School is for learning to read. It’s a logical assumption, then, that students in Berkeley public schools are graduating with the ability to read and understand — unlocking a world of information. Unfortunately, that assumption doesn’t hold true for many students.

Berkeley students, for too long, have succeeded along the lines of race and ethnicity. According to the 2022 California Smarter Balanced Assessments, 67% of Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) students are reading at grade level, which is greater than the state average of 47%. Broken down by demographics, however, this statistic isn’t one to be proud of. While 83% of white students in BUSD read well, only 30% of Black students in BUSD met or exceeded the state standard in English Language Arts (ELA). This 53-point gap between racial groups in BUSD is the fifth largest in the state.

One reason for the gap may be that BUSD uses a discredited reading curriculum — the Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project “Units of Study,” by Lucy Calkins — a program whose faults have been covered extensively by EdSource, TIME magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and even CNN. This curriculum fails to provide the explicit teaching of foundational skills that all students need to succeed.

“My oldest son dropped out of Berkeley High School at the age of 15, deeply ashamed of his inability to read and keep up in any class — from math to science — because of his unaddressed dyslexia,” said Rebecca Levenson, BUSD parent and Reading for Berkeley member. 

“It’s worth mentioning he passed elementary school with high marks. He was, and is, smart, charming, and creative. It wasn’t until he got to middle school that we realized how large the deficit was and by then it was too late.”

Fortunately, our school system is reviewing the way it is teaching kids how to read and is beginning to make changes to help educators follow evidence-based practices. Much of this is happening because of a settled federal class-action lawsuit against BUSD

We want to help BUSD create change. And a key part of change is community awareness.

Reading for Berkeley has worked hard to build bridges between parents, educators, community members, and BUSD leadership. Recently, Reading for Berkeley created a guide to help families navigate the path to reading success — the result is a comprehensive toolkit that teaches families about key educational rights and what questions to ask to ensure their kid is on track for grade-level reading. We believe many families benefit from a single source that endorses working together with schools to help all kids learn to read. 

“When you awaken from the vague sense that something’s not right with your kid’s reading to full awareness, it can feel so overwhelming and disheartening. You want to advocate for your kid, but you don’t know where to start. Who do you talk to? What do you ask for?” explains Kenni Alden, co-founder of the Right to Read Project. 

“With this resource, Reading for Berkeley gives families a place to start. It’s a one-stop shop for understanding the issues and preparing to take action. The settlement will only lead to meaningful, lasting change if families stay engaged and continue to — respectfully! — ask the tough questions. The Toolkit makes that effort manageable.”

Currently, the guide is available in English. Other languages will follow.

Berkeley kids need a quality education that includes early, successful reading. We can help families become more aware of how they can help achieve that goal. Those interested in downloading the toolkit or getting our newsletter may visit

Lindsay Nofelt, Eliza Noh, Elise Proulx and Julie Obbard are members of Reading for Berkeley, an initiative led by a group of educational partners and coalition members, working to help ensure that all Berkeley Unified School District students, regardless of color, socio-economic status, or disability learn to read.