My turn: Why CA needs charter schools and how to improve them

By Marshall Tuck, Special to CALmatters

I believe non-profit, high-quality public charter schools- especially in areas where there have been few or no high-quality public school alternatives- are a good thing for our children and our public education system.

When considering charters, I first think about my dear friend Shirley Ford, who passed away recently. When I first met her, Shirley didn’t want to send her son, Robert, to Inglewood High because she believed the school would fail her son.

Inglewood High had a 4 percent proficiency rate in math in 2002. Shirley didn’t have the money to move to a different neighborhood with better public schools or to pay for a private school.

Shirley took a chance on a new public charter school in her neighborhood, Animo Inglewood, part of the Green Dot network of schools I helped create. She helped build that school, and it changed her son’s life. The best part is that Robert is now a math teacher.

Too many of our high poverty children-of-color have been stuck in failing public schools and I believe this cuts directly against our values. The middle class and upper class have good options and opportunities. But I believe public charter schools can most help our children with the greatest need.

I have led a charter school network and district public schools and believe I am uniquely positioned to support charter public schools and districts public schools as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

I was pleased to see Gov. Jerry Brown sign legislation this year that banned for-profit charter schools. We need some other policy changes to help ensure charter schools are working well within the broader public education system in California.

We can develop stronger policies around ensuring charter school transparency, preventing conflicts-of-interests, and making sure that consistently low performing charter schools are shut down.

Additionally, the state should look into the possibility of providing short-term financial support and flexibility to districts that are losing significant revenue due to loss of enrollment, in order to help those districts make any necessary operational changes needed to adapt.

As State Superintendent, I will work to give districts much more flexibility from the Education Code, similar to what charters currently have, so that districts have more freedom to innovate and be creative.

All of our public schools should be given much more flexibility to best support their children.

Finally, the state needs to take more of a leadership role in improving collaboration between charters and districts by convening educators from district and charter schools regularly to work together on key problems-of-practice and to share best practices.

Charter schools were created in part to act as innovation labs for traditional school districts, but not enough of this is happening.

I am the candidate in this race who has led public school systems and have done so in the district and charter public school context. I believe that equips me well to lead a public education system in California that best serves all kids, no matter the public school settings.

Marshall Tuck is a candidate for California Superintendent of Public Instruction, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

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