Cavazos’ Adviser On Dropouts: Uniquely Qualified For Job

Richard Marquez is highly qualified for his position in the federal government. However, if you knew him as a teenager, you would probably find it hard to believe that he would one day become an assistant to the Secretary of Education. Marquez did not have an easy time in school, as he dropped out at the age of 17. However, he later earned a General Educational Development diploma while serving in the Army. This personal experience of feeling like a failure in the educational system gave him a unique perspective on labeling and the flaws of the system itself.

Marquez’s philosophy, influenced by his own experiences and years as an educator, is that most school failures can be attributed to institutional problems rather than shortcomings of students. He believes that the solution lies in making the education system less bureaucratic and more responsive to individual needs. This philosophy aligns well with the Bush Administration’s focus on school restructuring and flexibility. In his new role, Marquez’s responsibilities include identifying effective dropout prevention programs and replicating their success. He also aims to improve data on the dropout problem by working with the department’s research branch.

What excites Marquez the most about his new job is the opportunity to encourage educators to challenge bureaucracy and bring about change in their schools. He truly believes that he has answers to the problems plaguing the education system. As a reminder of the issues at hand, he keeps a note on his computer that questions whether American students are inherently inferior or if they are simply products of an inferior system.

When Marquez was a student, the Dallas school system did not work for him. He felt disconnected from school and saw no reason to stay. However, he eventually recognized that his lack of education was holding him back, so he left his job and went to college. Marquez decided early on that he wanted to be a teacher, believing that his own mistakes could be valuable lessons for other students.

He started his teaching career in middle schools, teaching history and Spanish. His supervisor recognized his potential as an administrator, so he pursued a master’s degree in educational administration at night school. After graduation, Marquez worked in various roles, including running special programs and serving as an assistant principal. In 1983, he became the principal of Anson Jones Elementary School, which had a disproportionately large Hispanic student population. Marquez’s greatest achievements include his tenure as principal of Sunset High School, where he significantly reduced the dropout rate and increased enrollment in advanced-placement classes.

One of Marquez’s most acclaimed accomplishments at Sunset High was the intensive program he implemented for students who had failed the 9th grade. However, he emphasizes that his efforts were not limited to just that program. He believed that everything in a school is interconnected and contributes to the overall goal. One of the major issues he faced at Sunset High was low expectations from teachers, particularly when it came to Hispanic students. They had a belief that Hispanic kids were incapable of learning, which Marquez worked on changing.

Instead of making visits to the residences of truant students from Sunset School and escorting them to school, as he did at Anson Jones School, he took an approach of addressing each student and teacher individually. He acknowledged that this takes a significant amount of effort, which is why many people avoid it. He explained that managing through uniformity and standardization is simpler. In Mr. Marquez’s view, educational systems often become bureaucratic organizations that suppress creativity. Therefore, he was not surprised when people started referring to him as a "maverick." However, upon contemplating this label, he posed an interesting question: "If being a risk-taker and a maverick is necessary to make an urban school successful, does it imply that urban schools are not designed to benefit children?"


  • oscarcunningham

    Oscar Cunningham is a 41-year-old educational blogger and professor. He has been writing about education for over 10 years, and is known for his expertise on online learning and digital media. Cunningham is also a frequent speaker on these topics, and has given talks at a range of universities around the world. In his spare time, he also enjoys playing the violin and running.

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