Trials and Tribulations of Education Policy in California

How Key Stakeholders Are Preparing for November’s Superintendent Race

Voters in the Golden State will be casting their ballots on November 6 for a litany of both congressional and statewide seats, one of which will determine the course of leadership for California’s Department of Education. The State Superintendent is responsible for this leadership of the Department, executing Board of Education policies, as well as managing school districts, after school programs, summer programs, and career and college readiness programs.

Related imageYesterday, I had the privilege of attending a Public Policy forum hosted by Southern California Grantmakers, a regional association of philanthropists and grantmakers working to make a difference in our communities and around the world. This event was attended by a myriad of influential donors and grantmakers in the nonprofit world, representing different types of foundations ranging from private to community, as well as some government agencies. A forum was held Monday night to provide members with an intimate opportunity to hear from the candidates running for the highest statewide elected office for education, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The conversation was moderated by Cara Esposito, Board Member of Southern California Grantmakers and Executive Director of the Leonetti/O’Connell Family Foundation, and involved a conversation solely with candidate Marshall Tuck since his opponent, Tony Thurmond, declined the invitation to participate.

Grantmakers asked Marshall what his top 3 goals were for education, and he responded with “increasing post-secondary and college completion rates, improving college readiness, and bridging achievement gaps” as part of a broader effort to strengthen equity for all students. A strong believer in universal pre-K, he wants to divert the state’s exorbitant funding from its criminal justice system into education, as well as exploring other sources of revenue that could be used to increase teacher and principal compensation and fund classroom resources. Tuck believes that California’s data systems are woefully lacking, and that major steps must be taken to track students more effectively all the way through to the workforce.

A significant aspect of Tuck’s educational ideology revolves around equity, addressing the disproportionate levels of support in place for students of varying socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic demographics. He recognizes the disparity in teacher quality, facilities, funding, resources, and more that contribute to gaps in academic achievement largely affecting low-income students of color. He claims that “the middle and upper class have never been stuck in poorly performing schools”, an important distinction to make when reforming the education system to properly serve its most vulnerable populations.

Image result for marshall tuckMarshall Tuck brings 15 years of experience in public school administration to the race, most notably his executive leadership of another nonprofit known as the Partnership for Los Angeles, a collaborative venture between philanthropy and the public sector to improve student performances in struggling K-12 schools. Tuck and the Partnership successfully raised four-year graduation rates by 60% and had the highest academic improvement among California’s schools systems with more than 10,000 students. Prior to the Partnership, Tuck served as the President of Green Dot Public Schools, where he helped create 10 new public charter highschools in LA’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Green Dot’s major success involved developing a foundation of high academic performance for students of color in low-income communities, a marginalized population that often falls through the cracks of the achievement gap in our education system.

If you ask a representative sample of voters if they know the name of the current Superintendent, it is likely that a majority of them will have not even heard of the position itself. This is incredibly problematic when recognizing the scale of the impact that the State Superintendent can have on statewide education policy, especially with California’s influence as a progressive economic power on the rest of the nation. It is unacceptable for California’s representatives to claim that we are progressive when we are failing our most vulnerable populations of young students, providing inequitable and unsatisfactory preparation for their future pursuits in academic and professional fields. U.S. News ranked California’s pre-K through 12 education performance at a dismal 44th in the nation, measuring the impact of our schools through statewide test scores and public high school graduation rates.

Image result for lausd classroomsCan we afford to continue with the status quo, as California is dropping lower and lower in national education rankings by the year? Or is it time that we explore avenues for reform, transforming the way we think of traditional educational standards by challenging the norms that have changed little from the times of the Industrial Revolution? We must move past political battles and instead spend more energy addressing educational inequities facing our students, teachers, and community stakeholders, identifying gaps in curriculum and support services to improve success rates and college readiness.

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