The tightest race for a California statewide office this fall isn’t the campaign for governor. It doesn’t even pit a Democrat against a Republican. It’s the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction – the top education official in California – with two very different Democrats on the ballot.
Incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck paint stark contrasts of how California schools are doing. Torlakson’s a former teacher, superintendent and state lawmaker, and he sees a lot of progress – with schools emerging from their financial crises.
“We were seeing tens of thousands of teachers laid off. We were saying great programs being dismantled,” Torlakson said on a recent edition of Insight with Beth Ruyak. “So I brought people together to say, let’s invest in the future and support the good things that are happening in our schools.”
Tuck is backed by groups pushing for a major overhaul of the state’s education system. He believes schools need a turnaround, and points to his role leading a group of charter schools. He later ran some of the lowest-performing Los Angeles public schools for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
“We had the highest improvement of any school district in the state of California, in the schools that I led, with the most challenging kids,” Tuck said on Insight. “We dramatically increased graduation rates. We are gonna bring major change to California public schools – and change that’s always driven by what’s best for kids.”
To see the candidates’ competing education philosophies, look no further than the recent court ruling that declared California’s teacher tenure and dismissal policies unconstitutional.
Tuck says the “Vergara” ruling is long-overdue.
“I’ve seen over and over, year after year, how these rules are really crippling to our children,” Tuck says. “And yet you have the current state superintendent – whose job is supposed to be for fight for kids every single day – is actually appealing this lawsuit.”
Torlakson says the judge was “wrong on the facts and wrong on the law.”
“The narrow focus my opponent has on just blaming teachers and finding bad teachers, it’s no way to improve our schools,” Torlakson says. “It’s investing in our teachers. The teachers are the solution, not the problem.”
A Field Poll from late August shows Torlakson and Tuck in a statistical tie, with 40 percent of voters undecided.