Foundational Skills - Kenneth Rainin Foundation

Foundational Skills

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation partners on initiatives to bolster instruction and literacy development in kindergarten through second grade.

After the immediate success of SEEDS of Learning in transitional kindergarten (TK), we found that to maintain a child’s learning trajectory to third grade, literacy instruction and intervention in kindergarten through second grade (K-2) had to improve. In partnership with Oakland Unified School District, Education for Change Public Schools and Aspire Public Schools, pilot initiatives were designed and launched to bolster instruction and intervention of literacy decoding. These systems-level initiatives involved adopting curriculum and assessment, staffing literacy directors and coaches within each organization, staffing part-time literacy tutors in K-2 classrooms and funding literacy nonprofits to expand school systems’ training and coaching capacity.

In the first year of the pilot, the percentage of Education for Change kindergartners ready for first grade jumped from 30 percent to 75 percent. The percentage of first graders ready for second grade grew 12 percent in its first year.

A group of young children standing in a circle with their hands stacked on top of each other in the center.
Photo credit: Stephanie Secrest

SEEDS of Learning

Children learn through relationships, which is why we need to invest in the adults who interact with them. The Kenneth Rainin Foundation supports FluentSeeds, a national literacy building nonprofit and the permanent home of SEEDS of Learning in Oakland. SEEDS of Learning is a relationship-based professional development program that provides educators, parents and caregivers with strategies to build social, emotional, language and literacy skills in young children so they are ready to succeed in kindergarten. Early Development Instrument results from 2020 showed that only 44% of students entered kindergarten ready, so the need for a strong and comprehensive support program is clear.

During the pilot year in 2014, more than 60 pre-kindergarten and transitional kindergarten teachers participated in a summer training and nine months of ongoing professional development and coaching. The results were astounding—in SEEDS transitional kindergarten classrooms, 30% more children were on target to be successful readers compared to students with teachers who did not participate in SEEDS of Learning.

The chart below shows the percentage of children in 2017-18 SEEDS classrooms who progressed to be near, at, or above targets for key skills that are predictive of school readiness.

Chart that shows the percentage of children in our 2017-18 SEEDS classrooms who progressed to be near, at, or above targets for key skills that are predictive of school readiness. Vocabulary progressed from 71% to 96% with SEEDS. Letter Naming progressed from 56% to 96%. Rhyming progressed from 46% to 92%. Alliteration progressed from 46% to 93%. Letter Sounds progressed from 34% to 95%.

The SEEDS of Learning model is based on current research in early childhood education, child development, emergent literacy and effective teaching. Developed by Kate Horst, this program is at work in seven states with over 11,000 children. Visit the FluentSeeds website to learn more.

Early Literacy Kings

In our foundational skills and SEEDS of Learning initiatives, we recognized the need for a healthy teacher and tutor workforce. With fewer people entering the traditional teacher certification pathway, our school systems partnered with families in an entirely new way. Family members and neighbors received training and coaching to provide evidence-based interventions to students daily. Aside from the literacy gains students experienced, the qualitative value of diversifying the ethnic and linguistic representation of adults in the classroom was significant. Oakland Unified School District’s Early Childhood Education Department and Office of Equity designed a project aimed at increasing the number of Black and Brown male tutors in Oakland classrooms. The project became known as the Early Literacy Kings project, in honor of Kingmakers of Oakland.

Supported in part by a multi-year grant from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, Early Literacy Kings recruits men of color between the ages of 18 and 24 to be highly skilled classroom tutors. These tutors–or “Kings,” as they’re called–are placed in classrooms where they gain hands-on experience, while also receiving professional development, mentorship and other supports to help them navigate the system and pursue successful careers in education. Early Literacy Kings uses SEEDS of Learning and their own unique approach built on educating the whole child and having a two-way street of mutual respect. Shifting the narrative around who is to be a teacher is important for students; a growing body of research confirms that students benefit when teachers share their race or gender

In its first year, students in classrooms with Early Literacy Kings achieved slightly higher literacy acceleration than other students.

Edward, Villanueva, and Early Literacy King, wearing a black face mask, holding up a sign that reads “circle” with a picture of a blue circle in one hand. He holds a plastic blue circle in another hand that a child points to.
Edward Villanueva, an Early Literacy King, helps two students develop early literacy skills at Lockwood STEAM Academy in Oakland. Photo courtesy of Early Literacy Kings