October 14, 2021
State Superintendent Tony Thurmond Announces Co-Chairs for Task Force to Improve Black Student Achievement
SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced during a virtual press conference on Thursday a new effort to support and improve Black student achievement in the state of California with the creation of a task force. The task force co-chairs, listed below, bring leadership and expertise in the area of improving Black student achievement.
In order to advance this goal, Superintendent Thurmond said the task force brings together practitioners, advocates, researchers, foundation partners, thought leaders, students, parents, and other experts to identify key strategies. Efforts are underway in the California Department of Education (CDE) to establish when the task force will meet and details on the types of questions they will be tackling.
“I am committed to the success of all six million of our students but we feel we are in a moment where we need to be explicit in calling out the opportunity to support Black student achievement,” said Superintendent Thurmond. “This is not a new question. This is a conversation that we have had in every state in this nation for quite some time, yet this achievement and opportunity gap has persisted, and this is our opportunity to be intentional and to do important work about it. We have more than two dozen schools that have some of the highest rates of racial segregation and poverty in our state. These experiences call out for us to make change. We have to overcome environmental injustices, overcome health disparities, overcome racism and all these barriers that have impacted our students.”
Task Force Co-Chairs:
- Dr. Pedro Noguera, Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean of the USC Rossier School of Education
- Dr. Tyrone Howard, Pritzker Family Endowed Chair in the School of Education at UCLA, Director of the UCLA Center for Transformation of Schools, and the Director of the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families
- Dr. Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Professor of History, African American Studies, and Urban Planning; the Thomas E. Lifka Endowed Chair; and Director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA
- Dr. Joseph Johnson, Founding Executive Director of the National Center for Urban School Transformation at the San Diego State University Research Foundation
- Desiree Carver-Thomas, Researcher and Policy Analyst, Learning Policy Institute
Thurmond’s plan for increasing the performance of Black students is expected to center on legislation and may include resources to support Black students who attend schools that are highly segregated by race and ethnicity and with high poverty rates. The task force will also highlight best practices and make recommendations for improving Black student achievement. Thurmond pointed to the current state budget, which provides $1.5 billion toward diversifying the teacher work force, $10 million for anti-racism grants, and $2.8 billion for Community Schools grants.
Superintendent Thurmond said he will work with members of the California Legislative Black Caucus to develop and introduce the legislation, and he anticipates that the legislation and the overall strategy could include many components, such as restorative justice and other programs, to reduce disproportionate suspensions and to expand teacher of color programs that have been proven to improve performance for students of color and for all students. The legislation may also include resources to reduce chronic absenteeism; to address the needs of students with disabilities; and to provide resources to districts with high percentages of racial segregation, poverty, and socioeconomic factors affecting the experience of Black students.
“It is no surprise that the achievement gap remains unclosed and, like so many instances of inequity, it’s only been exasperated by the pandemic,” stated Senator Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), a legislative partner who has expressed strong desire to work on issues of Black student achievement. “We also know that student success is not only predicated on what happens within a classroom environment, but on the multitude of environmental factors impacting our students. These task force co-chairs are unafraid to lead into uncomfortable discussions about race and about equity, so I’m really excited for the opportunity for us to be uncomfortable for a while as we tackle some hard truths about what we are doing and what we’re not doing.”
Dr. Noguera noted in his remarks that that although the population of Black students has declined significantly in California, the problems and experiences have not diminished. Dr. Noguera said that these are simply not educational issues and go beyond the classroom and impact the quality of life. He also highlighted Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science, a magnet high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District that offers rich learning opportunities for students and provides internships and high-quality instruction in a supportive environment. Because of these factors, the magnet high school sees more Black students accepted into the University of California system than any other school in the state.
“We don’t have to make this a mystery; we know what they need. The challenge is: How do we bring that kind of an education to more Black children throughout the state?” asked Dr. Noguera. “The real problems are in the places where Black children are the minority, where their parents’ voices are not being heard, where they are too easily dismissed and are too easily mistreated.”
“This work is not for the faint of heart,” said Dr. Howard, who pointed out that if all 380,000 Black students in the state were to make up their own school district, it would be the third-largest district in the nation, even larger than districts in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Houston. “There will be people who will criticize it, people who will say it’s not necessary and say this is taking away from other students. Helping Black students does not take away any other groups of students in the state of California. The bottom line is we have to get this right.”
Before ending the press conference, State Superintendent Thurmond said that a single slight against any child regardless of background cannot be accepted and that race and racism have played a significant factor in impacting children. “We have signed into law an ethnic studies requirement in order to graduate from high school. That means that our students will have a chance to learn about people of color and their contributions to this state. Black, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Native American students will be able to have provided to them examples of the contributions of their ancestors to make this a great state, but those contributions will be shared as a benefit for all students. Teachers want to start leading these critical conversations in the classroom right now.”
Recently, a peer-reviewed study appeared in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” that found that a ninth grade ethnic studies course in San Francisco was associated with positive outcomes including increased high school graduation, attendance, and the probability of enrolling in college.
“I’m grateful to all our co-chairs for their incredible research, and we expect to make more announcements about the task force and, of course, the strategies for moving forward,” said Thurmond.Organizations interested in working on this effort with State Superintendent Thurmond and the CDE should contact Blake Johnson, Legislative Policy Representative, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Tony Thurmond —
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100