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State Superintendent Announces Task Force to Improve Black Student Achievement

By: Manny Otiko, IVN

Statewide — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced he’s forming a task force to improve Black student achievement.

He announced this at a teleconference on Thursday. During the conference, he introduced some of the task force members, which includes education experts and legislators. 

Thurmond said a lot of effort had been put into narrowing the academic gap between Black students and white students. And while it has improved, there is still a gap.

According to Thurmond, more than $1 billion has been allocated to help recruit more minority teachers. He also pointed out that studies show that having at least one African-American teacher helps African-Americans students do better.

Another policy issue that Thurmond discussed was introducing Afro-centric literary programs, which have proven to increase Black students reading grades.

However, Thurmond said that the issues facing African-American students are multifaceted. These can include poverty, crime and structural racism within the school system.

Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles,) a task force member, also spoke during the teleconference. She said that the achievement gap has only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, which further exposed some of the structural issues in the education system.

Kamlager has personal experience with some of the issues Black students face. 

She talked about an experience with her daughter where she was one of few Black students in the class. She said one of her teachers told her that she was afraid of Black people.

Dr. Pedro Noguera, a USC education professor, will also serve on the task force. He said California needs to look at schools where Black students succeed and copy what they’re doing.

According to Noguera, Black students do better in integrated schools. He also cited King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science, which sends more Black students to USC than any other school in the state. He said the school is proven to be a success story.

Noguera said that the school succeeds because it has highly qualified instructors and focuses heavily on providing internship experiences for students.

“The challenge is how can we bring that kind of education to more Black students in the state,” he said.

Dr. Tyrone Howard, a UCLA professor, said that while Black students are affected by external factors such as poverty and crime, some internal inequalities are also at play. He pointed out that even Black students from middle-class families have some of the same problems as Black students from low-income families. 

Howard referred to issues such as preschool suspensions and African-American students not being recommended to AP classes or gifted and talented programs.

Thurmond also agreed with Howard’s summation.

“There is no reason why someone in preschool is being expelled,” he said

Thurmond also talked about the impact of ethnic studies now being required for all students to graduate. He said this new policy could help boost the academic achievement of Black students.

“It is evidence-based that ethnic studies lead to higher grades rates (in Black students),” he said.

According to Thurmond, the task force will make policy recommendations that will be turned into legislation.

Inland Valley News coverage of local news in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.

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