One Candidate Makes State Education Race Worth Watching

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.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. Joe:

    It’s time for you to take a leave of absence (or resign) from SCCOE Board, go off to a mountain cabin for six months to clear your mind, and then write a book entitled “All the things I learned that are wrong with public education, and why it is a dysfunctional system that can’t be saved’.

    And then go to a desert island for a year, and write another book, “How society can provide universal education that benefits parents and children and that totally disempowers government, educrat, and union bureaucracies and why they don’t deserve a g**damn ‘seat at the table'”.

    This might earn you a partial redemption and allow you probationary re-admission to civil society.

  2. Since DiSalvo is such a cheerleader: Methinks Tuck is a pro-Corporation, for profit, Charter school advocating closet Republican. Perhaps his financial backing is Koch-like 1%’s… Hmmm?

  3. I can’t fathom why your opinion as a school trustee would not be based on some political investigate research as to what his special interests really are…Green Dot and PLAS backers. California is where it is educationally due to standards based education that began in the 1990’s and the reduction in per student spending that began around that time because Californians were not willing to increase taxes to help fund increased educational costs. We were ranked 6th in the nation on per student spending in the 1980’s and ended up 51st by the 2000’s. The endorsements of major newspapers are also confusing since most of those newspaper at one time or another from 2005 to 2008 criticized his Green Dot LA charter school leadership-“The lowest-performing, based on test scores, is the large Green Dot chain.” — Los Angeles Times

    That is what Marshall Tuck will do for California Education

  4. Common Core standards may work elsewhere, but are foreign concepts to most of our Public School students who come from poor immigrant families. Children living in poverty are stressed and unable to concentrate on school and home work that their parents cannot even help them with. I find it interesting that California scores started tanking right after the Free Trade Agreement in the early 90’s, yet we still continue to blame teachers. Parents have far more influence over their children than schools do. Until parents learn the language and become involved in their childrens’ education, our school system and students will continue to fail.

  5. I speak from experience: I teach 7th and 8th grades in a Title 1 school that has been in Program Improvement for about 7 years and teach English Language Development to American -born students of primarily Hispanic backgrounds who function on a 3rd and 4th grade academic level.

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