Responding to protests against the planned closure of its highly successful reading clinic for special education students, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has scheduled a community meeting “to discuss the future of the Reading Clinic,” Thursday, June 1, 6 p.m., at Cole Auditorium, 1101 Union St. in Oakland.
OUSD says its latest financial crisis compels it to close this program and decrease other support for students and schools next year.
District leaders say a projected budget shortfall requires program cuts, reduced supplemental staffing for schools, and the elimination of dozens of district workers’ positions. But many community members and educators argue that the district should balance its budget by lowering spending on administration and outside contracts, which is now $55 million above the county norm. They criticize planned cuts to schools and programs like the Reading Clinic.
Lisa Blakely’s daughter has been going to the Reading Clinic for two years. She recalls that when her daughter entered the program at the beginning of sixth grade, she was reading at the pre-Kindergarten level.
Now she is completing seventh grade and reading “at a fifth grade level, at least,” says Blakely. “It’s made a huge difference in her self-esteem. She says ‘Mom, look I can read.’ She’s learned to read, so now she can read to learn.”
Each year the Reading Clinic serves about 70 students with reading disabilities. Most are bussed from their schools to centers at three elementary schools around the city. Each reading specialist works with two students in daily sessions of about 100 minutes.
The program’s lead teacher, Daniel Silberstein, says the results of multiple assessments demonstrate dramatic success. For example, 90 percent of students entering the clinic since 2012 began at the first percentile (bottom 1%) of students their age in the ability to read a passage fluently.
More than a third of these students exited the program with fluency between the 30th and 50th percentiles. Most made this progress in a single year.
“The impact of that leap is far reaching,” Silberstein says. “Even if a student is still not at grade level, he or she now has the ability to understand what they’re reading and be part of the discussion.