The 21st century has been a transformative time in public education. While most educators were disappointed with the mixed results of the 2002 federal law that linked aid to improving test scores — the No Child Left Behind Act — some states have seen dramatic progress. In union strongholds like Massachusetts and New Jersey, and in nonunion states like Florida and Texas, reforms that emphasize accountability from students, parents, teachers and administrators alike — and that use evidence-based best practices to standardize and improve teaching tactics — have boosted student achievement. These four states’ 2017 scores in the massive National Assessment of Educational Progress confirm this success.
Yet California has ignored the lessons from these states. Instead, Gov. Jerry Brown championed the Local Control Funding Formula. Enacted in 2013, it required that additional state funds go to help schools with high concentrations of English-language learners, foster children and students from poor families — and somehow expected each district to start from scratch and come up with its own specialized local reform plan. It came as no surprise when a thorough review by CALmatters last year found little evidence of improved academic performance after $31 billion in funding had been pumped into schools with high numbers of struggling students.
This history shows the urgency of electing Marshall Tuck as the next state superintendent of public instruction. The Los Angeles Democrat burnished his credentials as a reformer while the president of the Green Dot charter school system from 2002 to 2006 and the CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit that operated 17 urban public schools, from 2007 to 2013. In an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board last month, Tuck made a powerful case that not only is much of the California school system generally underachieving but that the bureaucrats running it actively try to hide this fact. This promotion of confusion starts with the “Dashboard” index that uses several measures of school performance that actually makes school performance harder to judge. It continues with a blanket refusal to systematically evaluate student progress and both teachers and teaching practices.
“The system is fundamentally not working for our kids, and that’s why we just have to change it,” Tuck told us. On his first day in office, Tuck said he would reverse a 2015 ruling by present state schools chief Tom Torlakson that lets LCFF dollars go to general uses like teacher raises, begin pushing bold evidence-based reforms to improve schools and launch efforts to have mentors coach up struggling teachers.
In his interview with us, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, who finished second to Tuck in the June primary, seemed just as affable but not nearly as ambitious as Tuck. He also vowed to reverse the 2015 ruling on LCFF and to back new reforms. But Thurmond’s early endorsements by the state’s two powerful teachers unions show he is the candidate of the complacent education establishment. And his actions in July 2017 — when he openly sabotaged an effort by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to improve teacher tenure laws — showed that his loyalties, as with Torlakson, are more with the adult employees of schools than with students.
By contrast, Tuck’s focus is on helping the millions of California students he fears will struggle in the 21st-century economy because schools aren’t giving them a solid foundation in critical problem-solving and literacy. His energy, background and clear understanding of what it takes to improve education make him not just a good choice but a great one. Vote Marshall Tuck for superintendent of public instruction.