Skip to content

California education leaders discuss Black student disparities

Tony Thurmond, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction

More workplace diversity needed

By A.V. Benford | NNPA Newswire

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond highlighted two new initiatives at the Department of Education, taking on the “opportunity gap” between Black students and others.

Thurmond recently addressed a “Black In School” panel of top educators and policymakers and announced initiatives built around diversifying the teacher workforce with a pipeline focused on male educators of color, and a new task force centered on Black student achievement.

“The gap that exists between students of color and White students, that gap has narrowed for nearly every group of students of color except for Black students,” Thurmond said. “This gap has persisted and grown during the (COVID-19) pandemic. We have to talk about the disproportionality that exists, not only for Black students but for their families.”

Thurmond added that the current California budget, with support from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature, provides the resources to diversify the workforce.

“Because research shows that when students have one teacher of color, one African-American teacher, it means that African-American students do better. Students from all backgrounds do better,” he said.

“Black In School,” presented by the Education Committee of the California Democratic Party Black Caucus (CDPBC), was the second of four in a series.

There are 309,827 Black students in California public schools. This virtual series seeks to put a spotlight on these students and generate “powerful ways to improve the Black experience,” the CDPBC said in a statement.

The panel included Thurmond; California Community Colleges Board of Governors President Pamela Haynes; Assemblyman Kevin McCarty; and Elease Cheek with the Solano County Board of Education.

Panelists presented a number of projects currently in the works seeking to address the opportunity gap — including universal transitional kindergarten, pipelines for male educators of color, open houses with parents and students, and a race equity index which helps discuss issues that disproportionately affect Black students without being in violation of Proposition 209.

The panelists, who repeatedly said the disparities must stop now, pointed to data. Of the more than 300,000 Black students in California:

• 67 percent of California Black children do not read or write at grade level.

• 86 percent of Black students are not at grade level in science.

• 31 percent of Black students have completed their A-G requirements, (necessary for admission to a California State college or university) as opposed to 49 percent of White students and 70 percent of Asian students.

• 77 percent of Black students graduate high school, in contrast to 88 percent of White students and 93 percent of Asian students.

“We are more likely to have underlying health conditions that put us at higher risk for COVID, homelessness, food insecurity, and living in poverty. When you layer all these things together you see that you absolutely need to have a strategy that is intentional,” Thurmond said.

As a legislator, Thurmond introduced Assembly Bill 1014 which he described as taking money from the criminal justice system to put in schools for programs that reduce chronic absenteeism and promote restorative justice. He now oversees those grants, to date allocating nearly 90 million.

At the department of education, Thurmond has created the first-ever equity branch led by Dr. Daniel Lee, rolling out “Education to End Hate.” The program, launched during COVID-19, provides anti-racism and implicit bias training to educators in schools.

“We started at the department of education, I made it a requirement that every administrator must take implicit bias training and diversity training,” Thurmond said.

More than $200,000 has been allocated to various school districts for more anti-racism programs. Another $200,000 will fund “equity grants” focused on closing the gaps. Thurmond announced a brand-new $10 million grant program focused on anti-racism and anti-hate.

Thurmond feels one of the keys to minding the “opportunity gap” is recruitment of male educators. He has partnered with Assembly member Mike Gipson (D-Compton), to introduce a bill to expand the number of male educators of color that work in classrooms.

“Almost 70 percent of our students are of color. Our workforce does not reflect that,” Thurmond said.

Thurmond also mentioned a second initiative, a new task force focused squarely on closing the Black student achievement gap. “Now we have all the resources that we need to move the needle in the right direction as it relates to Black student achievement.”

Thurmond’s strategy for identifying and closing the gaps, without running afoul of Prop. 209 by talking about race, includes working with Ryan Smith, Chief External Officer at Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, and the grassroots Brotherhood Crusade of south Los Angeles. Thurmond said they have developed “a new metric that looks at many conditions that students of color experience — but doesn’t call them out by race.”

By using it in the L.A. Unified School District, they found a way to increase the amount of money students receive by looking at identifiers like free and reduced lunch, and poverty rates. Thurmond says that the metric also examined things that historically don’t get looked at like communities impacted by violence.

“When you layer these together you create a way to have a conversation about serving students of color and Black students — and about being able to increase the amount of money available to serve them,” Thurmond said.