PPIC’s Speaker Series on California’s Future invites thought leaders and changemakers with diverse perspectives to participate critically, constructively, and collaboratively in public conversations. The purpose is to give Californians a better understanding of how our leaders are addressing the challenges facing our state.
PPIC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it support, endorse, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Any opinions expressed by event participants are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect any position of the Public Policy Institute of California.
As California’s public schools reopen for the fall semester, educators are dealing with a range of issues—from addressing learning loss to ensuring the health and safety of students and staff. PPIC president Mark Baldassare talked with Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education, about the challenges and opportunities of reopening K–12 schools.
Darling-Hammond noted that many districts will begin the new school year in the next couple of weeks, and some schools are already open for in-person instruction. Districts are offering online learning as an option, she said, “but most kids want to be back and parents want them back.”
For Darling-Hammond, the goal is to provide a safe and “joyful” return to school. In addition to ensuring that students and staff follow masking and other safety protocols, schools are focusing on engaging kids in physical activity and social arts, providing social and emotional support, and helping students feel attached and welcome. Finally, she added, “Schools are placing a big emphasis on making sure kids have pathways to learning recovery.”
This is a challenging set of priorities—but new state and federal funding can help. As Darling-Hammond put it, “For the first time in a long time, school districts have funding to do what they want to do.”
“In some ways the pandemic has been a distraction, slowed us down,” she added. “But in some ways it has speeded us up.” She outlined recent progress in several areas, such as closing the digital divide, solving the teacher shortage, and offering universal preschool. “We are on a path to change the system,” she said.