CDE Ed Talks Podcast Episode 4
CDE News Update: June 26 Update from Superintendent Thurmond
Published: June 27, 2019, Duration: 00:15:00
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond talks about his new statewide literacy campaign, charter school authorization, and the state budget.
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Cynthia Butler: You're listening to a CDE news update on CDE Ed Talks.
This is Cynthia Butler. Thank you for listening to CDE Ed Talks. State Superintendent Tony Thurmond is hosting bi-weekly media check-ins to provide an overview of what the CDE is focused on, and updates from his office. In his media check-in on June 26th he talked about his new statewide literacy campaign, budget updates, and the panel on charter authorization. He also answered questions from the media. Here's what he had to say.
State Superintendent Tony Thurmond: Thank you. Good morning everyone. Thanks for joining us as we continue, to track “This Week in Education,” as I like to call it. We'd like to start by talking to you about our efforts to address literacy. But way of context, many of you know that sadly that more than 50% of students in California did not meet standards in ELA [English Language Arts] in 2017. And if you break down the performance around literacy by subgroups, for African-Americans, for immigrant students and for others, and students from low-income backgrounds, we see that there is a wide disparity and huge challenges that what I would say lead up to what we call the opportunity gap. And we've got a lot of work to do.
We are naming a statewide literacy campaign. We're going to work to make sure that kids learn to read by 3rd grade, that there are literacy interventions that can work with older students who need help in getting on grade level. We've been able to move some resources to some communities that have high need to help us start this conversation around literacy. We're building a plan that looks at everything from professional development, to how we engage families so that they feel comfortable reading to their children, and then making sure that there are books—there are books in communities, there are books in libraries and books in schools and school libraries. And so we're going to continue to do that work.
We're pleased to announce that we've been able to make some funding available to districts to support literacy. This week we announced $500,000 grants to support literacy that went out to two counties that demonstrate high need: Tulare County and Riverside County. We'll be working with those counties on how they finalize their plan and customize them to the needs of their communities. But they demonstrated high need and we're pleased to be able to move some resources in their direction. This is on the heels of what we announced at this last meeting, more than $400,000 that were provided to some 90 after-school program vendors to do summer literacy activities. Some of the grants are small. Some are large. But the focus is to make sure that books get in the hands of kids, that they develop an enjoyment for reading, and that there are resources to engage families.
We're continuing to track the budget until it is completely final, but clearly this has been one of the best budgets we've seen in education in a long time. And I would say in matters related to education, I’m deeply impressed at the Governor's ability to work with the legislature to come up with what will be about a billion dollars to support education and things like the an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit to help low-income families to be able to have more revenue. Everyone can see that education and your ability to earn a decent living go hand in hand, and so we've been tracking these things. Even though they're not directly education, they’re education related and they speak to our families and their needs.
This is a particularly good budget for the California Department of Education. Some 30 something positions have been funded in this budget—a number of them in early education, a number of other positions to help in managing programs like homeless programs for homeless students and to support what the state does around authorizing charter schools—I'm sorry, what the state does around oversight of charter schools. As you may know, CDE serves as the agency for oversight for some 40 charter schools and has done that with three staff. And so we welcome the addition of staff to do that.
Speaking of charter schools, as we speak there is a panel taking place, a panel discussion taking place, in this building about charter authorizations, and how charter schools get authorized, and how charter schools get renewed. Our goal, CDE is leading this conversation to help build on the work of the task force to build on the work of those who've talked about charter reform but to hone in on a very key area that we think is very important in the conversation about charters and charter reform. And that is how to create clear and consistent guidelines for how authorizations should take place and how renewals should take place. We believe that that is the heart of the matter as it relates to charter reform. To ensure that there are high quality charter schools means that there should be good authorizing standards to ensure that there’s fairness and consistency and in how a charter gets authorized or renewed. There should be clear and consistent standards and guidelines.
CDE is stepping up and saying we'd like to continue the work to identify what those best practices should look like. We're working with the Governor's Office and stakeholders and anyone who's interested to really flesh out what those guidelines could look like.
We're very pleased about the work that our dozen or so transitional work groups are doing. We have a group called “Closing the Achievement Gap” that is honed in on a key strategy that will help us to reduce the gap—and that is by providing more educators, male educators of color in elementary school grades. That's proven to support students of color and all students. And our team is working now with foundations and universities to identify how to build a pipeline or to expand the pipeline of male educators of color in the elementary school grades. And so we're pleased with the work that our workgroups are doing.
We held our first ever CDE Job Fair, perhaps it was a Saturday ago. Hundreds of folks have come, learning how to work for a state agency, learning how to work for an education agency. We're committed to seeking and securing the best talent that there is to work in education. We have great people who work at the Department of Education. We want to add to that. We want to fill vacancies. We want to seek the best, most diverse, and the brightest team to help us deal with the biggest challenges that we experience here in state.
The only other things I would add is that we are constantly looking at how to build the capacity of this agency. And I'll be making some announcements shortly about my desire to see CDE launch two new offices: To establish a STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math] office, so that we have the ability to work with districts throughout the state to increase the number of students who get access to computer science, to increase the number of certificated professional educators who can work with students in a STEAM-related area, to make sure that we work through the barriers to technology that some students still experience because of where they live.
If you live in a rural area you may not be able to get access to Wi-Fi or broadband. And we want to work through those challenges and make sure that students get opportunities for internships, after school programs, and other ways that they can learn about the jobs of tomorrow.
And so we will be building a STEAM office. It's going to take some time. We've got to raise money, but we'll be working with industry and the business sector and educational groups, and foundations to look at ways to expand our capacity to work directly on STEAM for our six million students.
Similarly we want to build a dedicated team of staff who work on equity issues all day, every day. And what I love about this agency is that every staff person here views closing the gap as part of their mantra. To augment that, we want to build the capacity to have full-time staff who are constantly focused on strategies to help us close the gap in state of California.
I'll stop there. There's a few of the things that I want to share with you, but I'm happy to address more details or any questions that you all may have.
Mackenzie Mays, Politico: I’ll start. The panel we saw today—can we expect more charter-specific panels in the coming months to address maybe some of the issues of the task force identified?
Superintendent Thurmond: We don't have any other panel dates scheduled, but it seemed clear to us that the task force did really great work and I'm really pleased with their work. They lifted up very clearly that there needs to be consistency around authorizing and renewals. And so CDE wants to do work in that space to help provide more information about what better authorizing might look like. So there'll certainly be conversations with stakeholders, education groups, with charter groups, the Governor's Office, associations to talk about: What do those best practices look like?
Our team here is already engaged in research and what other models look like in the state and in other states, and what we can borrow from the field, from research, from practice and from what other states do, to strengthen our systems for doing authorizations. So we expect that there'll be lots of conversations. We don't have a specific panel date set but we'll be looking forward to what comes out of today's panel.
Mackenzie: The Governor's budget is very close to being signed. The deadline’s coming up I think tomorrow.
Superintendent Thurmond: We’re watching closely with you.
Mackenzie: What do you think about the charter-specific language in there that would require charter schools to not base enrollment and disenrollment on academics?
Superintendent Thurmond: You know I've not seen the language. And do we have the language in the room?
Khi Jackson, Deputy Superintendent: We don't have the specific language in the room but we're looking at that. And we’re looking at the department's role and executing the language that was in in the bill and in trailer bill language, so we're looking at that.
Superintendent Thurmond: This is Khi Jackson, Deputy Superintendent. He oversees a number of programs including our Charter School Division.
Mackenzie: One more question. The panel today it seems like it would really help prepare authorizers who, if some current legislation does pass and get to the Governor's desk, to prepare to have more power maybe than they did in the past. Do you support O'Donnell's legislation that would give local districts and counties more power and authorizing, and do you worry about maybe that taking away the power of your board to authorize charters?
Superintendent Thurmond: I don't think that the issue is about power. And I think the issues have been that there's lack of clarity about—you know one district does something different from another. We have hundreds of authorizers in the state and I think that in and of itself means that without a really clear framework for how an applicant should make their case for their school, I think that lends itself to confusion. And there's work to do to really tighten up how that framework of authorizing should happen. The law is really vague in some places. It gives some initial guidance and then in other places really isn't clear. And so clearly we need to update what's in Ed Code about how authorizing happens.
We think that this panel and the work of those who are sending in their ideas and best practices around authorization can really lend a great deal to what reform might look like. Keep in mind anything that the task force has done, that the panel has done, is not binding. And so at this point anything that's happening can be informative to the work of the Legislature, but it is not binding. I think at the end of the day, decisions have to be made. And I support what came out of the task force: Give authorizers broad discretion and how they do their decision-making. To be able to look at first and foremost what's in the best interests of students. And in that equation, to have a conversation about what will be the fiscal impact of opening a new school. How many schools and how many charter schools already exist in a given district or a given area? And looking at: Is there saturation? And then answering a very important question: Does the applicant offer something that's not being met? I think if there's an educational need that that applicant can provide, I think they make a compelling case for why that charter school should be authorized. And so we're doing our part to make sure that the best thinking, the best research, the best ideas, and the best practices get out there. Obviously we're sharing that with legislators and with anyone else who listens. And so we'll have to wait and see what comes out of the Legislature.
If there are no other questions, thank you, and we'll see you next time. Have a great day, everybody.
This has been a CDE news update on CDE Ed Talks.
[End of Podcast Episode 4]