Linda Darling-Hammond became president of the California State Board of Education on March 14, 2019. EdSource is closely tracking the changes in education policymaking in California since the election last November of Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. The following is a lightly edited transcript of Darling-Hammond’s opening remarks as State Board president at her first meeting on March 14. For a video of the proceedings, go here.
I’m honored and I’m privileged to join State Superintendent Tony Thurmond and this State Board in an ongoing and renewed effort to build a world class and equitable education system in California.
This board and the California Department of Education, and the previous governor and Legislature, have already accomplished a tremendous amount. I think it’s really important to take stock of that, and in the years ahead to build on what’s been accomplished.
Every state or nation that I’ve ever studied that has really made a strong upward trajectory in education has had a 15 or 20 year window in which to do that work. We have that opportunity now to continue the work and then refine what’s been going on.
I probably don’t need to remind most of you that a decade ago John Merrow did a film called From First to Worst, describing what had happened in California over several decades of cuts in funding, of testing without investing, and of really narrowing the curriculum.
By 2010, we were 48th in funding, 50th in teachers, administrators, counselors, librarians, and on and on. We now have a new funding system which is much more equitable and is one of the most progressive funding systems in the country. We have more resources in education, although we would all agree that there’s not quite yet enough. We have new standards that are focused on higher order thinking and critical problem solving, and new assessments that are really groundbreaking. We have a new accountability system with multiple measures that informed what happened on the federal level, because California did it first. Other states began to say, “Let’s look at the whole child, the whole education system, and build that kind of a system.” We’ve created social-emotional development and academic guidelines and initiatives. We’ve improved outcomes in significant ways.
I hope you’ll take a moment and just take some credit for all of that good work that has gone on. About 10 years ago we were 48th in 8th grade reading. This past year, California had some of the largest gains of any state in the nation and our 8th graders are reading almost at the national average. Just in that few years, we’ve closed the gap in math with the national average by half, although we have a lot more work to do on that. The graduation rates have gone up by 10 percentage points. Suspension rates have gone down, and California schools are significantly safer than they were a decade ago as we focused on helping kids have a community. So I think it’s really an exciting moment and I’m happy to be part of this moment with all of you. It’s a key moment for a state like California, which is a science and technology leader in the world.
There are a couple of professors at UC Berkeley who have been plotting the growth of knowledge in the world. They found out that between 1999 and 2003 there was more new knowledge created in the world than in the entire history of the world before that. So we’re in an exponential growth of knowledge. It’s exploding. Technology knowledge is doubling every 11 months. So when we think about what our kids have to be prepared for, they have to be prepared to work with knowledge that hasn’t been discovered yet, using technologies that haven’t been invented yet, solving big problems that we have not yet managed to solve. That’s the challenge that we have in front of us, to build on the gains that have been made and to carry ourselves into that kind of a future.
This new governor’s commitment to equity and to a rich empowering form of education that nurtures the whole child is one that I really believe in and endorse. Gavin Newsom is going to help continue this trajectory and take us to that next level.
We have a lot of work to do. We have to figure out how to support continuous improvement in all the ways that we’d like to. We’ve got to figure out how to build a system of support for schools and for professional learning. We’ve got to figure out how to continue our focus on more equitable learning opportunities, both in terms of the funding that’s made available to kids, but also the kind of education that prepares them for this future. We can’t have a two-tier system where some kids are getting rote learning and other kids are getting the kind of thinking curriculum that they need. We’ve got to figure out how to redesign schools that fit into this 21st Century. There’s a lot of curriculum work to continue to do as we think about how we know people really learn. One of the things we know about how people learn is that people actually develop more neural connections and get smarter when they speak multiple languages, when they have access to art and to music, when they’re engaged in inquiry-based projects and investigations.
All of those things are part of the curriculum that California needs to have front and center, not as frills, not on the sidelines, as we move forward. We have the opportunity now to take those efforts where they can go.
I hope in these next few years we will be on the path to turn California from worst to first. So, with that, let’s get busy.