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CDE Currents: January/February 2021

The Newsletter for the California Department of Education.

Tony's Message
Resources for Recovery
Budget Overview
Black History Month
The Importance of Civics in Education
Kindness Week
News Briefs (mental health and online resource for teachers)

Tony’s Message

Tony Thurmond

We all begin this new year with great hope for what’s ahead. The global pandemic has created once-in-a-lifetime challenges for our students, families, and educators, and we are eager and enthusiastic about the opportunity to emerge stronger than ever.

As I continue to work with the Governor’s Office, lawmakers, and educational stakeholders on the details of the state’s next spending plan for public schools, there is no question the investments we choose in this moment are an important step to helping our schools urgently and immediately recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. We also must use this time to tackle the access and learning gaps that grew this past year most severely among our students of color, low-income households, children with disabilities, and students learning English.

But let’s be clear: a return to in-person instruction cannot mean a return to the status quo when it is obvious that existing structures were not designed to work for every child. As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic did not create the long-standing inequities we are urgently confronting in public education—it ripped them open even wider.

That means we must double-down on our efforts to level the playing field for a generation of students. It is time once and for all to close the structural access and opportunity gaps in public education that—long before COVID-19—denied every child the chance to achieve academic success.

We need learning acceleration programs, investments in expanded learning programs (including before and after school and summer school programs, as well as tutoring), academic coaching, educator professional development, and more resources for family engagement strategies that help reconnect households that have not been reached for the majority of this school year. Greater investments in mental health also will be critical moving forward to address the severe trauma our students have experienced during this crisis, which we know will have a lasting impact on their ability to learn and succeed through the rest of lives.

Since the onset of this pandemic 11 months ago, my team at the CDE has led the charge to ensure students and educators are supported and that learning continues through comprehensive and ongoing guidance, training, and direct assistance. In just the past few weeks, my team has led statewide webinars on best practices in distance learning and social-emotional learning, engaged thousands of educators in anti-racist teaching practices, and partnered with equity leaders across California to share strategies for removing obstacles to student achievement.

I look forward to continuing to work with all Californians in the months ahead to make sure that we meet the needs of our students during these challenging times. We need to protect our teachers and staff and ensure that they have a safe working environment. We need to ensure that vaccines are available for the essential workers in our schools. And we need to make sure that we have a diverse group of educators who have all the necessary tools to teach and meet the needs of our students during this pandemic and beyond.

Let’s ensure the choices we make now are laser-focused on closing gaps to student success—and leveling the playing field so that every student has a chance to pursue their dreams and prosper in the careers of today and tomorrow.

Resources for Recovery

Teaching wearing a mask, with students wearing masks in a classroom.

CDE Continues Efforts to Mitigate the Effects of COVID-19

Supporting a safe, equitable, and sustainable return to in-person learning continues to be a top priority of the California Department of Education (CDE).

Throughout the pandemic, the CDE has provided resources and guidance to advocate for schools while working with all educational partners to find ways to close the disparities among disadvantaged students that widened during the public health crisis. While there is no “one size fits all” approach to supporting schools in a state as large and diverse as California, there are common needs and concerns shared by every district, such as physical and mental health and safety and addressing learning gaps.

Tools for Health and Safety

Teachers have been nothing short of heroic this school year—finding more and more creative ways to engage students during a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. Along with ensuring student safety, the CDE and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond are encouraged that the state is prioritizing teachers and school employees for vaccines.

Along with vaccine distribution, the CDE and State Superintendent Thurmond are working with the Governor’s Office and lawmakers to explore using any available funds to secure greater COVID-19 testing capacity for schools. Vaccines offer hope. However, California will need to accelerate frequent and rapid coronavirus testing of asymptomatic school staff and students to return to in-person learning. More information can be found on the state’s Safe Schools for All web page External link opens in new window or tab..

Families of socioeconomically disadvantaged students have been especially impacted by these school closures. As result, physical health is not the only concern. Supporting the mental health of students and students’ social and emotional wellness is also a priority as we approach the one-year mark for when COVID-19 first closed schools.

In December, the CDE hosted a webinar for educators called “Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Workshop for School Well-Being” that provided resources and strategies for building supportive connections with students in the virtual world across K–12 grade levels. A second webinar, “Effective Distance Learning Practices and Home-School Connections,” followed soon after. This event highlighted evidence-based distance learning strategies that are working for students, with an emphasis on reaching and supporting students who are historically underserved in public schools. You can view both events on the CDE Facebook page External link opens in new window or tab..

Finally, an important reminder regarding health and safety: As part of the CARES Act relief package allocated to education, public schools in California have $2.1 billion remaining to spend in 2021. School districts are asked to prioritize these funds for addressing the topics mentioned above: implementing adequate safety precautions such as COVID-19 testing and supporting students’ social emotional wellness. In addition, these funds can be used for offsetting learning gaps and dealing with learning loss.

Addressing Learning Gaps

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, many thought schools wouldn’t be closed for longer than a few months.

Now, two months into 2021, the one-year anniversary of the school closures is quickly approaching as discussions regarding when it will be safe to reopen schools for in-person learning continue. However, there is a larger question looming that stands to impact students long after school physically open: What is being done to assist and support students who have struggled during distance learning?

Although districts throughout the state did receive federal money to help mitigate learning gaps and improve the quality of distance learning, studies indicate that the state’s most vulnerable student groups are still at risk of falling behind their peers in language arts and mathematics. The disparities COVID highlighted between disadvantaged students will not go away after the pandemic.

The CDE has maintained its focus on this issue and continues to seek out new ways to accelerate learning and close equity and opportunity gaps. Most recently, CDE leadership hosted a webinar on potential learning and intervention strategies External link opens in new window or tab. with more than 1,000 educators throughout the state to help students who are from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID.

The CDE will continue to provide local educators and districts with the tools, resources, and information that they seek to strengthen learning and help students succeed moving forward. See the CDE Learning Loss Mitigation Funding web page for more information.

Seal of CA Dept of Education

What’s in the Education Budget for 2021?

On January 8, Governor Gavin Newsom submitted his 2021–22 State Budget proposal to the Legislature. While the $227.2 billion fiscal blueprint provides funding for immediate COVID-19 response and relief efforts, it’s also just a starting point for negotiations between the Governor’s administration and the Legislature over the final 2021–22 state budget, which can look different by the time it’s passed.

This year’s proposal includes the highest level ever of Proposition 98 K–14 funding at $85.8 billion, an increase of $14.9 billion over the enacted 2020–21 Budget Act funding level. There are also major investments proposed for safely reopening schools, academic intervention, special education, educator recruitment, student health and well-being, pensions, early learning, adult learning, cost-of-living-adjustments, and more.

The Governor has stated that education is a priority for his office. Through the end of this pandemic and beyond, his proposal advances a “sustained focus on increasing opportunity through education, including early education,” according to his press release External link opens in new window or tab..

Through a statement, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond thanked the Governor for a proposed budget that—until educators, school employees, and communities are vaccinated—addresses main areas of need as public schools consider how to safely resume in-person instruction.

State Superintendent Thurmond also outlined CDE’s values and priorities for the final budget to focus on: “At a time when a global pandemic has created extraordinary challenges for our students, families, and educators, the weeks and months ahead represent the most important moment for public education in a lifetime. The investments we choose must help our schools urgently and immediately recover from this crisis and accelerate learning for the students and families hardest hit by a global pandemic that has deepened historic inequities. Our priorities should not only help our schools emerge safely from the impacts of COVID-19, but should immediately double-down on our efforts to level the playing field for a generation of students.”

State Superintendent Thurmond also thanked the CDE’s Government Affairs Division for their work on translating the budget for everyone to understand the actions and resources that were needed.

View the Governor’s entire budget summary External link opens in new window or tab. here (education spending can be found starting on page 57) on the Department of Finance budget web page External link opens in new window or tab..

CDE 2021 Black History Month Celebration

Black History Committee logo

The California Department of Education’s (CDE) Black History Committee (BHC) is hosting a variety of cultural events in honor of Black History Month. The 2021 theme for this year is The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity. The theme is chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History External link opens in new window or tab. (ASALH), a national organization.

From the days of slavery to current times, the representation, identity, and diversity of the Black family has been an area of study in many academic disciplines; the focus of films, television, and literature; and the topic of social policy. The theme of family provides a unique opportunity to explore the African-American experience both past and present.

This year’s theme also takes on a higher degree of relevancy due to the pandemic. The impact and disruption the COVID public health crisis has had on families—especially in Black and brown communities—has been a discussion point for local and national leaders.

Bakari Sellers holding a book titled My Vanishing Country

During February, the BHC will host virtual activities for CDE staff, including a weekly podcast series that examines different aspects of the Black family and a month-long book club event discussing the book My Vanishing Country, a memoir by former South Carolina State Legislator and CNN contributor Bakari Sellers.

To learn more about this year’s theme and virtual Black History Month events, visit the ASALH website External link opens in new window or tab..

Government of the People, by the People, for the People

CDE Strongly Supports the Essential Role of Civic Learning

In light of recent events at our nation’s capital—and the steady rise of misinformation and threats to democracy in recent years—educators and community members alike are being reminded by the daily news cycle just how important civic learning is for the next generation.

As stated in the CDE’s History-Social Science Framework, a constitutional democracy and its institutions depend on citizens who know how government works, stay informed about and make evidence-based decisions about public issues, and respect the rule of law and free expression. The business community needs an educated population that can think critically, respect the rule of law, and respect the rights of employees and coworkers.

All citizens need to understand such basic concepts as, for example, the roles of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches in the federal government; how they work together; and the importance of the checks and balances put in place within this framework to decentralize power.

Civics programs not only teach these basic fundamentals but provide students a real-life experience to develop participatory skills through school governance and extracurricular activities that encourage civil discourse, working together, and consensus building.

The CDE is supporting civic learning through the following:

State Seal of Civic Engagement Award

The CDE is currently working with local educational agencies (LEAs) to begin awarding the first ever State Seal of Civic Engagement Award (SSCE) to students for the 2020–21 academic year. This award was established by the State Board of Education in September.

To earn the seal, students must demonstrate excellence in civic learning, participation in civics-related projects; contributions to their community; and an understanding of the United States Constitution, the California Constitution, and the American democratic system. Students may earn the seal on a transcript, diploma, or Certificate of Completion. California history and social science teachers worked in partnership with the CDE to develop the statewide criteria.

The CDE is overseeing the process for developing and distributing the insignia to LEAs and is providing ongoing guidance to LEAs through technical assistance videos, presentations, and webinars. Topics will include an overview of the SSCE, implementation guidance, and information about ordering the insignia.

Once an LEA has adopted criteria and programs to award the SSCE to students, they can request insignia from the CDE. The Educator Excellence and Equity Division (EEED) is developing and testing an insignia request form, which is scheduled to be available on the SSCE web page in spring 2021.

The Civic Learning Award for CA Schools

The Civic Learning Award for California Schools was introduced in 2013 and included a series of programs and resources geared at revitalizing statewide civic education:

The POD Steering Committee oversees the Civic Learning Awards application process. The annual awards spotlight people and programs elevating a school’s fundamental commitment to civics. This year, they are seeking applications External link opens in new window or tab. from schools with one program that supports, promotes, and improves civic learning and advocacy opportunities for students. They are also seeking applications for a “champion of civics” award, which will be awarded to business owners, school personnel, parents, and members of the general public who have taken on the charge to make sure California students take part in their democracy.

Professional Learning Opportunities for Civic Education

There are multiple resources to support civic education, especially for educators.

The Content, Literacy, Inquiry, and Citizenship (CLIC) Project External link opens in new window or tab. hosts a YouTube channel External link opens in new window or tab. that contains videos to support educators and administrators as they implement the History-Social Science Framework, including videos on fostering student advocacy External link opens in new window or tab. and classroom approaches to civic learning External link opens in new window or tab. . A network of regional CLIC Leads External link opens in new window or tab. can help direct teachers to resources that support implementation of the SSCE. The CLIC Project is also developing a SSCE web page External link opens in new window or tab. to house resources to support local implementation of the SSCE.

The California History-Social Science Project External link opens in new window or tab. also hosts a statewide network of sites that offer professional learning for educators. The History and Civics Project at UC Santa Cruz External link opens in new window or tab. regional site specifically focuses on issues related to civic engagement.

Both the Los Angeles County Office of Education External link opens in new window or tab. and the Monterey County Office of Education External link opens in new window or tab. host web pages that post information on webinars and other resources to support civic engagement and SSCE implementation.

United States Senate Youth Program

The CDE Executive Office is currently scoring applications for the United States Senate Youth Program, an annual scholarship competition administered by the CDE that provides an opportunity for high school students with demonstrated leadership abilities to deepen their understanding of America's political processes and strengthen resolve to pursue careers in public service. Two students from each state will be selected to attend the online program, and each will receive a $10,000 undergraduate college scholarship.

These are only a few examples of the vast array of resources that are available to support civic education as we educate our future leaders and elected officials. You will find more resources on the CDE Resources to Support Civic Engagement

Uniting Students Through Kindness

Great Kindness Challenge logo

The California Department of Education (CDE) wrapped up the weeklong Great Kindness Challenge® (GKC), which took place from January 25–29. The GKC, presented by Kids for Peace, is a global, proactive bullying-prevention initiative that educators and students can use to create a culture of kindness.

The theme for this year’s nationwide event was Kindness Unites. As the year 2020 ended with political unrest, a surging pandemic, and global protests against racial and social injustice, the healing and unifying power of kindness was needed more than ever in 2021. The CDE, in partnership with the GKC, encouraged all teachers, staff, and students of child care centers, preschools, and schools to participate in the event. Whether in person or in a virtual setting, children can learn the importance of kindness and how the smallest act of kindness can have a big impact.

A kid wearing a shirt saying, be you be kind

The GKC theme was also in step with the CDE’s Education to End Hate initiative. The initiative was designed to empower educators and students to confront the hate, bigotry, and racism rising in communities across the state and nation. The GKC supported this effort by providing positive solutions and resources that actively engage students, staff, families, and communities in creating a culture of kindness, compassion, acceptance, and mutual respect.

To learn more about the GKC, visit the Great Kindness Challenge website External link opens in new window or tab..

News Briefs

Partnering for Mental Health Support and Improving School Well-Being

Earlier this month, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond joined the Coalition for School Well-being, a public/private partnership dedicated to making social emotional learning (SEL), mental health, and racial and social justice the cornerstones of California education. He’ll serve as Honorary Chair for the coalition, which amplifies the important message from the State Superintendent that one of our top priorities in California education is to support the mental health and well-being of our educators and students—our next generation of leaders.

In a press conference on January 12, 2021, the coalition announced that it will provide free transformative curriculum and tools for teachers and students. This comes at a time when depression and suicide rates among youth and teens are on the rise. And, all over the country, teachers are experiencing elevated levels of stress and anxiety.

SEL4CA Coalition for School Well-being is a partnership between SEL4CA, the Social Emotional Learning Alliance of California; Headspace, a global leader in mindfulness and meditation; Beyond Differences, a student-led organization dedicated to ending social isolation in our schools; Array 101, founded by acclaimed artist and activist, Ava DuVernay; Kevin Love Fund, founded by the star athlete and advocate for the de-stigmatization of mental health and prioritization of wellness; and MindUP, a mindfulness nonprofit developed by the Goldie Hawn Foundation.

Each of the partners supported the launch of the coalition and will promote other activities throughout 2021, including National No One Eats Alone Day, International SEL Day, Mental Health Awareness Month, and more. Learn more about the coalition and its partners at External link opens in new window or tab. .

CDE is also part of another coalition called Project Cal-Well, which promotes mental health awareness and wellness among California's K–12 students. This five-year campaign was initially launched by the CDE with three Southern California local educational agencies (LEAs) from 2014–19 and is now in its second cycle (2019–2024) with a partnership between three LEAs in Northern California: the Humboldt, Stanislaus and Sacramento county offices of education. Please see the CDE Project Cal-Well web page for resources on school climate, SEL, and mental health.

More mental health resources can be found on the CDE Mental Health web page.

Online Resource for Teachers

Interested in becoming a teacher? Or know someone who is? A good starting point for more information is the External link opens in new window or tab. website, which provides information specific to California on starting and average salaries, how to become certified and determining if teaching is the right career choice. The site was developed with the assistance of CDE and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing External link opens in new window or tab. .

Recruiting qualified teachers and encouraging them to stay in the profession are some of the biggest challenges in public education today. According to, in California, approximately 307,470 teachers worked in public school classrooms in 2018-19, reflecting a gradual increase since 2011-12 when there were only about 284,000 public school teachers. But the number is still below the more than 310,000 employed in 2007-08, the year before the great recession first hit.


CDE Currents is the monthly newsletter from the California Department of Education. It is written and produced by CDE employees.

Editor: Scott Roark
Co-Editors: Dina Fong, Jonathan Mendick, Katina Oliphant
Writers: Cynthia Butler, Dan Thigpen, Dina Fong, Jonathan Mendick, Scott Roark

Design and Layout: Scott Roark
Illustration: Jesse Nix
Web Production: CDE Web Services Office

Would you like to contribute? Do you have story ideas to pass along? Send your ideas and inquiries to We welcome your participation.

Questions:   Communication |
Last Reviewed: Thursday, February 4, 2021