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Marshall Tuck: ‘We need fundamental and urgent change’

Vanessa Romo | May 9, 2014

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Marshall Tuck

Marshall Tuck

Marshall Tuck, a former charter school executive, is challenging incumbent Tom Torlakson to become California’s next State Superintendent of Public Education. The race includes Lydia Gutierrez, a former teacher who also ran four years ago. The three are on the statewide June 3 primary ballot.

We caught up with Tuck at a forum last week, and we interviewed him this week. Here’s what he had to say:

Q. Why are you running to be the next State Superintendent of Public Instruction?

A. California is 45th in math and reading today, and we have over two million kids going to school right now that can’t write and read at grade level. Twenty years ago we were 44th. That tells you we need fundamental and urgent change in our state, recognizing that will take a long time and will be very hard but we need to get focused on it as soon as possible.  And I don’t believe the current State Superintendent has got the urgency or the willingness to push the big issues that we need to push to help improve school education.

Q. Most voters have probably never heard of the State Superintendent. How would you explain to them, what the job entails?

A. I believe strongly that the role of the state superintendent and California Department of Education is to figure out how to create the conditions for principals, teachers and parents to be successful locally. That is really what that job should be doing, which is going to require us to make significant changes to how the CDE and the state superintendent operate.

Q. Apart from what you say is a lack of urgency, what else sets you apart from Superintendent Torlakson?

A. If you look at our background experiences that we bring to the table it’s a very clear contrast of somebody who, in my case, has been working and running school systems, versus somebody who’s been working in politics, in his case, for three decades full time now.

I’ve spent the last 12 years leading two different school systems — one, a charter school network and the other, a network of traditional district schools in LA. The current state superintendent has spent the last, almost 20 years in Sacramento and before that at the state legislature.

Q. Are you saying there is a fundamental and philosophical difference between you and your opponent, in how California’s public school system should be fixed?

A. Absolutely. The vast majority of superintendents in our state want to get more flexibility from No Child Left Behind, but Torlakson did not lead that effort for our state because of an unwillingness to utilize student achievement data as a portion of a teacher’s evaluation. In this case it led a number of school districts to come together and to ask for those waivers directly, which is unprecedented nationally.

Q. So what would you do?

A. I would quickly move to get flexibility from the feds on NCLB waivers, and I believe we could get the vast majority of superintendents to agree to make that change and commit to use student achievement growth as a portion of evaluations.

Q. Lets blue sky it here: You’re elected, it’s your first day on the job, what’s at the top of your priority list that is within your power to change?

A. The state board of education can give a lot of waivers to school districts from the California education code — a 2,300 page book of rules and regulations for operating schools. It’s the State Superintendent’s and the CDE’s job to work with school districts to push those waivers forward. So what I would move to do right away is getting the CDE focused on working with local superintendents to push forward as many waivers as possible to the state education code to give school districts and school sites much more flexibility over how they use their money, over their staffing and over their curriculum.

We need to change the culture at the CDE from one that relies on compliance and regulation to one that allows more flexibility from local state law because getting more waivers from NCLB and the state code gives us greater conditions for success.

Q. Statewide, teachers and principals have reported challenges and lags in transitioning to the new Common Core standards. How would you help expedite that process?

A. I think we’re not doing enough there. And there’s not enough leadership. We are really behind in implementing Common Core at a state level and particularly, giving guidance at our schools around budget.

We haven’t provided the resources to help educators make this really difficult transition, and that’s something that the right kind of state superintendent needs to be out in front of in terms of identifying practices that are working very well for developing teachers and developing different practices and sharing those as fast as possible across the state. Technology allows you to do that.

Q. How exactly?

A. If you go on the CDE’s web site and see what kind of resources are available, it’s minimal and very un-user friendly and very difficult to access. That has to change.

Q. The Local Control Funding Formula, which is changing how schools are funded, requires districts to invest in parent engagement programs. Why is that important?

A. The State Superintendent should be bringing transparency an information to parents and also actively organizing parents and community members to get more involved in the policy making process so that their voice, really, is prioritized.

Of the things that have been passed in Sacramento, one of the strongest pieces of legislation is the Parent Empowerment Act. If a school is not serving children well, parents need to have power to take control and make change at that school because it’s unacceptable for children to go to pubic school and not get quality education.  The fact that parents now actually have real control, I won’t just defend it, I will help make sure every parent up and down the state knows that they have that right.

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