California Commits to Literacy Target and Bets on Biliteracy

State promises to enable ALL children to read by G3 while guaranteeing multilingual opportunities

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond has announced an initiative to ensure that not only will every student learn to read by third grade by the year 2026, but that the effort will also include a biliteracy milestone for dual-language learners.

Thurmond is creating a task force to bring together practitioners, advocates, researchers, foundation partners, thought leaders, students, parents, and other experts to identify key strategies for advancing this goal. Efforts are underway in the California Department of Education (CDE) to build out a task force structure and membership, as well as establish when the task force will meet and details on the types of questions they will be tackling.

On the legislative side, California Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) has agreed to sponsor legislation to advance the initiative. The legislation, to be formally introduced in 2022, will be informed by recommendations that come out of the task force and could include providing resources for advancing literacy and biliteracy goals through professional learning to teach reading, family engagement strategies, and methods for getting books in the hands of students and their families, among others. Thurmond anticipates that the legislation will lay out a multifaceted strategy that considers issues of readiness, chronic absenteeism, needs of students with disabilities and multilingual learners, early education, and socioeconomic factors that impact a student’s ability to learn to read.

“I look forward to working closely with you all in the coming weeks and months on improving childhood literacy and biliteracy,” said Bonta during the press conference. “Literacy for every child in California has been a lifelong passion for me, and, quite frankly, it is what I believe to be the surest path toward justice and a true democracy in our state and in this country. I applaud Superintendent Thurmond for this targeted campaign. It is a bold, aggressive agenda. I’m on board and willing to make sure that we have the ability to provide legislation that is going to be meaningful and focus on implementation and making this a reality for every single child in this state. Literacy is the key to equity; it forms the foundation of our educational capacity and achievement, and we are going to fight together for literacy, equity, and justice moving forward.”

“We already know that when students learn to read, they can read to learn anything, and that this is a gateway skill that can carry them to any point in their life, career, and in their journey,” Thurmond said. “We also know that when students don’t learn to read by third grade, they are at greater risk to drop out of school, and they are at greater risk to end up in the criminal justice system. From my standpoint, this is a strategy that is about many things: helping children learn to read, but also putting them on a path that can create success for them. Our students can learn and overcome obstacles, but we have to give them the resources to do that, and now is clearly the time to advance this.”

Thurmond repeated the words of California Association for Bilingual Education’s CEO Jan Gustafson-Corea, “Every one of our students can learn to read and write in two languages, and do so in a way that meets important grade-level standards,” before she offered the association’s support for the plan: “The breadth and depth of this state plan supports the vision of biliteracy and literacy development in English and target instructional languages such as Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and many others. Biliteracy & literacy development means that we will honor and support the vision of students learning to read and write in the target language and apply their L1 skills to reading and writing successfully in English. It is a win-win situation!”

Other participants in the press conference shared their personal stories and encouraged statewide support for literacy and biliteracy for all students regardless of their social and economic background.

“California has to work together to prioritize that early care learning of its youngest children,” said Jackie Thu-Huong Wong, chief deputy director of First 5 California. “We believe that early targeted literacy interventions can improve outcomes for an entire generation of Californian’s children, and we are so grateful and look forward to working with Superintendent Thurmond and the team to make literacy a reality for all California kids.”

Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Fairfield), liaison to the state’s Advisory Commission on Special Education, shared a heartfelt and personal story of his own childhood battle overcoming dyslexia. “It was embarrassing, humiliating, and I was always being called stupid or lazy,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we can take this role and this task force going forward to make so many differences in people’s lives—not only the societal changes and benefits, but also the economic prosperity of people’s education is the way to success, and I am looking forward to being a part of this and creating new paths.”

“This has been an incredibly challenging year for our students, our educators, and their families,” E. Toby Boyd, president of the California Teachers Association, said. “The pandemic has shined a light on the challenges that our schools and communities face in serving the six million students in our system. I, along with my 310,000 educators, are ready to work with Superintendent Thurmond, Assemblymembers Bonta and Frazier, and the members of the task force to develop thoughtful strategies and policies for our youngest learners and also for the future of California public education.”

Thurmond encouraged those interested in participating in this new literacy effort or who wish to learn more to email [email protected]. Thurmond also called for efforts to get books in the hands of as many students and families as possible.

An archived broadcast of the full press conference with American Sign Language interpretation service can be viewed on the CDE Facebook page.

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