September 21, 2021
State Superintendent Tony Thurmond Announces Creation of Task Force and Legislation to Ensure Every California Student Learns to Read by Third Grade
SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced a bold vision for ensuring that every California student will learn to read by third grade by the year 2026 during a virtual press conference on Tuesday. The effort will also include a biliteracy milestone for dual-language learners.
In order to advance this goal, Superintendent Thurmond said a task force will be created to bring together practitioners, advocates, researchers, foundation partners, thought leaders, students, parents, and other experts to identify key strategies for advancing this goal. Efforts are underway in the California Department of Education (CDE) to build out a task force structure and membership, as well as establish when the task force will meet and details on the types of questions they will be tackling. In addition to announcing the task force formation, Superintendent Thurmond affirmed that Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) has agreed to sponsor legislation to help advance this goal.
“We already know that when students learn to read, they can read to learn anything, and that this is a gateway skill that can carry them to any point in their life, career, and in their journey,” Thurmond said. “We also know that when students don’t learn to read by third grade, they are at greater risk to drop out of school, and they are at greater risk to end up in the criminal justice system. From my standpoint, this is a strategy that is about many things: helping children learn to read, but also putting them on a path that can create success for them. Our students can learn and overcome obstacles, but we have to give them the resources to do that, and now is clearly the time to advance this.”
The legislation, to be formally introduced in 2022, will be informed by recommendations that come out of the task force and could include providing resources for advancing literacy and biliteracy goals through professional learning to teach reading, family engagement strategies, and methods for getting books in the hands of students and their families, just to name a few. Superintendent Thurmond anticipates that the legislation will lay out a multifaceted strategy that considers issues of readiness, chronic absenteeism, needs of students with disabilities and multilingual learners, early education, and socio-economic factors that impact a student’s ability to learn to read.
“I look forward to working closely with you all in the coming weeks and months on improving childhood literacy and biliteracy,” said Assemblymember Bonta during the press conference. “Literacy for every child in California has been a lifelong passion for me, and, quite frankly, it is what I believe to be the surest path toward justice and a true democracy in our state and in this country. I applaud Superintendent Thurmond for this targeted campaign. It is a bold, aggressive agenda. I’m on board and willing to make sure that we have the ability to provide legislation that is going to be meaningful and focus on implementation and making this a reality for every single child in this state. Literacy is the key to equity; it forms the foundation of our educational capacity and achievement, and we are going to fight together for literacy, equity, and justice moving forward.”
Several other participants in the press conference shared their personal stories and encouraged statewide support for literacy and biliteracy for all students regardless of their social and economic background.
Jackie Thu-Huong Wong, Chief Deputy Director from First 5 California, highlighted the program’s “Talk, Read, Sing” campaign that focuses on early brain development. According to Wong, a baby’s brain is wired for learning at birth, and the facts are staggering: 700 new neural connections are formed every second, and billions of neurons connect in the first 100 days of life. These are connections that build brain architecture and the foundation of learning and behavior.
“California has to work together to prioritize that early care learning of its youngest children,” said Wong. “We believe that early targeted literacy interventions can improve outcomes for an entire generation of Californian’s children, and we are so grateful and look forward to working with Superintendent Thurmond and the team to make literacy a reality for all California kids.”
Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Fairfield), Liaison to the state’s Advisory Commission on Special Education, shared a heartfelt and personal story of his own childhood battle overcoming dyslexia. “It was embarrassing, humiliating, and I was always being called stupid or lazy,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we can take this role and this task force going forward to make so many differences in people’s lives—not only the societal changes and benefits, but also the economic prosperity of people’s education is the way to success, and I am looking forward to being a part of this and creating new paths.”
“This has been an incredibly challenging year for our students, our educators, and their families,” E. Toby Boyd, President of the California Teachers Association, said. “The pandemic has shined a light on the challenges that our schools and communities face in serving the six million students in our system. I, along with my 310,000 educators, are ready to work with Superintendent Thurmond, Assemblymembers Bonta and Frazier, and the members of the task force to develop thoughtful strategies and policies for our youngest learners and also for the future of California public education.”
Before ending the press conference, Superintendent Thurmond encouraged those interested in participating in this new literacy effort or who wish to learn more to email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thurmond also called for efforts to get books in the hands of as many students and families as possible.
An archived broadcast of the full press conference with American Sign Language interpretation service can be viewed on the CDE Facebook page .
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Tony Thurmond —
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100