Traditionally low turnout rates and an interesting newcomer have made the weeks leading up to the primary for California's superintendent of public education election unique, writes Alexei Koseff, in her article for the Sacramento Bee.
The position of superintendent of public education in California is nonpartisan, but has been held by a Democrat for decades and backed by California's powerful teacher unions, which would make incumbent Tom Torlakson seem like a shoe-in for the June 3 primary.
In the primary, he will be pitted against Marshall Tuck, also a Democrat and a former charter schools executive. This race promises to become emblematic of the national debate between school unions and ducation advocates who rally for changes that are not popular with classroom teachers.
Tuck faces some challenges in his hope to defeat Torlakson, such as being relatively unknown outside of Los Angeles; not having the financial backing that Torlakson does; and not having the teachers unions on his side. The unions are ready to spend on their candidate and have already poured millions into the primary. Torlakson also has the support of the California Democratic Party and its leaders,
Tuck, on the other hand, has his mentor, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa behind him; the business community and corporate reformers on his side; contributions from Silicon Valley technology and investment firms; contributions from his former financial executive, Eli Broad, and employees of his educational advocacy foundation; and a large contribution from Republican Bill Bloomfield, Los Angeles businessman who spent $370,000 on mailers for the primary campaign.
A third contender is Lydia Gutierrez, a Republican, who Howard Blume, writing for the Los Angeles Times, says is unconventional, backs current job protections for teachers, and wants to dispose of the Common Core, the states' learning goals. She finished fourth in 2010 when she ran for this office.
Torlakson's platform includes:
- Support of teachers' unions
- Seven years of experience as a classroom teacher
- Over 30 years as an elected official
- No linking of teachers' evaluations to test scores
- Anti-standardized tests stance
- Support for job protections
- More funding
- Kids first reform
- Aligns with Obama's educational team
- Identifies as an education reformer
- Supporter of independently managed, publicly funded charter schools
- Does not support for-profit charters
- Supports using performance evaluations rather than seniority for laying-off teachers
- Objects to regulations that make it difficult to fire teachers
- Headed Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which targeted the city's lowest performing schools in order to raise achievement
His platform of "kids first" reform includes issues that teachers unions 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 Los Angeles Times Editorial Board also endorsed Tuck in an editorial published on May 2:
Tuck is an advocate of a wide range of reforms, some smart and some more troubling. We don't agree with him on everything, including his support for the Vergara lawsuit that seeks to have teacher tenure protections declared unconstitutional. But all in all, Tuck would be a force for overdue change at a time when the Legislature has been too resistant to reforms that might upset union campaign contributors.