Rematch coming of high-profile 2014 race for state superintendent of public instruction


The most expensive contest on the 2014 California ballot is set to return next year. 

“Marshall Tuck, who unsuccessfully challenged incumbent schools chief Tom Torlakson in a contentious 2014 race that became a proxy fight over a lawsuit on teacher job protections, will run again for state superintendent of public instruction,” the Sacramento Bee reported. “The former Los Angeles schools executive on Monday announced his candidacy for the 2018 election, citing a desire to bring ‘big change’ to a public education system that has ‘settled for mediocrity.'”

The two tangled last time on opposite sides of many Californians’ sense that teachers unions had often become an obstacle to improving education quality statewide. “They split over the Vergara court decision that held teacher-tenure protections discriminated against poor and minority students,” as CalWatchdog recalled previously. “Torlakson took the side of the unions and supported the appeal; Tuck made sustaining the decision a keystone of his campaign.”

“After Torlakson beat Tuck in a close election, 52 percent to 48 percent, Democrats hoped to unite on education and put their divisiveness behind them. But UC’s tuition hikes reopened the wound, putting officeholders in an awkward political position and pushing instinctively liberal students to oppose policies set by Democrats.”

Shifting agendas

Now, Tuck’s plans have focused around budget oversight and teacher quality. In his campaign announcement, “Tuck said his campaign will focus on ensuring that Gov. Jerry Brown’s new school funding formula – which provides additional money to districts with large numbers of poor children, English learners and foster youth – is really funneling money to the neediest students and that its accountability measures are more understandable for parents and the public,” the Bee noted.

“He also said California’s efforts to address its teacher shortage ‘so far have been way too small.’ He would consider raising compensation and changing training programs to get more potential teachers into the profession.”

More conciliatory

The rhetoric reflected a desire to stake out reform territory that would not prove as bitterly divisive as in 2014. “Tuck, 43, said he continues to favor revising the state’s tenure law, granting due process rights in less than two years, and revising the state’s teacher evaluation system,” according to EdSource. “But the issues of overriding importance, he said, are the need to establish ‘phenomenal’ training and mentoring programs for principals and new teachers and ‘for more support for students with the greatest needs.’ There was an overemphasis in the last campaign on the 10 percent of the issues that were divisive and less on the other 90 percent, he said.”

Tuck’s words also worked to calibrate expectations to the reality of the superintendency. “The position has little direct authority over California’s schools, but Tuck said he would use it to set a direction for the governor, State Board of Education and Legislature,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “Tuck previously led Green Dot Public Schools, a Los Angeles-based independent charter school chain that operates with a teachers union contract, and the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a school turnaround organization. He has spent the last two years working as an educator in residence at the New Teacher Center.”

Torlakson’s own time has been consumed of late with education issues affecting undocumented residents. He recently “urged the state’s immigrant students not to be fearful of applying for the California Dream Act, a college financial aid program dedicated to helping undocumented students attend state universities and community colleges,” according to the San Jose Mercury News. “As of last Friday, the number of California Dream Act applications has declined by 42 percent this year, due to President Trump-spurred unease over possible deportations, according to the California Student Aid Commission, which receives applications from students.”

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