Superintendent Cindy Marten outlined a $350 billion plan to accelerate the recovery of the nation’s schools by focusing on equity and emphasizing teachers over technology during her speech at the San Diego Unified annual State of the District Address on Tuesday. Marten said the plan was based on strategies that have helped San Diego Unified become the fastest improving big-city district in the nation, according to national education reports.
The superintendent delivered remarks alongside San Diego Unified Board President Dr. John Lee Evans and Mayor-Elect Todd Gloria during the annual State of the District Address on Nov. 17, which was held online due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Marten called the pandemic “an existential threat to everything we value in our public school system.”
Marten said it would take more than $350 billion over the next two years to help the nation’s schools accelerate learning, especially for the most vulnerable students. In addition to equity, Marten said schools should be free to emphasize high-quality classroom instruction.
“There is a lot of talk in Washington about technology, and closing the digital divide is important, but the way to help students recover from a year in distance learning is not through more effective distance learning,” Marten said. “Our students need their teachers because teachers are the only ones who can provide targeted instruction and customized learning. High-quality teaching has been key to our success in San Diego, and that is one of the reasons we are calling for a national teacher corps program to be part of any national recovery effort.”
San Diego Unified released the National Response to Persevere and to Prioritize School Recovery with Equity and Undoing Learning Loss plan sandiegounified.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_27732394/File/Departments/Government%20Relations/Transition%20Team%20Letter%20with%20Memo.pdf this month and urged the incoming Biden Administration to take up the plan within the first 100 days of its term in office. Marten said the plan is based on the lessons of the last decade of school reform in San Diego, which has contributed to the success of local students.
The Council of the Great City Schools called San Diego Unified one of the fastest improving districts in the nation, and local students have repeatedly outperformed their peers in math and reading on national assessments.
* EdSource reported San Diego Unified is the only district whose scores in math and reading at fourth and eighth grade “significantly exceeded” the national urban district average.
* The Center for the Transformation of Schools at UCLA found San Diego Unified increased college readiness of all students, including a 50 percent gain among African Americans.
* At the same time, the number of college courses completed by San Diego students before high school graduation has nearly doubled in the last three years, to 10,693.
Marten insisted the timing is right for a new federal focus on school funding and noted the San Diego school reform initiative was forged during the 2008 recession. Hard times, she said, provide policymakers with a “clarity of focus.” In San Diego Unified, that translated to an emphasis on equitable funding, a focus on classroom instruction, and tougher academic standards, she said.
“San Diego can show the nation how to solve this problem, but we cannot do it alone. Good teachers never give you the answer, anyway. We show you how to solve the problem for yourself. And, a problem of this size is going to take all of us working together,” Marten said.
The federal relief plan outlined by San Diego Unified includes the following:
* A robust COVID-19 testing, tracking, and tracing strategy for students and educators
* $350 billion in direct relief to schools to offset lost state revenue and increased operating costs
* Full funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
* Full funding for the Impact Aid program to invest in military families
* Tripling Title I funding and making the fund permanent to support low-income families
* Guaranteeing all 3- and 4 year-olds have access to high-quality early childhood education.
“This is the greatest adaptive challenge any of us in public education will face in our life times. The COVID-19 crisis is an existential threat to everything we value in our public school system. It threatens excellence and equity,” Marten said in her remarks. “Our nation cannot afford a lost generation of learners. Nor can we afford an incomplete recovery that leaves communities of color behind, extending 400 years of inequality far into the future.”
In his first formal public address as mayor-elect, Gloria encouraged local students and reminded them that he is the product of a San Diego Unified education.
“I would like to thank our students for their continued hard work each and every day,” said Gloria, a member of the California State Assembly. “I want you to know that your city needs you. Your city is counting on you. We are all in this together.”