The best way to observe trends in public education is to be a teacher. A close second is to be married to a teacher.
I fall into the latter category.
My wife has been an elementary school teacher for seven years. She’s a go-getter who approaches the classroom with passion and a desire to see her low-income and socio-economically disadvantaged students succeed. She’s invested in improving learning outcomes, because successful students have the tools to succeed outside the classroom and improve their lives.
Many nights, our dinner conversations turn to field research sessions on the obstacles to educating our next generation.
Students who come from increasingly unstable homes. Teachers teaching not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but also providing social and emotional support to their pupils.
Class sizes that grow year after year due to a lack of new school construction and shortage of qualified teachers.
New regulations that districts, i.e., schools, i.e., teachers, are expected to implement.
Revised curriculum. Trendy instruction methods. The list goes on and on.
There’s a word that describes how many of our best public-school teachers feel: exasperated. Teaching has been reduced to a Sisyphean chore.
Recent data from the National Assessment of Education Progress found that California’s fourth graders rank 48th in reading and 49th in math.
Sadly, poor student performance isn’t a new phenomenon. In 1992, California’s fourth graders ranked next to last in reading and in the bottom three for mathematics.
For nearly three decades, California’s students have tested at the lowest levels. For almost 30 years, they have performed significantly lower than the national average for public school students.
But little has been done to address this crisis and reform our public schools. Little has been done to ensure that all students are afforded a quality education. Instead, we see more of the same as entrenched and deep-pocketed special interests out-compete the interests of our students.
Sacramento politicians love to talk about California’s booming economy and our undisputed leadership in the technology and innovation economy. Do they not realize that education outcomes are directly tied to future economic well-being?
California’s students will not be able to participate and succeed in the information economy if we do not enact meaningful reform to turnaround our failing schools.
Sacramento has a record of taking aggressive action to address its priority issues. In 1992, Cap and Trade didn’t exist. This year, California enacted an extension to its flagship climate change program that will increase the cost of energy and hurt California families. Why? Because we have a governor and legislature that believes climate change to be the existential issue of our time. Failure to take bold action on climate change is an affront to the future of our children.
If only they had a similar drive to dismantle the education status quo and disrupt a system that is failing California’s next generation, today.
Last week I met Marshall Tuck. You might recall his name from 2014, when he ran an underdog campaign for State Superintendent against incumbent Tom Torlakson. Tuck forced the incumbent into a run-off before narrowly losing, earning 48 percent of the statewide vote.
Tuck’s back at it, running again for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
During our conversation, you couldn’t miss his passion to see every California student succeed, or his dedication to common-sense education reform. We covered topics such as curriculum, expansion of public charter schools, teacher training, and family and community engagement.
Tuck’s ideas haven’t been created in a vacuum. For the last 15 years, he’s been on the front lines of education reform. As president of the nonprofit Green Dot Public Schools, Tuck helped launch 10 public charter high schools in some of L.A.’s poorest neighborhoods. All 10 schools outperform local schools, and eight have been ranked among the top high schools in America.
Before Green Dot, he was the founding CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit collaboration between the Mayor of L.A. and the L.A. Unified School District that operates struggling elementary, middle and high schools. The results speak for themselves: under Tuck’s leadership, four-year graduation rates improved by 60 percent. Further, these schools had the highest academic improvement among California school systems with more than 10,000 students.
These are the results we should expect at every public school in California.
Sadly, the types of long-term legislative solutions we need to reform California’s education code are still far away. In the short term, we need a state superintendent who will be our students’ most vocal advocate. We need a state superintendent who has experience transforming academic outcomes.
I told my wife about my conversation with Marshall Tuck, the types of schools he has led and his vision to empower teachers, principals and parents. I observed as her exasperation began to give way to hopeful excitement about this future of education. A future marked not by more of the same, but by transformation that provides every student with opportunity to succeed.
The 2018 primary is more than six months away, but now is the time to begin having a conversation about how to influence the future of our schools. More importantly, it’s time to have a frank conversation about what is needed to provide California children with real educational opportunities.
I’m a fan of both Marshall Tuck’s vision and his record. He’s someone we need to watch.
Contributing columnist Justin Salters writes weekly on politics, culture and civic engagement; the views expressed are his own. Reach him at Facebook.com/thatjustinsalters, Twitter @justinsalters or firstname.lastname@example.org.