THE BLOG
05/05/2014 05:31 pm ET Updated Jul 05, 2014

Groundhog Day Meets California Schools

"What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?" This was the question Bill Murray's character in the movie Groundhog Day asked as he woke up to the exact same reality, day after day. That same question can be asked about California's public schools over the last 20 years.

Twenty years ago, California's public schools ranked 44th in the nation. Today, they rank 45th. Despite billions of dollars spent, and dozens and dozens of new programs launched over the last two decades, Californians still wake up every day with the same underperforming schools. They've barely changed in 20 long years.

Why?

Because we just can't get politics out of the public schools in California. For 20 years, we've been electing the same sort of Sacramento politicians to lead our public schools and, not surprisingly, it's gotten us nowhere.

There have been three people elected to lead California's state education system over the last 20 years. The first was a 12-year Sacramento politician who got termed out of the State Assembly, so she became State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The second was a 20-year Sacramento politician who got termed out of the State Senate and decided his next political pit stop would be Superintendent of Public Instruction. The third is a 36-year politician who, when he finally got termed out of his State Assembly seat, decided he too needed to be State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

So, while the State's education bureaucracy has certainly been a warm and welcoming place for termed out Sacramento politicians, it has been anything but warm, welcoming or satisfying for the tens of millions of California children who have had to suffer through schools that consistently push the state to the bottom of national rankings.

Moreover, every one of these Superintendents over the last 20 years has campaigned for the office as an educator, though their recent resumes all told the same story. All had been in classrooms decades ago, but had long made the switch to the far more remunerative world of the state legislature.

Given the dominance of lifelong Sacramento politicians running our public schools, is it a surprise that special interests rather than academic achievement have ruled the day for the last two decades?

To the causal observer it looks like the special interests in California education have gotten way more than their money's worth over the last 20 years, while the rest of us--especially the children of California--got the shaft.

Yet we can break free from the Groundhog Day feeling that has plagued California education for the last 20 years--this sense that nothing's ever going to change. Imagine waking up tomorrow and the schools are changing for the better, students are learning, all the teachers are great and California is once again recognized as having one of the best K-12 public school systems in the nation. It can happen.

The first step is to stop putting lifelong Sacramento politicians into the state's chief education office. Former legislators come to the office well schooled in wheeling and dealing with the special interests that grip Sacramento and they bring that perspective with them to the office of State Superintendent of Instruction.

California needs a fresh approach to its schools. We need an education leader who understands the depth and breadth of the problems we face, but has the independence, intellectual capacity and experience needed to lead us to new solutions. Fortunately, that person has stepped up and change in our schools is as simple as exerting a bit of common sense and getting off the couch to go and vote June 3.

This year, we have an opportunity to vote for historic change in the office of State Superintendent of Instruction. The incumbent, who is looking to complete four decades as an elected official, faces a reform-minded challenger named Marshall Tuck. Marshall has a track record of turning around public schools in the inner city as well as launching a successful network of charters, also in the inner city. He offers a unique blend of public and charter school management experience. I've known him as the CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, the public school turnaround I helped establish.

So let's grab our schools back from the clutches of the special interest politicians who have been in charge for over 20 years. Let's put student interests above special interests and end this Groundhog Day of school mediocrity and wake up to a new California where the schools are great and our children can once again rely on their education to help them achieve their dreams. Let's elect someone to the office of Superintendent of Instruction who can make all this reality. I believe that someone is Marshall Tuck.

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