impact their literacy journey.

“The earlier you know, the better for your child and your family. Ask for a game plan. If your child needs additional support, you want to understand how your school plans to address those needs.”