California schools are failing. A majority of 6.2 million students do not read at grade level. Most also perform below where they should in math.
Students, parents and taxpayers need and deserve an education leader able and willing to buck the status quo to bring much-needed academic improvement to the state’s schools. That leader is Marshall Tuck, the best candidate for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.
With an MBA from Harvard, Tuck has eschewed the big bucks to focus on reforming California’s education system. For 6 1/2 years, he led a nonprofit that has successfully turned around 18 low-performing Los Angeles schools with about 15,000 students and 1,000 employees. He understands what it takes to implement the change schools across the state desperately need.
It starts with California’s nearly 300,000 teachers, paying more to those willing to work in the toughest schools, rewarding the best performers and getting rid of the worst. And helping parents make informed decisions as they select schools for their children.
Unfortunately, during his soon-to-end eight-year reign, Superintendent Tom Torlakson has shown little initiative, instead focusing on placating the teachers’ unions.
Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, the other major candidate seeking to replace Torlakson, offers a compelling personal story. Raised by a cousin who insisted Thurmond stay in school after his mother died, he earned a master’s degree in social work and another in law and social policy from Bryn Mawr College.
This news organization recommended Thurmond in his bids for Assembly and West Contra Costa school board. But in Sacramento he has been a defender of the status quo.
When it came to California’s absurd system of granting teachers tenure after, effectively, just 18 months on the job, Thurmond sided with the unions and undermined meaningful legislative reform efforts.
Similarly, in an interview this week, he was effusive about Torlakson’s online school evaluation site, which uses illogical data manipulation to hide differences between districts and schools.
Tuck provides a sharp contrast. On teacher discipline, he, unlike Thurmond, clearly articulates the problem: Under the current system, it’s too difficult and time-consuming to remove grossly under-performing instructors.
Yes, Tuck says, more money is needed for teacher salaries, but first, “the public needs to see us spending dollars better and differently.” To attract teachers to schools where they’re most needed, he advocates bonuses.
He also recognizes the financial elephant in the room, rapidly rising pension costs that are draining school district coffers as they’ve just received badly needed funding increases from Sacramento. Future pension accrual adjustments must be considered, he says, supporting Gov. Jerry Brown’s legal fight to provide more flexibility.
Then there are charter schools. Both candidates oppose for-profit schools, which comprise just a small fraction of charters in California but have become the unions’ bogeyman in this politically charged election season.
However, the two candidates diverge on nonprofits. Thurmond would block approvals of new charter schools without additional funding for them. Tuck recognizes the folly of that position, that it would effectively stop any new charters, leaving no new alternatives in districts failing to meet students’ and parents’ needs.
Voters have a choice between Thurmond, the status quo candidate embraced by the teachers’ unions, and Tuck, the change advocate supported by education reformers like former Obama administration Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and retired Rep. George Miller.
For us, the pick is clear: Marshall Tuck.