The choice for state superintendent of public instruction is starker than any other competitive statewide race this election: the status quo of a troubled system vs. innovation and the prospect of a brighter future for California’s public education.
We support the latter, and the candidate who represents that choice is Marshall Tuck.
Seven of the eight races for statewide offices will continue in November regardless of the outcome of June 3 primary. The only exception is this race, because it is a nonpartisan position. It is possible – indeed very likely – that one of the two top candidates will win outright on June 3.
Tuck, a Democrat, is challenging incumbent Tom Torlakson, also a Democrat. Torlakson is a former teacher and longtime legislator who has been an adequate, though uninspiring, superintendent. This position is not particularly powerful, but it does come with significant policy and bully pulpit influence.
By contrast, Tuck is burning with energy and full of ambitious ideas about improving California’s public education system, which is among the nation’s poorest-performing. Ideas aren’t enough, we realize. But he has the experience and track record in some of the state’s toughest schools to convincingly plot a turnaround of California’s schools.
The 40-year-old Tuck most recently led the 17 failing public schools that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took over as part of his Partnership for L.A. Schools. The changes in these chronically failing schools were dramatic; in five years the school improved graduation rates from 36 percent to 58 percent.
Before getting tapped for that high-profile position, Tuck distinguished himself as president of Green Dot Public Schools, a nonprofit charter school operator that took over some of L.A.’s poorest and most academically challenged schools. Last year, Green Dot and the Partnership for L.A. Schools saw their students’ Academic Performance Index scores go up even when the API performance of California schools overall declined.
Some have characterized the superintendent’s race as a proxy battle between unions and school “privatizers” – charter schools. Torlakson has support from a variety of unions and trades, including the powerful California Teachers Association. Tuck has support from charter schools operators and tech companies as well as wealthy philanthropists who back education reform. He also has the support of Villaraigosa, whose labor cred is unquestioned. Nor is Tuck anti-union – Green Dot schools are unionized charter schools – and he does not support private school vouchers.
His platform of “kids first” reform includes issues that teachers union oppose but parents and the public like. Those issues include removing protections that make teachers virtually unfireable, using student test scores to evaluate teachers and merit pay.
The Bee endorsed Torlakson in the general election in 2010, with some reservations about his close relationship with the CTA. Those concerns were well-founded. Torlakson has stood with the CTA on virtually every issue of importance on education, including opposing the state waiver for No Child Left Behind.
Teachers unions already have an inordinate amount of influence in Sacramento among Democratic legislators and on the Board of Education. Teachers and their unions certainly deserve a place at the table in the state’s politics. But they shouldn’t have all of them. Electing Tuck would give parents and students room as well.