After President Joe Biden surprised San Diego with the exciting news that San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten had been chosen to help lead his administration’s Department of Education, some voiced concerns that she had not had success closing San Diego’s achievement gap between students of color and White students or that she had not paid sufficient attention to equity in schools.
I don’t believe the facts back that up.
Marten has devoted her career to eliminating the legacy of systemic racism within public education. She has challenged her colleagues to create an anti-racist school district, and she has put in place concrete policies to improve the academic outcomes for students of color.
Her success has earned praise nationally from the president of the NAACP, at the state and local levels from leaders like Secretary of State Shirley Weber, state Board of Education Chair and Linda Darling-Hammond and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. Marten has earned their support from her lifetime commitment to equity. From the time she started a literacy center for low-income families, as a young teacher, to her time as principal at Central Elementary in City Heights, which thrived with improved test scores, high staff morale and increased parental involvement.
The fundamental role of any school system is to educate children, and on that core level, Marten has succeeded where many others have failed. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is considered the gold standard of large-scale assessments, found that San Diego was the only district in 2019 whose tests scores significantly exceeded the average scores of 27 large districts in both math and English language arts on the fourth- and eighth-grade tests. Since 2003, San Diego student scores in fourth-grade math have risen every year except one.
In addition to outperforming the average for urban school districts, the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that Black and Hispanic student achievement is increasing faster in San Diego Unified than in just about any other urban district in the country.
A recent study by the Learning Policy Institute found students of color in San Diego Unified schools academically outperform their peers statewide. A companion study by UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools found this success is not accidental, rather it is the result of intentional efforts to provide added counselors and other supports to high-need school communities. San Diego Unified has an equity-based funding model that doubles and triples school-site funding above what the district receives in state allocations for disadvantaged students.
As San Diegans, we can be grateful for all that our students have achieved under Marten. As Americans, we can be optimistic about what she and Miguel Cardona, Biden’s education secretary nominee, will be able to accomplish at the national level — for all children.
Mel Katz is executive officer of Manpower. He founded the Business Roundtable for Education at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and e3 Civic High, the charter high school in the Central Library. He co-chaired San Diego Unified’s construction bond campaign, Proposition M, and its Graduation Strategy Committee.