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Top 5 issues in Tuck vs. Torlakson state superintendent race

Craig Clough | October 23, 2014

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tuck torlaksonDueling views offered by Marshall Tuck and Tom Torlakson in their bid for State Superintendent of Public Instruction will give voters a stark choice — in what has become a surprisingly close race leading to the Nov. 4 election.

Torlakson, the incumbent, a former teacher and state legislator, has the backing of the Democratic establishment and the teachers unions. Tuck, a relative unknown statewide, was a charter school administrator and has the backing of reform groups and editorial boards throughout the state. 

The two men share vastly different backgrounds and overall educational beliefs, leading the LA Weekly to characterize the election as a reform vs. union battle for the heart of the Democratic Party and the Los Angeles Times to call it “a prime example of the strange rift in education, in which liberal Democrats are sharply divided on such issues as charter schools, job protections for teachers, the authority of the federal government in schools and the value of standardized test scores.”

Much of the media focus is often on the black and white contrast of the candidates’ background and supporters. Equally important are the actual issues at hand and where the candidates stand on them.

LA School Report has picked five major issues, with a breakdown of each candidate’s position:

vergara thumbThe Vergara Ruling

The landmark case in which in which a court found the state’s laws regarding teacher tenure, firings and layoffs are unconstitutional has become a litmus test for public officials.

Torlakson:  As the top education official in the state, Torlakson was a defendant in the lawsuit and led the charge on behalf of the state to appeal the ruling with a statement that the judge’s decision is “not supported by the facts or the law.”

Tuck: A big supporter of the ruling, he has been endorsed by the student plaintiffs in the case. He also publicly urged Torlakson and the state not to appeal and has said he would withdraw support for the appeal on his first day on the job.


common core thumbCommon Core

Both candidates have spoken in favor of the new Common Core testing system but differ in how successfully they view its rollout in California.

Torlakson: He has said that the rollout of the new system was met “with less contention than in other states” and that California is “leading the nation in terms of being prepared,” according to EdSource. He also has defended his decision to suspend state standardized tests, giving practice tests in their place last spring.

Tuck: He has painted a darker vision of the Common Core rollout in California, saying the state “has not been effective in implementing Common Core,” according to EdSource. He also says parents, teachers and principals have not been given the resources they need. Tuck also supported the practice tests, but said the results should have been made available to parents and teachers.


union thumbThe role of unions

Torlakson: The state superintendent is heavily supported both financially and in spirit by teacher unions around the state, including United Teachers Los Angeles and the larger California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. Several newspaper editorial boards around the state, including the Fresno Bee, have concluded that Torlakson governs as a “reliable operative” of the unions.

Tuck: In the same editorial, the Bee said that Tuck would “end the chokehold” that teacher unions have on the state. Tuck is a supporter of the charter movement, but as the former administrator of two hybrid charter school models, Green Dot Public Schools and the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which employ union teachers, Tuck has plenty of experience working with the LA teachers union. 


progress thumbProgress of the state’s educational system

Torlakson: As the incumbent, Torlakson has had to paint a somewhat rosy picture of the current state of the state’s educational system. He has said that California schools have shown “real progress” under his leadership. He has also said that graduation rates are up, and he’s helped many financially distressed districts, according to LA Weekly.

Tuck: The challenger has said that improvement under Torlakson has been lacking and the state’s performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress has been stagnant. In a debate last month, he pointed out that 2.5 million students in the state fail to read and write at grade level and cast blame on “the same Sacramento leadership” of  “insiders, politicians and business as usual” that he identified with Torlakson, EdSource reported.


teacher eval thumbUse of test scores for teacher evaluations

Torlakson: He has refused to link a teacher’s evaluation partly to test scores, a move that caused the state to lose a large federal grant. Torlakson argued the cost of complying with the with the federal guidelines would have offset their benefit, according to the L.A. Times.

Tuck: He strongly supports linking teacher evaluations to test scores and has been critical of Torlakson’s opposition to them, which caused eight school districts in the state to successfully seek a federal waiver on their own. “For the first time ever, the federal Department of Education granted a waiver to individual entities,” said Tuck. “That’s because our state superintendent wasn’t leading. We needed to go and do that ourselves. Think about the amount of time spent by those districts going around the state.”

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