Nothing is more important to the future of California than our children. Nothing is more important than ensuring the next generation is well educated to take our state into the new economy. This makes the voters’ decision on the next state superintendent of public instruction, who oversees the day-to-day experiences in our public schools, absolutely crucial. The next superintendent must have the skills to identify the problems that keep too many students from accessing the on-ramp to success, the vision of how to address those problems and the tenacity to bring about much-needed change.
In other words, California needs a committed reformer at the helm.
Truancy, chronic absenteeism among students and high turnover among teachers and administrators are derailing effective learning in our elementary and high schools. The status quo is failing too many of our kids.
The three active candidates in the June primary acknowledge these problems.
Marshall Tuck is the clearest and most emphatic voice for reform in the field. We endorsed him for this office in 2014, when he narrowly lost to Tom Torlakson, and we are glad to see him return to the fight to take on a system that “just doesn’t work for kids.”
Tuck made a name for himself in Los Angeles turning around high-poverty, low-performing charter schools before then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recruited him to improve schools within the conventional public school system. He has spent the past four years with the New Teacher Center, a national organization in Santa Cruz that works to improve student learning by training new teachers and school leaders to be more effective. He says California needs to invest more in in education and that educators need to share with the governor and legislators how state policies are affecting kids.
Social worker Tony Thurmond served as trustee on the West Contra Costa County School Board before being elected to the state Assembly. The son of a Panamanian immigrant mother who died when he was 6, he landed in foster care and went through school with the assistance of a slew of government programs.
Thurmond has a compelling personal story, and there is no doubt about the depth of his knowledge of the issues or the sincerity of his belief that “education saves lives.”
Where Thurmond falls short, however, is evidence of his willingness to take on the status quo when its comfort zone conflicts with the interests of students. A prime example was legislation last year (AB1220) that would have extended the number of years required for teachers to earn tenure from two to three. It must be emphasized that this was not an assault by right-wingers contemptuous of public education. It was a Democratic proposal (by Shirley Weber of San Diego) that would have put California in line with 42 states that keep new teachers on probation from three to five years.
Even this watered-down bill was opposed by the California Teachers Association.
Thurmond told us he supports a longer probationary period, but when it came time to vote, he was nowhere to be found. He failed to vote on AB1220 in both his Education Committee and on the Assembly floor on a tenure-reform bill that passed 60-5, then was killed by parliamentary games from legislators doing the union’s bidding.
A legislator who won’t stand up to the status quo when it counts does not belong in charge of the state Department of Education.
Former Solano Community College administrator Lily Ploski brings impressive academic credentials to the job but does not have the track record of Tuck in turning around challenged schools. Her austere campaign also is unlikely to make her competitive in a statewide race.
Tuck has demonstrated the skills and vision to bring about needed change. He gets our endorsement.