State education leaders launch task force to improve academic performance for Black students

"We know that those barriers are many," says State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. "Poverty. Racism. Many historical issues, socio-economic challenges. We know that some of those gaps have been exacerbated and grown during the pandemic."

To change those statistics, Thurmond is spearheading a task force committed to improving academic outcomes of black students.

The task force will create legislation recommendations to address the impacts of institutional racism in U.S. public schools and the widening achievement gap between students of color and white students.

"The real problems are in the places where black children are the minority, with their parent's voices not being heard, where they are too easily dismissed," says UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools Faculty Director Dr. Pedro Noguera.

Research shows having just one black teacher helps African American students do better and they're more likely to go to college.

Speaking as a California senator and mother, Sydney Kamlager shares why this is important.

"My black child, being only one of two black children in a classroom, having the teacher say that she was afraid of black people, and had in fact never seen one and then all of a sudden decided that the black people she liked the best had the darkest skin, it just gave me pause," she said.

Fresno Unified is ahead of the state's efforts, already having a task force of its own and running a summer literacy program that addresses education inequality.

"African American students are brilliant and it's not the students or their ability, it's really the system," says Tonisha Hargrove-Williams. "We're responsible as educators to make sure that the system is fair."

The African American Academic Acceleration Program helps more than 500 Fresno Unified students who are below grade get up to speed.

"Whether it was passing reading fluency or growth in word reading fluency or vocabulary, we had an average growth of about 60 percent," Hargrove-Williams said.
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