Credit: Andrew Reed/EdSource
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond during a staff interview at EdSource.

Four months into his first term, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond is creating 13 work groups that he expects will recommend strategies for addressing some of the state’s thorniest education challenges. The issues include the need for an extensive student data system, college affordability, special education, teacher development, student health and safety, the teacher shortage and the issue he ran on but has little direct power to effect — more funding for schools.

In an interview this week at EdSource, Thurmond identified one priority he’s ready to push high on the to-do list: enticing more minority men to become teachers, particularly in the elementary grades, and fostering the conditions to keep them in the classroom. “We’ve landed on a strategy that we’re going to get in place hopefully by next year. It’s tangible. It’s concrete and we know it’s impactful,” Thurmond said. “The data shows when kids see a teacher who looks like them it makes a huge difference.”

Only 1 percent of teachers in California are male African-Americans and 5 percent are Latino, while 6 percent of the state’s students are African-American and 54 percent are Latino. A half-dozen of the 23 campuses in the California State University system, which trains the bulk of the state’s teachers, have had initiatives to recruit minority men. But they need more funding for programs like year-long teacher residencies, which mentor young teachers in districts where they will work, Thurmond said.

Ryan Smith, whom Thurmond has named to chair the work group on closing the achievement and opportunity gaps, agrees with the need to build a pipeline for men of color and welcomes Thurmond’s charge to consult with experts from within and outside California on “narrowing gaps across marginalized communities.” More than a thousand people volunteered to be involved in the work group and Smith’s challenge will be figuring out how to harness their energy, while naming a handful to serve on the task force itself.

“The state superintendent believes experts and practitioners, as well as other voices in the communities” will be important to the work, said Smith, the chief external officer at the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit that runs 18 schools within Los Angeles Unified. The work groups will be co-chaired by administrators in the California Department of Education and outside experts. Smith, who will also lead Thurmond’s larger “Closing the Achievement Gap Initiative,” is the first of the 13 co-chairs to be named.

Eight years ago, in his first month in office, Thurmond’s predecessor, Tom Torlakson, convened a 59-member advisory team that produced a 25-page document, Blueprint for Great Schools, with mixed success in seeing its recommendations carried out.

Thurmond said he is determined to produce recommendations that don’t end up sitting on a shelf. He said he’d like to see two or three short-term, implementable strategies in all of the policy areas within two or three months, “because people do want to have some wins.” Then the task forces can turn to longer-range recommendations that will guide directions over the next four to eight years.

Thurmond said he is reaching out to foundations to help underwrite the strategy for more male minority teachers and hopes that will lead to other partnerships. But Thurmond ultimately must rely on his power of persuasion and his working relationships with the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom to translate words into action.

“I think the relationships are strong,” said Thurmond, who served two terms as a Democratic Assemblyman from Richmond before his election last year as state superintendent.

As head of the Department of Education, the state superintendent has administrative and regulatory authority over schools, but no policy-making or budgeting power. The state superintendent is a non-voting member of the State Board of Education.

Newsom, he said, “has been direct in wanting to work on things together, whether it’s disaster response or charter school issues or early education. And we’re working hard to show him that we’re a partner who can be counted on to lead education issues.”

Restoring confidence, post-Jerry Brown

A study issued last fall as part of Getting Down to Facts, a project coordinated by Stanford University and the research nonprofit Policy Analysis for California Education, or PACE, was critical of the state’s education department. It characterized the department as understaffed, underfunded and unable to meet its potential role as “an efficient source of instructional support for schools.” Showing little confidence in the department, former Gov. Jerry Brown shifted some responsibilities away from it. His administration put community colleges in charge of administering half of additional money for career technical education and charged a new agency, the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, with overseeing technical support for school districts.

Thurmond said that he has found employees at the department “work really, really hard and I think they get a really bad rap. There are people there who care deeply about kids who’ve been working without resources for a long time. And I think in some ways they’ve been demoralized by a lack of funding, a lack of resources.”

Thurmond said he has requested additional money while acknowledging, “If people don’t have confidence in an agency, I believe you have to restore confidence. This is an important test case for us to show competency, to show that we can get things done. I think that’s how we make the case for fully funding positions.”

In his interview with the staff at EdSource, Thurmond discussed a range of issues:

Charter schools: Newsom has asked Thurmond to lead an 11-member Charter Task Force, which has met weekly behind closed doors. The task force plans to make recommendations in June to the governor on changes to the state law governing the state’s 1,300 charter schools. Thurmond has not disclosed much about its work, other than to say it is focusing on who can authorize charter schools and whether school districts can take the financial impact of charter schools into account when deciding whether to grant or renew a charter.

“I am hopeful that there will be meaningful recommendations for reform in charter schools from the task force,” he said in the interview. “Right now there is a vigorous conversation taking place and if we can achieve some reforms, we can move past the debate.”

Teacher shortage: Thurmond said he is looking into grants for districts to build affordable housing on their surplus property for teachers and classified staff “at rates that educators can afford to live in. When they move on, another educator moves into that slot.”

Teacher housing will be a critical stop-gap measure until there is substantially more funding to raise teacher salaries, he said. “We know the cost of living in California is super high. If we’re honest, this is a hard place to be a teacher. Living conditions are hard. And work conditions are hard. If we want to close our teacher shortage, then do a better job of compensation.”

Chronic absenteeism: Thurmond said the issue has been important to him dating back to his previous career as a social worker in the Bay Area, when he noticed that asthma is a big reason for children missing school.

“I spent a lot of time doing outreach to families where kids were chronically absent. Sometimes kids were sick. I suspect there may be other health illness issues with young children. Sometimes there are children taking care of younger children. Family members depend on them,” he said. And he said there are other challenges: poverty, homelessness, trauma in the family and transportation.

“There’s nothing like human contact with the family to figure out what their barrier is,” he said. He said he’d like to see the state help districts with parental support. “I know (districts) need funding for that because most cut their outreach staff long ago when the budgets were really tight.”

Local Control Funding Formula: The teacher shortage in high-cost regions like the Bay Area has led to calls for adjusting the state’s funding formula to account for regional costs of living. Thurmond said he is open to discussing how to restructure the formula, but then cautioned, “For every action there’s a reaction. I don’t want to start doing things to fill one hole and then you’re pulling funding away from other districts. I think that the real answer is to acknowledge that LCFF is important and I’m grateful for it. But it’s not enough.” California schools need substantially more funding, he said, and so he wants his work group on funding to “study every funding mechanism that could generate permanent funding revenue in education.”

“I think the governor wants to be smart and strategic and I think the governor gets that we have to balance any kind of tax reform with supporting industry and keeping California strong on the industrial front,” he said.

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  1. el 4 months ago4 months ago

    As a woman in a STEM field, I didn't realize early on how much I missed out on having access to female mentors in my career path - not so much because I needed "inspiration" but because mentors are invaluable in teaching you how to "be." How to assert yourself effectively and appropriately in a community where your demographic is not the norm. How to evaluate the way people react to you and improve your … Read More

    As a woman in a STEM field, I didn’t realize early on how much I missed out on having access to female mentors in my career path – not so much because I needed “inspiration” but because mentors are invaluable in teaching you how to “be.” How to assert yourself effectively and appropriately in a community where your demographic is not the norm. How to evaluate the way people react to you and improve your strategy. How to be aware of the opportunities you’re missing because you use a different bathroom and aren’t invited out for drinks. These are things we all have to learn regardless of demographic, but often people who are underrepresented have no one to help them learn it, or even know what knowledge they seek. The advisor I was assigned in college I thought was just terrible at it. Only years later did I learn he’d been an excellent mentor to his male students.

    As a woman, learning to assert my authority and knowledge without coming across as an unreasonable ### but still being heard and respected was full of hard lessons and I made a lot of mistakes. Talk to most women in STEM and you’ll find the same. At least I never had to worry about anyone shooting me if I overstepped or if I went into the lab after hours.

    I am not a young black or latino male, and never have been, but I wonder how it is they learn to be an academic powerhouse in an environment that has no obvious example to follow. Elementary schools sometimes don’t have any men at all on their teaching and administrative staff. How many mistakes do we make with kids because we have no one who understands what it is like to be a young man navigating the world and trying to find a place?

    So I applaud an initiative to get more men, especially black and latino men, into schools as trusted mentors and educators. But, I caution, like in STEM, expect the process to be leaky as long as the people you’ve worked hard to recruit are not fully welcomed and valued and trusted by their peers, and supported with strong mentors who can help them navigate frustrations and develop into strong, respected, experienced leaders. I hope we can create the follow through to make this happen and to get a better demographic balance in education.

  2. Dr. Bill Conrad 4 months ago4 months ago

    Just to be clear. I do not bash teachers. I taught for 7 years as a middle school science teacher and have 45 years of experience in education. However, the student outcome data speaks for itself. Fewer than 1/2 of CA 3rd graders meet the reading standards as measured by the 2018 SBAC reading test. Teachers are the key in student academic achievement. You reap what you sow. The facts … Read More

    Just to be clear. I do not bash teachers. I taught for 7 years as a middle school science teacher and have 45 years of experience in education. However, the student outcome data speaks for itself. Fewer than 1/2 of CA 3rd graders meet the reading standards as measured by the 2018 SBAC reading test. Teachers are the key in student academic achievement. You reap what you sow. The facts are the facts and everyone can see the results.

    I have seen many teachers in action and many are excellent and many are not. The variation in teacher quality can be attributed in large part to the training that they received or did not receive in the Colleges of Education. My advocacy for the transformation of the Colleges of Education in no way means that I am not supportive of teachers.

    Transforming the colleges of education in the way that they recruit and train teachers will be a necessary initiative if we ever want to truly address the achievement gaps in CA. The Colleges of Education must change the way that they teach professional practices by endorsing a more scientific approach to teaching and learning rather than promoting the current raconteur approaches. They must include high quality internship and residency programs where prospective teachers will be able to interact and learn from exceptional teachers. The internship and residency programs should be a part of a career ladder for teachers where they can continuously improve their professional practices in increasing levels of responsibility throughout their careers. There should be an expectation that teachers achieve a degree in a content area before engaging in a teacher training program.

    And don’t get me started on school and district administration. At least teachers had the courage to propose the reduction of class sizes with their efforts to improve their salaries. Even though this change would bring about minimal improvements in student achievement, they at least proposed a change. District and school administrators offered nothing in the way of professional practices improvement which is a testimony to their impotence in being able to affect real change within the K-12 system. They could have at least advocated for the improvement and alignment of professional practices like the use of formative assessment with descriptive feedback in a fair trade for increased teacher pay. But they do not because their leadership derives from loyalty and not competency in many cases.

    Jazz artists must know the notes before they can play jazz well. Figure skaters must do compulsories well before they can engage in free style exercises. Teachers must know the fundamentals of professional practices, curricula, and assessment use well before they can engage in teaching that is more improvisational and extemporaneous. We are at least 2.5 generations away from recognizing and acting upon these realities.

    Replies

    • CarolineSF 4 months ago4 months ago

      Just noting that the Google Doodle today is designed for Teacher Appreciation Week. Teacher-bashers’ standard response to being called out is to deny that they were teacher-bashing. Seems like owning it would be the honest response.

  3. Ray 4 months ago4 months ago

    Great … just what we brown folks need- more theory.

    Black and brown kids are heading to new lows with such theorists and no accountability . School districts screw kids color all around – just look at the data online at California Department of Education.

  4. SpecialKinNJ 4 months ago4 months ago

    Ryan Smith, whom Thurmond has named to chair the work group on closing the achievement and opportunity gaps, agrees with the need to build national data on average performance for students who take an internationally recognized test, such as the SAT, suggest that getting more men of color as teachers won't close the achievement gap. The All Student average for SAT Critical Reading hasn't changed materially in recent decades— true as well for average … Read More

    Ryan Smith, whom Thurmond has named to chair the work group on closing the achievement and opportunity gaps, agrees with the need to build national data on average performance for students who take an internationally recognized test, such as the SAT, suggest that getting more men of color as teachers won’t close the achievement gap. The All Student average for SAT Critical Reading hasn’t changed materially in recent decades— true as well for average scores of groups classified by race/ethnicity – except for Asian-Americans, who have closed one reading achievement gap and opened another! They now lead the pack! How did they do it? Quien sabe.

    If SAT averages haven’t changed materially for almost 30 years, despite the effort, time and money expended to improve educational programs for all students, it seems reasonable to assume that we shouldn’t expect any meaningful change in average level of performance in this critically important ability in the foreseeable future.

  5. Howard Adelman & Linda Taylor 4 months ago4 months ago

    The following information has been sent to the Education Committee members of the state legislature. Our hope is that Superintendent Thurmond has some awareness about this. ESSA has stimulated states to revisit school improvement. At this time our Center at UCLA is contacting a few legislators in every state about pursuing legislation to move school improvement policy from a two to a three component framework. Specifically: Drawing from the Center's research, we urge you to read the … Read More

    The following information has been sent to the Education Committee members of the state legislature.

    Our hope is that Superintendent Thurmond has some awareness about this.

    ESSA has stimulated states to revisit school improvement. At this time our Center at UCLA is contacting a few legislators in every state about pursuing legislation to move school improvement policy from a two to a three component framework.

    Specifically: Drawing from the Center’s research, we urge you to read the following brief information and the adaptable prototype for the type of legislation that is needed:

    >School Improvement Policy Needs to Move from a Two to a Three Component Guiding Framework http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/why3comp.pdf

    >Prototype Guide for Reframing Fragmented Student and Learning Supports into a Unified, Comprehensive, and Equitable Learning Supports System http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/reframing.pdf

    >An act to add to the Education Code. Addressing Barriers to Learning and Teaching: Ensuring a Three Component Approach to School Improvement http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/draftbill.pdf

    Note: A three component framework for school improvement provides a way to fully embed a focus on social-emotional development, which currently is being pursued in fragmented and marginalized ways. As Child Trends’ analysis of state statutes and regulations (enacted as of September 2017) concludes:
    … Beyond policies that call for specific focus on SEL or character education, 37 states include elements of SEL (such as healthy relationships, interpersonal communication, or self esteem) as part of regulations governing health education standards. Thirty eight states also include mental and emotional health in health education standards…. Such policies, though, are often limited in their vision of SEL and disconnected from other critical components of healthy school environments. Many existing state policies reflect earlier efforts to build character education, conflict resolution, and similar skills into the fabric of teaching and learning.
    https://www.childtrends.org/state laws promoting social emotional and academic development leave room for improvement

    If anyone wants additional information, let us know.

    Howard & Linda

    Howard Adelman, Ph.D.
    Professor of Psychology &
    Center Co director

    Linda Taylor, Ph.D.
    Center Co director

    Dept. of Psychology, UCLA
    Los Angeles, CA. 90095 1563
    Ph: 310/825 1225 310/825 3634
    Email: adelman@psych.ucla.edu Ltaylor@ucla.edu
    Website: http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/

  6. LisaSB 4 months ago4 months ago

    Ideas from a 29-year learner in the education profession: Colleges/Career Pathways A start might be to start at the colleges, so those entering the teaching profession intern at school sites as part of their program early on, freshman year, etc. You never know who might be out there who misses the opportunity or enters the opportunity with/without knowing what they signed up for. The profession of an educator truly is an on-going learning journey. … Read More

    Ideas from a 29-year learner in the education profession:
    Colleges/Career Pathways A start might be to start at the colleges, so those entering the teaching profession intern at school sites as part of their program early on, freshman year, etc. You never know who might be out there who misses the opportunity or enters the opportunity with/without knowing what they signed up for. The profession of an educator truly is an on-going learning journey. Another idea might be to work with our local colleges and begin to embed student-teaching time into the community college or four-year program. Less money to complete a credential program, but strategically a better system to find our future teachers. Perhaps an outcome might be a lowered fee to complete the induction process and an opportunity for these programs to be more inclusive of the new system of supports and learning about the multiple indicators that school classrooms encounter.

    New Teachers- Think out of the box – We know that the ‘substitute’ system is lacking, never enough substitutes, qualified or not qualified to support schools for various events/professional development. Build the substitute program. To get ‘new’ teachers, start programs for those who have a degree so they can substitute with benefits and training that leads to a credential. My husband loves to substitute on his off days from his full-time job, he would love to enter the profession, but the support systems or programs are not offered or messaged out to him. Today he is working with AVID students and is excited to help them learn the ‘real world’ work environment and skills once they determine their next pathway. Oh, BTW, he is Black, now in his 50’s, he has so much to give, but the current system isn’t set up to recruit him.

  7. CarolineSF 4 months ago4 months ago

    I scrolled to the comments window pondering making the obvious comment that our cultural practice of bashing and blaming teachers is making it harder to attract "anyone" to the profession, and that obviously would extend to black men. The comment posted before mine certainly demonstrated exactly what I'm talking about, just in case anyone is inclined to do the "what are you talking about -- nobody bashes teachers?" hooey. (To elaborate, I believe teacher-bashing is … Read More

    I scrolled to the comments window pondering making the obvious comment that our cultural practice of bashing and blaming teachers is making it harder to attract “anyone” to the profession, and that obviously would extend to black men. The comment posted before mine certainly demonstrated exactly what I’m talking about, just in case anyone is inclined to do the “what are you talking about — nobody bashes teachers?” hooey. (To elaborate, I believe teacher-bashing is largely based on sexism, since in most people’s mind, public school teachers are mostly women, and also on a deep contempt in U.S. culture for education in general. Other cultures, specifically cultures that tend to produce high educational achievers, revere teachers and would be horrified at the bashing we see here. People who claim to want to improve education while voicing and encouraging contempt for teachers are, to put it politely, undermining their professed goal.)

  8. Gwendolyn Johnson 4 months ago4 months ago

    After reading this article, I feel encouraged that my efforts and goals as a retired educator are being addressed. As a women of color , I am encouraging my grandson to be an educator and I serve on BCSD’s Closing the Achievement Gap Committee.

  9. Dr. Bill Conrad 4 months ago4 months ago

    CA students deserve teachers who are well prepared in content, pedagogy, and use of assessments. They are not getting that. They get unprepared teachers from woeful “colleges” of education. Making sure some of these teachers are Black will not solve this root cause problem.

    Replies

    • Zeev Wurman 4 months ago4 months ago

      Amen. We need competent teachers, not teachers with “appropriate” mix of skin colors.