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Opinion: We Need Real Change to Improve California’s Public Schools

It is a moral stain on our state that we continue to fail millions of kids in our public schools, and in particular black and Latino students, by not providing them a quality education. In California, the reality is that we are not yet getting the job done when it comes to delivering for all kids in public schools.

I came to the Legislature with the goal of changing this. Unfortunately, there is still so much that has to be done in order to achieve this important goal. As a member of the Education Committee in the state Assembly, I have seen firsthand how Sacramento has failed to do its part. This has to change, and a big part of that change is electing a state superintendent with the ideas, experience, and track record of success that are necessary to bring the change our public schools so desperately need. This is why we must elect Marshall Tuck as the next state superintendent.

Marshall has the courage to take on powerful forces in Sacramento on behalf of students who are often left out of the conversation. He is the only candidates in this race that has a track record of turning around under-performing schools. With over 15 years of experience in public education, he has significantly improved educational outcomes at struggling elementary, middle and high schools across Los Angeles.

As the founding CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, his work directly impacted neighborhoods where less than 8 percent of those over the age of 24 had completed a four-year degree. At the schools he led, graduation rates increased 60 percent, and 8 of 10 new public high schools he helped open in high-poverty communities were ranked among the top performing high schools in the country by U.S. News & World Report. This is the kind of track record we should expect of California’s next state superintendent.

I know the power of public education. I was born to sharecroppers in Arkansas, and was just three years old when my family came to California in 1951. My father instilled in me the belief that education is a gateway to a better future, and California’s public schools at that time delivered on that promise. From those public schools, I dedicated my career to education. As a teacher, a school board member, and a member of the Assembly, I have made it my life’s work to close the achievement and opportunity gaps that now exist in our public education system.

Students in low-income communities, particularly those of color, continue to fall behind. About half of all public school students can read and write at grade level in California, while only 35 percent of low-income students can do the same. Less than a third of African-American students can. And only one-in-ten African-American males graduates from a California public high school prepared for college. Those statistics are shameful, but they are the challenges we and the next state superintendent must face.

The stakes are high for our kids, and it is critical that Californians elect a superintendent with the right experience and record of improving schools. Our state cannot continue down the same path of politics-as-usual. In the Legislature, I have seen how Sacramento has failed to prioritize kids, to take on special interests, and make the hard decisions that are necessary in order to improve our public schools. We need change and we need it now. That means having a state superintendent- our top education leader- who is willing to go beyond what is politically easy to fix a broken system.

Voters will soon decide who gets the opportunity to lead the next chapter for California’s public schools. Marshall Tuck is that candidate. He has the experience and vision to bring the change we so desperately need, and he has demonstrated he will take on special interests that have too often stood in the way of meaningful change that puts kids first.

In November it is my hope that voters will make their decision based on record and ideas. And if they do, I know they will make the same decision I made. Marshall Tuck is the strongest candidate in this race, and the only candidate who will take on Sacramento’s politics-as-usual, to give every student in California the opportunity for a brighter future.

By Dr. Shirley Nash Weber, a long-time San Diego State University professor, is a member of the state Assembly representing 79th District.