By Jeff Boone
One of the most important California political races this November is the election of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. In one corner is the California Teachers Union (CTA)-supported Democrat incumbent Tom Torlakson. In the other corner is another Democrat, Marshall Tuck, a former charter school executive from Los Angeles.
Tuck is a political newcomer that gained some recent notoriety galvanizing support of a lawsuit by nine students that led to Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruling California’s teacher tenure and dismissal laws unconstitutional. In the Vergara v. California case, Judge Treu said the negative student impacts from the current system of tenure “shocks the conscience.”
The basis of the lawsuit was that California teacher tenure rules unfairly harm our most vulnerable students. Judge Treu agreed. So do many parents and students of California public schools.
But, backed by the powerful teachers union, the incumbent Torlakson asked Governor Brown to file an appeal. The governor, also proven friendly with the teachers unions, expectantly complied.
California schools rank next to last of all states in reading and math scores. California schools have one of the highest drop-out rates of all states. Improvements have been negligible since Torlakson was elected Superintendent… and much of it can be attributed to NCLB (the No Child Left Behind Act) which Torlakson opposes along with his teachers union backers.
Tuck is adamant that tenure causes a practical inability to fire bad teachers. He cites his own experience running charter schools saddled with tenure requirements by the state, and statistics over the last ten years where only 91 teachers out of about 300,000 lost their jobs in California. Of those, only 19 have been dismissed for poor performance.
When challenged on his dismal record for making substantive education improvements and the student impact of teacher tenure, Torlakson cherry-picks some evidence of minor improvement with older students, and then echoes the standard establishment excuse that we don’t spend enough. Even as our teacher union-backed governor increased state tax rates and raided the RDA cookie jar to send more money to education, Torlakson still demands more money as the only solution to California school’s terrible public school performance.
Alternatively, Tuck says that spending more will do little to nothing to improve California public K-12 education. He supports the Vergara ruling to abolish teacher tenure so that bad teachers can be directed to find more fitting careers, and good teachers can be better recognized and rewarded.
Tuck is a reformer. Torlakson backs the old education establishment.
It will be an interesting race, and it will indicate if California voters side with the welfare of our most vulnerable students, or will again side with the teachers union.