'Implicit bias' training coming for California teachers

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said Thursday that some of the issues raised by the George Floyd case have their roots in the classroom.

He wants to provide "implicit bias" training for teachers and educators across the state.

"We’re rolling out a campaign of sorts. A campaign to talk about implicit bias," said Thurmond during a meeting streamed live on the California Department of Education's Facebook page.

"Implicit bias" refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.

"I’m banking on our ability to start the conversation about using education as a way of help building healing and understanding to promote tolerance," Thurmond said.

As Thurmond begins to initiate conversations with California educational leaders, parents, and students about racial bias and how education can teach empathy and tolerance and build racial justice, there is evidence to suggest racism affects black and brown students in the classroom.

"Implicit bias is based on the idea that we’re not aware of whiteness as a norm. That we, as people, have been so acclimatized into our society that the construct of whiteness is how to be, how to become, how to think, how to speak, what to do," said Dr. G.T. Reyes, professor of educational leadership at California State University East Bay.

The former principal of an Oakland high school said teachers – many times unknowingly – reinforce institutional racism on minority students.

"That’s the nature of implicit bias. I don’t know why I’m targeting you, I know that there are other kids doing the exact same thing, but I’m targeting that black boy right there in that corner who is doing something similar to these group of students there who might not be students of color," Reyes said.

While at Stanford University, Dr. Jason Okonofua conducted a research study titled “Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students,” which examined the school-to-prison pipeline and found large racial disparities in discipline toward black students.

"Not only are black students more likely to be suspended than their peers, but as you look at more suspensions – so more than one suspension – that disparity becomes even larger," said Okonofua.

The studies highlight the reason behind Thurmond's renewed push to provide implicit bias training to educators across the state.

In addition to discipline, studies also show that black and brown students are often given unequal and inadequate education.

Thurmond says his initiative to look into the issue more closely will also examine legislation and inequalities in schools, where black and brown students are more likely to be pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system.