Joe W. Bowers Jr. | California Black Media
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond held a press conference via zoom and on Facebook last week to unveil an ambitious new education achievement plan for California. It is a campaign that has been designed to ensure, by 2026, every California third grader will know how to read.
The effort will also include a biliteracy milestone for dual-language learners.
Thurmond announced that he will be forming a task force of practitioners, advocates, researchers, foundation partners, thought leaders, students, parents, and other experts to identify key strategies that school districts and charter schools can employ to help their students achieve this bold goal.
Education researchers point out that children are expected to be able to learn about the world through reading by third and fourth grade. This is when their math lessons are taught using word problems and reasoning skills are developed through discussing text they’ve been assigned to read. Children who fall behind developing reading skills quickly find themselves struggling to keep up with their coursework.
A study by researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education reached the conclusion that during the pandemic inadequate reading instruction has contributed to students’ reading fluency in second and third grade to be approximately 30 % behind what would be expected in a typical year.
Thurmond said during his opening remarks, “We already know that when students learn to read, they can read to learn anything. This is a gateway skill that can carry them to any point in their life, in their career, and in their journey. We also know that when students don’t learn to read by third grade, they’re at greater risk to drop out of school, and they are greater risk to end up in the criminal justice system”
On the state’s Smarter Balanced tests during the 2018-19 school year only 33% of Black students in grades three through 11 tested at grade level or above in English language; only 31% of third graders tested at grade level or above in English language arts.
In addition to announcing the task force formation, Thurmond revealed that Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) has agreed to sponsor legislation that will formally be introduced in 2022 to support the task force’s recommendations.
“We will bring forward legislation in the next legislative cycle that will help us to have the resources for professional learning, and the other things that we’ll need to support our students,” he said.
Thurmond expects the legislation to consider 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 speaking at the press conference. “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.”
Also present at the press conference were: E. Toby Boyd, California Teachers Association; Hedy Chang, Executive Director, Attendance Works; Dr. Francisco Escobedo, Executive Director, National Center for Urban School Transformation; Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Fairfield), Liaison to Advisory Commission on Special Education; Jan Gustafson-Corea, Chief Executive Officer, California Association of Bilingual Education (CABE); Matt Navo, Executive Director, California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE); Dr. Christopher J. Nellum, Executive Director, The Education Trust—West; and Jackie Thu-Huong Wong, Chief Deputy Director, First 5 California. Keith Pace, Executive Director, California School Employees Association was invited but did not participate.
Each participant shared personal stories and encouraged statewide support for literacy and biliteracy for all of California’s students.
“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.”
“We’re extremely excited about this campaign for a number of reasons, but for me and for us this campaign launches at a time when we’ve all seen how drastically our education systems can change during a crisis,” said Christopher Nellum, executive director of Education Trust-West. “And in our opinion now is the time to act with the same sort of urgency with regard to our literacy crisis in California.”
In his closing remarks Thurmond said, “I thought I’d have eight years to work on this in some way. The pandemic has upended, some of those efforts. But, I just have to say, as I feel about to borrow from the wonderful Congresswoman Maxine Waters, ‘I’m reclaiming my time’ to work on an initiative that I know is so important.”