Usually, the race for California’s highest public school office lacks suspense. This year is a notable exception.
Marshall Tuck’s bid to unseat state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will keep me up into the wee hours of Election Night. Tuck, a 40-year-old educator and political newcomer, was viewed as an underdog six months ago. Today, we’re seeing polls that indicate the upstart is in the lead.
Voters have a clear choice to either maintain the status quo by re-electing Torlakson to a second four-year term or to elect a change agent not beholden to special interests. Both candidates are Democrats, but they hew to different philosophies.
The office is non-partisan. The issues facing our students are urgent and transcend partisan politics. California schools ranked 45th in the nation in achievement in math and English. Just about half of San Jose public school students lack even a third-grade proficiency in reading, writing and math.
“[Tuck's] experience turning around failing schools is exactly what California needs for its top education official,” San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said in his endorsement.
Tuck’s priorities for California schools address the greatest needs in public education. He wants to grant every child access to a high-quality instruction, regardless of their zip code. He wants to engage parents and communities in policy and promote transparency in governance. He aims to divert funding from prisons to education and eliminate overly prescriptive regulations that direct kids to the criminal justice system. He believes in charter schools and plans to facilitate their partnership with traditional public schools to improve student achievement.
From my view, the burgeoning charter school movement is all about keeping the needs of students a priority, especially those who live in poverty and/or struggle to learn English as a second language.
I believe Tuck has the experience as a successful charter school leader to bridge the “trust gap” between traditional public schools and their newer, charter counterparts. The next top schools chief must have the vision to end the charter school wars, so we can engage in a collaborative dialogue.
Major newspapers throughout California have endorsed Tuck over Torlakson.
“The choice for state superintendent of public instruction is starker than any other competitive statewide race this election: the status quo of a troubled system vs. innovation and the prospect of a brighter future for California’s public education system,” the Sacramento Bee wrote in its endorsement.
The San Francisco Chronicle agrees: “Tuck, with his ‘kids first’ mantra, would be a refreshingly independent voice to challenge the status quo.”
“Voters should elect Tuck and give equal influence to students and parents,” the Santa Cruz Sentinel chimed in.
"Tuck would be a game changer for education in California,” the Mercury News added. “We highly recommend him."
I do, too.