Ad Watch: CTA overstates Torlakson’s accomplishments, Tuck’s failures

As the election draws closer, outside groups are spending aggressively in the close race for state superintendent of public instruction. A new radio ad from an independent expenditure funded primarily by the California Teachers Association touts the record of incumbent Tom Torlakson while criticizing his challenger, former Los Angeles schools executive Marshall Tuck, as unqualified. Following is the text of the 60-second ad and an analysis by Alexei Koseff of The Bee Capitol Bureau:

Man: Really, who’s the most qualified candidate to be our superintendent of public instruction?

Woman: Is it Marshall Tuck with no teaching experience?

Man: Tuck, who failed as an executive at the Partnership for L.A. Schools when he was hit with a resounding vote of no confidence from teachers in eight of 10 schools he was running.

Woman: Tuck’s management was so poor, federal tax liens were filed against his schools for tens of thousands in unpaid taxes.

Man: Or is Tom Torlakson the best-qualified choice?

Woman: Tom is the only candidate who’s been a classroom teacher.

Man: Torlakson knows our parents need a voice in how our schools are run.

Woman: It’s why he helped create the new school funding formula that gives parents more of a say in how our education tax dollars should be spent.

Man: And Torlakson’s reform efforts have helped turn around more than 350 struggling schools in low-income areas across the state.

Woman: That’s why Tom Torlakson is supported by parents and classroom teachers as the right choice for superintendent of public instruction.

Analysis: While the facts of the ad are essentially true, it draws an exaggerated distinction between the two candidates by focusing solely on challenges from Tuck’s career while overstating the impact of Torlakson’s efforts in office. It suggests that the candidates’ relative successes and failures can be attributed to whether they have teaching experience; Torlakson does, while Tuck does not.

Tuck has spent most of his career in administrative positions with two Los Angeles school groups. He served as president and chief operating officer for the charter system of Green Dot Public Schools from 2002 to 2006. He subsequently led the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit network of low-performing campuses taken over by the city, until he launched his campaign last year.

In June 2009, at the end of the Partnership’s first year of operation, faculty at eight of the 10 schools under its control at the time passed a vote of no confidence. Teachers cited concerns that the Partnership was not living up to promises to involve them more in decision-making, leading to independent mediation. To say Tuck “failed” ignores that he remained in charge for four more years, and none of the schools have since left the Partnership.

One federal tax lien for $48,572 in unpaid taxes during the 2004 tax period was filed against Green Dot in January 2009. The lien was released five weeks later after the amount was paid off.

Torlakson taught high school science in Contra Costa County from 1972 to 1981, before launching a political career that eventually took him to the state Senate and Assembly.

During his first term as state superintendent, Torlakson helped to implement the Local Control Funding Formula, an overhaul of school spending, that awards supplemental funding to school districts with large numbers of low-income students, English learners and foster children. But the effort was spearheaded by Gov. Jerry Brown and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst. Greater parent involvement in district spending decisions is part of the formula’s accountability measures.

The ad references the Quality Education Investment Act, a bill authored by Torlakson in the Senate and signed into law in 2006, providing about $2.7 billion in additional funding to some of California’s lowest-performing schools. Starting in the 2007-08 academic year, and continuing through 2014-15, 488 schools were selected to receive the extra money for reducing class size, hiring more counselors, teacher development and raising test scores, among other requirements.

In the program’s final year, 348 schools will receive funding; the remainder have mostly been terminated for failing to meet the requirements. A 2013 study, funded by the CTA, found that through the program’s first five years, participating schools improved their test scores by an average 27 points on the 1,000-point Academic Performance Index compared to schools with similar demographics. But to say Torlakson has helped “turn around” those schools is a stretch. On average, they remain in the lower half of performance for schools statewide.

Call The Bee’s Alexei Koseff, (916) 321-5236. Follow him on Twitter @akoseff.