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Ed Trust’s Ryan Smith explains ‘The California Way’ in education

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | July 21, 2017

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Ryan Smith is the executive director of The Education Trust- West. (Courtesy photo)

At an event filled with 500 Los Angeles education leaders, Ryan Smith, executive director of The Education Trust -West, highlighted the urgent need to ensure that low-income students of color get the best education possible — and how to do it with what he calls “The California Way.”

Smith is director of the research and advocacy organization focused on educational justice and high academic achievement for all California students, particularly those of color and living in poverty. The educators gathered last Thursday at the 2017 Student Achievement Symposium presented by Los Angeles County Office of Education to discuss current issues including the California school dashboard, the California accountability model, policy and strategies to support English learners, and how to create family and community engagement.

In an interview with LA School Report, Smith, who previously directed the education programs and policy efforts for United Way of Greater Los Angeles and worked for former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, talked about what he believes are the crucial next steps in education in California, including the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Plan, and why it is crucial for educators to understand “The California Way.”

What did you find out at the event was the educators’ main interest or concern?

There was a real commitment and focus among educators on what does equity look like, what’s the definition of equity, how do we realize equity day to day in our classrooms and communities. For example, in communities like Compton, schools perform really below the state average, so how do we ensure that low-income students and students of color get the best education possible.

What kind of data was highlighted in your presentation?

I was able to share data like the amount of Latinos and black students that don’t graduate with their cohort in four years could fill the Staples Center more than three times. At the current rate of growth for English learners in the state as far as the math standards, all English learners won’t meet those standards until the year 2103.

What is the California Way on education?

It is an approach with the idea that in the age of local control and the redesign of our new accountability system we need to do more to provide teacher support, and to provide opportunities for schools and districts to improve as well as to make sure that we’re trusting our educators. It’s supposed to swing away from the No Child Left Behind era.

I would say the California way must focus its attention on equity. One out of five students is an English learner, three out of five are black or Latino, three out of five are low income, so the California way has to be centered on equity. And I think we need to ensure that communities trust schools in districts. We need to ask districts to partner with parents and community members in order to ensure that all students have the opportunity to have college or a rewarding career.

What is your position on the state ESSA plan presented to the California Board of Education last week?

I would say the current draft of the plan should go further on being explicit about equity. We hope that as the state continues to work on the state plan that there’s real intention on improving the contents so it’s supportive of low-income students and students of color.

I would encourage the state board of education to continue to improve the ESSA state plan.

What do the people of California need to know about the state of education right now?

I would just say that if ever there was a time for the general public to be engaged in education in California, now is that time. With the move toward Local Control (LCFF) and the federal ESSA law passing, a lot is changing and we need to get as much input from the community as possible. We need as much parent and community involvement as possible too.


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