education Blog

Connecting Research to Our Daily Work with Children

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation invests in research to ensure that Oakland families and teachers are receiving “best in field” resources to help children be enthusiastic and skillful learners.

Last year, we asked NORC at the University of Chicago to help us answer three questions:

  1. What skills matter the most for school readiness?
  2. What literacy programs and practices have big impact?
  3. What do Oakland families want, believe and value?

Dr. Marc Hernandez of NORC at the University of Chicago has been our key partner in this work; thank you, Marc! We are immensely grateful to our dedicated partners who helped us develop interview questions, educators around the country who shared their years of knowledge, and the Oakland families that gave extraordinarily of their time.

Sharing the Research Findings

The Foundation recently co-hosted a series of community conversations with our partners—Oakland practitioners, educators, funders, community advocates and families—to talk about this research and discuss how we might use the findings to build on our work together. We invite you to dive in, explore the data and share it with your colleagues.

National Research on School Readiness and Effective Practices in Kinder-2nd Grade Literacy Instruction

NORC’s national research uncovered key skills and effective practices and programs that help to ensure children are ready for school and reading successfully by third grade.


Dr. Marc Hernandez, of NORC at the University of Chicago, presents our research to the Oakland Literacy Coalition.

Key Takeaways:

  • Children learn academic skills in the context of their relationships and social emotional development, and the way they approach learning.
  • Children’s early vocabulary is one of the biggest and most well studied predictors of later success in school and life. We also know more about how key skills in math—especially spatial reasoning, numbers, measurement and patterns build success later in school. The scientific method is also a powerful way to build science content with language and literacy and math skills.
  • Children’s approach to learning—their persistence, attention, motivation, curiosity and a learning mindset—strongly predicts later math, reading and science achievement
  • Children’s ability to understand their emotions, have empathy for others and build relationships with peers and adults is also strongly connected to later academic success.

View the findings from the kindergarten–2nd grade nationwide literature review here.

View the findings on school readiness here.

Household Survey of Oakland Families

Parents and caregivers are children’s first teachers, and our community wants to better understand how we can support the dreams they have for their children.  An unprecedented 97% of eligible families agreed be interviewed, welcoming us into their homes and lives.

“The (PreK-2) lit reviews and the household survey are going to feed us and guide us for years to come…The data is seriously actionable.”– Participant at our community conversation

Over a three month period, NORC field investigators conducted 440 90-minute household interviews with families of children ages birth to six, in 16 elementary school communities in Oakland to learn about their overall life experiences, what their daily life is like, how their children are developing and what resources and services help strengthen their families.

Hats off to our Oakland families! We were not surprised by the many ways they are building  their children’s future.

Key Takeaways:

One of many Oakland families who was interviewed for our household survey.

One of 400 Oakland families interviewed for our household survey.

  • Oakland families engage in numerous activities with their children—they have meals together, play, talk, read, sing and go to the library. In fact 68% of families regularly use the library!
  • Many families understand the benefits for early reading practices, like adding descriptions and asking questions when reading to their toddlers.
  • Families often underestimate how puzzles, building blocks and reading books repeatedly can build school readiness skills.
  • Parents rely on extended family to receive advice, find services and get help. Over 70% have contact with family members several times a week.
  • Most families are not connected to any services.
  • Many families experience a great deal of stress—20% of families have had four or more adverse child experiences but the national average is 12.5.
  • Families are resilient—79% of families feel stronger because of what they’ve been through.
  • Families have access to technology with almost everyone connected via smart phone or tablet.
  • Almost all families feel it is very important to maintain their home language.

This is just a small sample of the findings. We are still analyzing the data. Stay tuned for more!

View the preliminary findings from our household interviews here.

Fairyland Thank You to Oakland Families

Reading a book from the book giveaway. Photo credit: Stephanie Secrest

To show our appreciation for their time and insights, we invited the Oakland families to be our guests at Children’s Fairyland. On a beautiful sunny day, we shared what we had learned and thanked families. Special thanks to our Children’s Fairyland partners for helping us host this great party.

Top photo: Taking a seat at Children’s Fairyland to enjoy a new book. Photo credit: Stephanie Secrest

Paula Ambrose

Paula Ambrose

Program Officer, Education

Paula manages the grantmaking for the Foundation’s early literacy initiatives. Read more.

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