Torlakson, Tuck Continue Battle Over Future of California Education

The most bitterly-fought race in California leading up to the November election is for the position of superintendent of public instruction.

This year, the race to become head of the state Department of Education is seeing two Democrats face off: current superintendent Tom Torlakson running against the former president of a charter school system, Marshall Tuck.

The race has seen massive policy disagreements and plenty of negative advertisements from both sides. More importantly, the race will continue to showcase the current divide in the state over the public education system.

Reformers would like to see school districts become more accountable for their failures concerning educating low-income students and are calling for more use of student test scores in teacher evaluations.  However, teachers unions and their supporters are saying the group is going overboard with their requests.

According to The LA Times Editorial Board, the successful candidate needs to find a balance, offering more innovations for schools but at the same time not blaming teachers for low academic performance occurring within districts.

In an interview last week, Tuck called the superintendent position “dramatically underutilized,” referencing the Vergara case, which saw the state’s tenure laws and other job protection for teachers struck down by the Los Angeles Superior Court. Tuck called the decision an attack on teachers.

“When I win … I’m immediately submitting to the appellate court our request to no longer be a defendant and will side with the plaintiffs in the case,” Tuck said.

When Tuck took over some of the most troubled schools in LA, he saw the majority of his teachers receive layoff notices due to the seniority rules in effect.

“The CTA should always be part of the equation because teachers are so important but their influence is too large right now,” he added. “The state superintendent is a nonpartisan position, right? Not Republican, not Democrat … and it’s supposed to just be focused on advocating for kids, yet the state superintendent has never disagreed with the CTA. It’s insane.”

Torlakson, meanwhile, supports Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to appeal the case, saying it is “fundamentally flawed. It’s wrong on the facts. It’s wrong on the law.”

Referring to the state’s 2,300-page educational code as the “visual definition of bureaucracy,” Tuck plans on helping the all public schools in the state, public and charters, gain waivers and with that, more local control, which will also include more parental involvement concerning school policy decisions.

While Torlakson has the support of the California Teacher’s Association and other labor groups, Tuck is up 4-1 with African-American voters, and 2-1 with the Latino group, both of whom tend to vote Democratic.

“Their kids are getting crushed in these schools and I’ve gone in and turned these schools around. … The party in our state has not been prioritizing kids when it comes to education policy.”