This post was originally published on Sacramento Observer

By A.V. Benford

California Superintendent Tony Thurmond took a daring step Thursday morning. Thurmond announced the creation of the Black Student Achievement Task Force with a goal of “getting to recommendations that fold into legislation that will help fill the (opportunity) gaps.” 

The task force’s leaders are a brigade of the best minds in California Black education policy including Dr. Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies UCLA, Dr. Tyrone Howard, Associate Dean and Professor at the School of Education and Information Studies and Founder and Director of the Black Male Institute, Desiree Carver-Thomas, Researcher and Policy Analyst, Learning Policy Institute. 

Thurmond noted that “the task force is still informational and will continue to build its membership.” Senator Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), another leader of the task force, admitted to basically stalking Thurmond for the past month because she was so excited to talk about the new task force. 

Kamlager looks forward to turning the policy recommendations that the task force creates into legislation. 

“Student success is predicated upon a multitude of environmental factors,” said Kamlager when referring to the multitude of stressors that students face including food insecurity, sleep deprivation, and unique educational needs. “None of this is a zero sum game, everything is interconnected.” she noted.

Emboldened by what he called the “best budget in California state history,” Thurmond, in announcing the task force, cited more than $1 billion allocated in the current budget for diversifying the teacher workforce. Another $3 billion has been allocated for expansion of community schools, programs designed to serve high school students and young adults whose circumstances have dictated the need for a more flexible path than that provided by traditional schools such as students who may need to work while going to school or who have become parents or caretakers.

“We are in a moment where we need to be explicit,” said Thurmond, speaking of the unprecedented level of funding available for funding initiatives to help close the opportunity gap. 

Thurmond acknowledges the historical challenges of closing the opportunity gap born out in California Legislative Black Caucus studies and Department of Education reports. Of the more than 300,000 Black students in California:

  • 67% of California Black children do not read or write at grade level.
  • 86% of Black students are not at grade level in science.
  • 31% of Black students have completed their A-G requirements, (necessary for admission to a California State college or university) as opposed to 49% of White students and 70% of Asian students.
  • 77% of Black students graduate high school, in contrast to 88% of White students and 93% of Asian students. 

“In reviewing recent data and reports, it is clear to me that over time we are seeing progress in math and reading for California students and for most sub-groups, but it concerns me deeply is that despite our efforts, the gap persists and is widening between students of color and their white and Asian peers,” Thurmond said.

Dr. Pedro Noguera, another task force leader, told California’s Black educators and families to remember the bright spots. He noted that  King /Drew High School of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles sends more Black students to University of California schools than any other high school in the state. “How do we bring more of that education to Black children throughout the state?” Noguera asked. 


EDITOR’S NOTE: A.V. Benford is a Report For America Corp Member and an Education Reporter for Cap Radio News and The Sacramento Observer. Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.

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