Thursday, May 08, 2014

Marshall Tuck is a better Democrat than Tom Torklason for this job: Tuck works well with the teachers union, and makes progress at the same time

Marshall Tuck (left) and Tom Torlakson

San Diego City Beat published the following endorsement for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. I disagree with editor David Rolland's conclusions, but he brings up some great discussion points.

Our June 3 primary-election endorsements
San Diego City Beat editorial
David Rolland, editor
May 07, 2014

...Marshall Tuck says he has the fix for California's ailing education system, and he has many people convinced.

Recently, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa endorsed him, touting the 40-year-old entrepreneur as a reformer. The two worked together on the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit credited with improving education in low-income neighborhoods.

Tuck is also the past president of Green Dot Public Schools, one of the nation's most prominent charter-school networks.

Tuck hopes to unseat incumbent Tom Torlakson, a Democrat who has the support of the powerful California Teachers Association and the Democratic Party.

Increasingly, liberals support an education-reform agenda, but during his time in office, Torlakson has been lackluster, unwilling to stand up to union intransigence. Citizens now have to choose between a status-quo candidate and someone who could push for troubling changes.

[Maura Larkins' response: It's interesting that City Beat identifies Torlakson as a Democrat, but fails to let readers know that Tuck is also a Democrat. But at least City Beat editor David Rolland admits that Torlakson has failed to stand up to union intransigence or to change the status quo. Too many Democrats like to roll over and play dead as soon as the California Teachers Association steps into the arena. Democrats should care about kids as well as teachers. Teachers should be considered, but they shouldn't continue to have the final say on what goes on in our failing schools, especially since they refuse to agree to any plan for objective, effective teacher evaluations.]

Part of improving education, Tuck argues, is weakening labor protections for educators, such as seniority-based layoffs, making teachers wait longer than two years to get tenure and tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. Not everything Tuck proposes is bad, but as a former Wall Street investment banker with funding from groups that would love to see the privatization of public schools, it's unclear how far he would go to dismantle the current system.

While the superintendent's office interprets the education code, it has less power in terms of setting policy. So some feel Tuck could bring fresh perspective without being able to do too much damage.

However, Tuck is too dangerous of a choice for us. We reluctantly endorse Tom Torlakson for superintendent.

[Maura Larkins' response: Dangerous? Changing the status quo is dangerous? That makes no sense since the current system is consigning millions of students to a lifetime of failure (that's not dangerous?) and Tuck has admitted that the Superintendent doesn't even set policy.

Many people prefer the current system because it allows for arbitrary, political decision-making.

The teachers union does not want to address the problem of rampant mediocrity among teachers--or the smaller problem of the 10% of teachers who are ineffective.

CTA wants teacher evaluations and other decisions to continue to be determined by school politics rather than objective data provided by outside observers or standardized tests.

I don't believe students tests should be used to fire teachers, but I do believe the tests should be used to determine whether a teacher should either:
1) become a master teacher; or
2) be given a part-time master teacher to guide the weaker teacher and give supplemental lessons to students.

Many moguls (like Irwin Jacobs) and their administrator pals also want to avoid objective measurements and simply turn over all the power of teacher evaluations to principals. I notice these folks haven't come up with a way to evaluate principals, which is a problem since many principals are simply failed teachers.

Mr. Rolland seems as intransigent as the teachers union.

Sadly, Mr. Rolland is typical of San Diego liberals who march in lock step with the California Teacher Association leadership. Los Angeles liberals are more independent of CTA.

City Beat uses hysterical phrases like "dismantle the current system", then admits in his next breath that the state superintendent can't change policy. He clearly believes that the teachers union deserves protection more than kids do. I can see why he'd want to avoid an extreme anti-union candidate, but Tuck is a Democrat who has worked well with the California Teachers Association. Teachers at Green Dot schools created a model for teacher evaluations that will be used by the state:]

New Teachers' Union Contract Now In Effect at Green Dot Schools


Teacher-Designed Evaluation Process and Professional Support to Serve as State Model

Los Angeles - Green Dot Public Schools announced a new contract agreement with their local teacher union, AsociaciĆ³n de Maestros Unidos (AMU), that provides a salary schedule step increase, a catch-up provision, and an innovative bonus program tied to teacher effectiveness. The contract, designed by teachers and ratified by vote of union members in May, officially went into effect July 1.

“In a time when the state has suffered severe cutbacks in education, we’re pleased our teachers will be better paid, better protected and better supported,” said Marco Petruzzi, Green Dot Public Schools’ President and CEO. “That is really a win for our students because it furthers our goal of having excellent instruction in every classroom.”

Under the new agreement, teachers will go through a more fair and comprehensive evaluation and development process, which will include multiple observations, ongoing feedback, and opportunities for professional growth. Test scores will be just one among multiple measures used for evaluation. Other key attributes of the agreement include a two-year pilot program for bonuses based on teacher effectiveness, and three additional professional development days for new teachers.

“We believe we’re on the right path to creating a more meaningful way of assessing teacher effectiveness,” added Dr. Cristina de Jesus, Green Dot’s Chief Academic Officer, speaking about the evaluation and development tools included the new contract. “Our goal is to become the leader in supporting teachers in their professional growth.”...

I disagree with Marshal Tuck about Vergara v. California. I think getting rid of tenure and seniority would be a disaster without instituting effective teacher evaluations. But something has to be done to release the death grip of CTA that prevents any meaningful reform at all. I also think something needs to be done to release the death grip of administrators.

What exactly will it take for California Teachers Association to agree to reforms, including effective teachers evaluations?

I don't like the Parent Trigger law, since parents don't seem to be able to improve schools when they take them over, but at least it gets the attention of officials in failing schools.

A Great Divide: The Election Fight for California’s Schools By Gary Cohn California Expose March 12, 2014 ...“There’s no question that the teachers union has a lot of influence on the state, but I think they get too much negative credit for all the problems,” Tuck tells Capital & Main during a lengthy interview at his bare-bones campaign office on Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles. Then, almost in mid-sentence, he appears to change his mind about teachers unions. “Right now,” he continues, “their seat at the table is too big and they have too much influence over education policy.”

Tuck has spent almost no time as a classroom instructor, while the 64-year-old Torlakson is a veteran science teacher and track coach. Torlakson, who is still a teacher on leave from Contra Costa County’s Mount Diablo Unified School District, says he usually teaches one community college course every year. He was elected as California’s 27th State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2010 after serving in the state legislature. The two men also face longshot candidate Lydia Gutierrez, who lost a bid for superintendent in the 2010 primary. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the June primary vote, a runoff election between the two frontrunners will take place in November.

Torlakson has received substantial financial support from unions and celebrates his closeness with teachers. “I’m happy to be aligned with teachers – classroom teachers know me and trust me,” he says in a telephone interview.

A significant indication of what a future Tuck administration’s relations with teachers might look like can be found in his embrace of a lawsuit that seeks to erase nearly a century of teacher job protections, including seniority rights. The lawsuit, Vergara v. California, is currently being tried in Los Angeles Superior Court and names Torlakson as a defendant.

“I’m supportive of the case,” Tuck says. “I think that the changes they’re asking for are good for kids and make sense for California schools.” He points out that he recently wrote a commentary for LA School Report backing the case. Tuck also believes in the contentious Parent Trigger law, which has opened the door for charter schools to take over public schools and is strongly supported by conservatives and school privatizers. Torlakson voted against the law in 2009 when he was a member of the state Assembly.

Surprisingly, even those who follow the politics of education have paid little attention to the Tuck-Torlakson battle, which has received scant media coverage so far. John Rogers, director of the University of California, Los Angeles’ Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, suggests that influence over education policy has shifted somewhat from the superintendent to the California State Board of Education. The board’s current president is Michael Kirst, who was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown. Kirst had served on the state board of education under Brown in his first term as governor in 1975...

Here's a bizarre endorsement from San Diego's La Prensa:

State Superintendent of Public Instruction

This year the State Superintendent of Public Instruction is a very competitive race between the incumbent Torlakson and Marshall Tuck...

The last thing the schools need today are more changes...

We believe that now is not the time for change, but a time for a steady hand on the wheel to help guide education and Torlakson is that person.

[Maura Larkins' comment: I wouldn't call it "guiding" if the guide is guaranteed not to change course. You don't even need a human being at the wheel if you don't want any changes. You just jury rig the steering wheel so it can't move.]

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