Assemblymember Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) recently held a media call with members of the black press to discuss his plans for California’s education system. Thurmond is competing against Marshall Tuck for the post of state superintendent of public instruction.
Thurmond served as a West Contra Costa School Board member, Richmond City Council member and social worker before he was elected to the legislature.
He takes a more grassroots approach to educational problems. He believes early-childhood education and reading programs are the solutions to producing better students.
As a legislator, Thurmond has also sponsored Assembly Bill 43 that wanted to levy taxes on the state’s private prisons and direct the money to the K-12 education system. (The bill died.)
Thurmond said that, as a former school board member, he is aware of some of the problems black students face. Many of the reporters asked how Thurmond would solve the problem of high suspension rates of black students. He said we need to strengthen teaching training programs. Thurmond added that schools need to review their suspension rates because many students were being suspended for “willful defiance.”
He added that teachers need to look into their “implicit bias,” when dealing with African-American students. He also plans to create a pipeline to produce more minority teachers.
“Over the last year, I have spent time studying successful programs in other states to provide a model for California. I am encouraged by the results of these recruitment programs and look forward to introducing this pilot program that will provide teachers of color with the tools they need to educate and inspire the next generation of leaders,” said Thurmond.
Several other states, such as Illinois and South Carolina, have implemented similar programs. According to a press release, minority representation among the teaching field is fairly low in California. Only 4 percent of educators are black and 20 percent are Latino. The numbers drop even lower when you look at male educators.
Thurmond said he was also concerned about the high number of black students who are being put in special education programs or diagnosed with ADHD. He said that in some cases they are just being normal children. Thurmond added that not all students fit in a traditional lecture-based class.
He said education needs to be more interactive and hands on. That is why he authored a bill that added $150 million for career technical education. Other issues Thurmond wants to focus on are students learning a second language and STEM courses.
“We need to prepare our kids to compete in a global market,” he said.
Tuck, Thurmond’s opponent in the superintendent’s race, is former CEO of Green Dot Public Schools, a charter chain that has schools in the Los Angeles area. According to Thurmond, Tuck has millionaire backers and a $30 million campaign fund.
Thurmond said he wants to serve students in all schools, but he’s not convinced that charter schools are always a success.
“The data I have seen shows most charter schools experiences are similar to public schools,” said Thurmond. “It’s not any better, not any worse.”
However, charter schools do benefit from smaller classes and the ability to expel students.
One of the worries about charter schools is that they operate as for-profit businesses that transfer money out of the local school system. Thurmond said he had co-sponsored legislation (AB 406) this year that was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation prevents for-profit charter schools in California.