Credit: Andrew Reed/EdSource
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said Wednesday that he would reconvene a Task Force on Early Literacy he appointed a year ago to continue work on addressing early literacy. The task force hasn’t met for seven months.

“Stay tuned,” he said during a news conference Wednesday. “We are literally trying to build together a comprehensive approach for addressing literacy in the state.”

While past efforts have been “piecemeal,” he said, “We intend to approach this in a comprehensive way to build both strategy and capacity to help the state of California address literacy. So we anticipate that the task force will be continuing to raise policy questions and best practices and ways to support California students going forward.”

The task force, a large group of appointees with seven co-chairs, including State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond and Napa County Superintendent of Schools Barbara Nemko, formed committees and made recommendations to Thurmond in January on how to reach a goal of universal literacy by third grade by 2026. Most were noncontroversial, such as expanding access to library cards and providing more books to non-English speakers in their native language.

Thurmond spoke during a news conference Wednesday in which he announced a partnership with Footsteps2Brilliance, an early literacy technology company that offers 500 online interactive books, games and activities for free in Spanish and English to all families and students in California. Footsteps2Brilliance put the value of the donated resources at $27 million.

Thurmond’s response on the task force came a week after EdSource published an article contrasting California’s piecemeal approach with that of other states that have adopted stronger, comprehensive plans for early literacy.  He said the task force paused its work until the Legislature completed its work this week “to be able to assess what bills that we sponsored have made it through.”

The results were mixed. Thurmond cited the inclusion in the state budget of $250 million to train and hire literacy coaches. That amount, halved from the $500 million that Gov. Gavin Newsom had requested from the Legislature, will fund coaches in the highest poverty schools — about 440 of the 10,000 schools in the state.

A bill that Thurmond sponsored, with strong support from advocates for multilingualism schools, would have provided at least 20 school districts up to $750,000 each to expand or establish dual-language immersion programs. Dual immersion enables both English-only speakers and those who speak only another language to become bilingual in both languages. The legislation died in the Senate Appropriations Committee. A similar bill introduced by Thurmond when he was an Assembly member passed in 2018 but was not funded.

Thurmond and Darling-Hammond recently contacted Kymyona Burke, who gained national attention for leading Mississippi’s impressive rise in reading scores following that state’s adoption of multiple early literacy initiatives.

Asked about that conversation, Thurmond said, “I was impressed by Mississippi’s comprehensive approach in creating examples of curricula and training and professional development at the state level that help districts think through how” to improve reading instruction.

“We’ll certainly be looking towards next year’s legislative cycle to see if there’s some other policy changes for us to promote,” he said.

Nemko, who hoped the task force would take on an ambitious agenda, said she looked forward to reconvening the task force. “I am very happy about that and cannot wait to dive back in,” she said Wednesday.

Another task force co-chair, Francisco Escobedo, director of San Diego State’s National Center for Urban School Transformation, said he hopes one focus would be pre-literacy training of teachers in transitional kindergarten programs that districts are opening for all 4-year-olds over the next two years.

Footsteps2Brilliance’s website for California families includes read-along stories, alphabet recognition songs, grammar rule games and exercises in phonics, vocabulary and comprehension available online and though downloadable applications.

This is the first time that the Washington, D.C.-based company has provided its resources for free to the public on a large scale. Families can use the resources without providing personal information.

Multiple county offices of education and school districts in California have adopted the paid version, which includes guidance for teachers, to augment their reading programs and report measurable success in improving reading skills and reading interest of preschoolers to third graders.

“A fabulous program,” said Nemko, whose county-run preschools have used Footstesp2Brilliance since 2010.

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  1. Brenda Lebsack - Teacher in SAUSD 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Hmmm... Thurmond is all of a sudden interested in student literacy now that elections are near? I heard him speak at a CTA conference in April 2022, and literacy was never mentioned. His main topics were anti-racism, universal meals, mental health, and community schools. When speaking about anti-racism he mocked school boards passing resolutions to ban CRT because he said CRT is only for higher education. However, as someone endorsed and … Read More

    Hmmm… Thurmond is all of a sudden interested in student literacy now that elections are near? I heard him speak at a CTA conference in April 2022, and literacy was never mentioned. His main topics were anti-racism, universal meals, mental health, and community schools. When speaking about anti-racism he mocked school boards passing resolutions to ban CRT because he said CRT is only for higher education. However, as someone endorsed and funded by the teachers union, he should know that the NEA stated CRT should be promoted for grades K-12 (NBI 39, 2021). https://brenda4kids.com/index.php/our-media/documents/national-educators-association-promotes-crt-for-grades-k-12

    The Interfaith Statewide Coalition (Imams, Rabbis, Pastors, and Priests throughout California) requested a meeting to address some of the concerns mentioned in this article, but so far no dates have been provided by his CDE office. However, Lance Christensen has offered to listen to these interfaith community leaders.

  2. Ruth Green 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    If the state continues with the balanced literacy instead of the science of reading, the effort will be wasted. It’s a good thing Thurmond and Darling-Hammond spoke with Kymyona Burke, but will they really listen and faithfully implement the science of reading with good curricula and teacher training? If they need confidence to change direction with resources and training they only need to look at the gains Mississippi has made with their real research based approach.

  3. Dr. Bill Conrad 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Let the incessant cycle of state-driven Kabuki theater begin yet again! It’s ground hog day all over again! It is bureaucrats in search of a solution that has existed for over 20 years in the form of the science of reading. It is educational leadership handing the solution off to a third party vendor giving bureaucrats ample opportunity to stuff their pockets. It is state government operating as it always does sidestepping its responsibilities to the children and families … Read More

    Let the incessant cycle of state-driven Kabuki theater begin yet again!

    It’s ground hog day all over again!

    It is bureaucrats in search of a solution that has existed for over 20 years in the form of the science of reading.

    It is educational leadership handing the solution off to a third party vendor giving bureaucrats ample opportunity to stuff their pockets.

    It is state government operating as it always does sidestepping its responsibilities to the children and families of California.

    The children and families will continue to wait as Thurmond and his sycophants task force up!

    Replies

    • MB 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      I agree. The research on reading has been out since the mid 1990’s when the state put a similar task force together, presented it systemically to districts, and provided professional development dollars to back it up. That we don’t have a coherent plan at the state level as a model for districts to follow is inexcusable.