Dissent, no funding yet for statewide teacher training in math and reading

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Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education

Legislation that calls for providing all state teachers and aides with math and reading training passed its first legislative hurdle despite the uncertainty of funding and the skepticism of advocates for English learners who dislike the bill’s nod to instruction in the “science of reading,” including phonics.

Senate Bill 1115 has no secure source of money heading into a tight fiscal year, with Gov. Gavin Newsom all but ruling out money for new programs. His January budget includes $20 million for a designated county office to train coaches who would then train their own teachers in what they learned.

Neither the bill’s author, Sen. Monique Limon, D-Santa Barbara, nor its sponsor, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, offered a cost estimate at a hearing of the Senate Education Committee last Wednesday, though it would cost at least hundreds of millions of dollars to train 300,000 teachers. They said they were willing to phase in and focus funding, such as concentrating on early literacy and numeracy skills, and to look for federal and dedicated sources of money.

Thurmond said training teachers to enable all students to read effectively “is an issue of moral clarity.” Neither he nor Limon offered a cost estimate that could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

“In an age when we have access to substantial brain science about how students learn, it should be unacceptable to train only some educators in the best strategies to teach essential skills,” he said.

School districts have received billions of dollars between federal and state Covid relief funding, including money to address learning loss — money that could be used for teacher training — but none of that has been earmarked for that purpose.

State budgets have set aside $50 million to hire and train reading teachers in the most impoverished 5% of schools. But Thurmond said training of trainers, however, does not substitute providing sufficient funding to ensure training for all teachers and support staff in “high-quality” programs in math and literacy.

The bill calls for the Department of Education to identify and recommend those high-quality programs by Jan. 1, 2026.  For transitional kindergarten through sixth grade, those should align with “the science of reading by focusing on results-driven methods of teaching, which may include, but is not limited to, offerings such as Lexia LETRS and CORE Learning.”

Singling out those specific trainings in the bill were red flags for two nonprofits that advocate for English learners: Californians Together and California Association of Bilingual Educators. The science of reading refers to research from multiple fields of science that confirm or discount theories on how children learn to read. LETRS and CORE Learning are intensive programs that explain a systematic approach to teaching phonics and other elements of reading consistent with the science of reading.

Californians Together and CABE, however, complain that those programs overemphasize phonics and “structured literacy” at the expense of English learners’ need for more attention to oral language and vocabulary development.

Calling Californians Together’s position on the bill a “tweener,”  legislative advocate Cristina Salazar testified at a hearing last week, “We agree that we need more professional learning for educators, but we do have concerns with the bill.  Specifically, it mentioned the science of reading, and it also names commercial programs.”

CABE legislative advocate Jennifer Bakers said her organization shares the same concerns and “hopes to have a collaborative conversation about a path to move forward.”

Last year, at the Legislature’s direction,  the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing adopted new standards for teaching reading that emphasize explicit instruction of fundamental skills, including phonics. Starting next year, candidates in teacher preparation programs are required to be trained in those strategies.

Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Boch, R-Yucaipa, asked Thurmond whether the intent is to train existing teachers in the new standards that new teachers will receive.

“Yes, that is correct,” Thurmond said.

Opposition from Californians Together and CABE this month factored into the quashing of a bill that would have required school districts and charter schools to train all TK to fifth-grade teachers and literacy coaches in instruction based on the science of reading and to buy textbooks from a list endorsed by the State Board of Education. Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, D-Salinas, ordered Assembly Bill 2222 shelved without a hearing to give time for negotiations with opponents, including the California Teachers Association.

At the hearing, Thurmond acknowledged similarities between the two bills, although AB 2222 would have been a mandate, while AB 1115 would recommend the selection of trainings.    

Along with mandating the science of reading approach to instruction, AB 2222 would have required that all TK to fifth-grade teachers, literacy coachesand specialists take a 30-hour minimum course in reading instruction by 2028. School districts and charter schools would purchase textbooks from an approved list endorsed by the State Board of Education. 

Thurmond said the language of AB 1115 is well balanced in that it refers to both the science of reading and the state’s English Language Arts/English Language Development, which includes multiple strategies necessary for all students, including English learners, to learn how to read. 

New math framework

July will mark a year since the State Board of Education adopted a revised California Mathematics Framework, which took four years and three revisions to pass. The drafters and supporters agree that the framework, with emphasis on tangible applications of math, as well as a deeper conceptual understanding of it, will require a shift in teaching and extensive training. But no significant money has been allocated yet, and the process of reviewing textbooks and materials has yet to begin.

In an interview, Limon said it is important to raise the issue of teacher training now, even if legislation is tied to a future appropriation.

Part of the public debate in committing public dollars should be, What would the program look like, and how will it serve diverse students? she said. “There is value to that discussion,” she said. Before her election to the Legislature, Limon served for six years on the Santa Barbara Unified school board.

In 2022-23, only 46.7% of California students met grade standards on the state’s English language arts test; the percentages were 36.6% for Hispanic, 29.9% for Black, and 35.3% for economically disadvantaged students. The scores were worse in math:  34.5% of students overall, with 22.7% of Latino, 16.9% of Black, and 22.9% of economically disadvantaged students meeting standards.

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