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Teachers' Unions In Trouble
California's Super-Charged Superintendent's Race

California’s superintendent of schools race is usually pro forma—but this year it’s anything but. For a contest in which the incumbent usually gets re-elected without much effort, let alone national attention, this year will be dramatically different, the LA Times reports:

This year’s contest…is one of the tightest and costliest on the statewide ballot, the reflection of an emerging fault line in the Democratic Party over education policy.

Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is in the fight of his life against upstart challenger and fellow Democrat Marshall Tuck.

The battle has drawn national attention, along with millions of dollars from traditionalist teachers unions on one side and from those who want to wholly overhaul the way schools are run on the other.

The result could reverberate far beyond California.

Tuck the school reformer is facing off against Torlakson the veteran schoolteacher. Also on the ballot (by implication, that is) is California’s controversial teacher-tenure ruling of earlier this year, in which an LA superior court judge decided that tenure placed a disproportionate burden on minority students. The two contenders have taken up opposite sides of the issue, so the election fight has repercussions for the case’s appeal:

Tuck hailed the ruling as a victory for students in chronically underperforming schools, while Torlakson appealed the decision; state teachers unions also appealed. […]

Tuck, for his part, vows that if elected his first act will be to withdraw the court appeal.

“When we have students that have to file lawsuits to get a quality education, and the people who are elected to lead and fight for students are actually fighting against students in court, that’s when you know you need fundamental change,” Tuck said at a recent news conference, where he was flanked by some of the families that filed the lawsuit.

A victory for Tuck won’t end the challenge to this controversial ruling, but it will knock out one of its key opponents. Observers who hope to win a victory against teacher tenure in other states (notably New York) will be watching avidly.

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  • Andrew Allison

    The voters of California have an opportunity to rescue public education from a Union almost half of the members of which with kids send them to private schools. And the vote is close????? Surely it couldn’t be that the teachers who don’t want their kids in the public school system are telling their students to tell their parents how to vote?

    • johngbarker

      The current NAEP results show that the percentage of students scoring “proficient” to “advanced” is about the same as the percentage of scores in the IQ distribution in the above average to gifted range.

  • wigwag

    Eliminating teacher tenure to improve educational outcomes is a lot like scrubbing the toilet to make sure the roof doesn’t leak; it’s a non-sequitur.

    Nobody cares about teacher tenure in Greenwich, CT, Scarsdale, NY, Shaker Heights, OH, Beverly Hills, CA, Brookline, MA or the Upper West Side of Manhattan. That’s because kids in those communities get a great education in the public schools with precisely the same tenure system which is criticized for ruining inner city public education. It’s all nonsense. Tenure couldn’t be less relevant. It’s mostly an excuse to beat up on middle class teachers who do their best to teach in schools which are little more than hell-holes.

    Inner city schools fail not because they are underfunded and not because of due process/tenure for teachers. Inner city schools fail because far too many of the students who attend those schools come from families with inferior cultural values. Whether we are talking about single-mother led African American families or a clueless and adrift white working class as described in Charles Murray’s recent book, schools fail because inner-city culture fails.
    Focusing on tenure is a distraction; mostly it distracts morons.

    Fixing culture is hard; it may be impossible. But if the goal is to fix inner city public education, there is no substitute. Nothing else matters; not tenure reform, not charter schools, not privatizing public schools, not the common core, not ubiquitous testing. Nothing,

    • Anthony

      Good point. Charles Murray agrees with you. He has said that his kids went to a unionized school in rural Maryland and got a good education. So, clearly unions per se cannot be the problem or a consistent negative result would occur every time unions are present.

      It should also be noted that lower IQ people are going to have a hard time “succeeding,” if success is limited to attending college and successfully obtaining some kind of white collar job, regardless of how the school system is structured. The so called education reform movement seems to think that everyone in america can be above average if only the schools were improved. This is obviously a silly idea, but it persists because politicians get elected by flattering the voters, not by telling the unvarnished truth. This tendency can also be seen in the fact that our politicians constantly refer to all americans as middle class, when at least twenty percent of americans (and that is pretty charitable) do not qualify for this designation.

      Iq thresholds also apply to the skilled trades. Someone with an iq below a certain level probably won’t be able to pass the tests required to be an electrician, for example.

      • johngbarker

        The current NAEP results show that the percentage of students scoring “proficient” to “advanced” is about the same as the percentage of scores in the IQ distribution in the above average to gifted range. This may not be regarded as compelling statistical evidence of causation, but it should encourage more reflection about reform.

      • wigwag

        The chattering class loves to opine on education; unfortunately most members of this class are numbskulls. Hedge fund billionaires and software entrepreneurs think that their enormous financial success qualifies them to influence the public debate about education. If you wouldn’t let a business man perform heart surgery on you merely because he’s wearing a white lab coat and invented an arcane derivative instrument, you would be wise not to let him influence your opinion about education either.

        Both the left and the right have lost their collective minds when it comes to education. A couple of decades ago, the left was assuring us that if we merely introduced bilingual education or celebrated black-English as the native language of African-Americans, we would be well on our way to improved educational opportunities for inner-city kids. Now its the rights’ turn to drone on about their preferred magical solutions; charter schools, eliminating tenure, privatizing education, developing a centralized federal curriculum and testing kids till they drop.

        The ideologues on the right are just as stupid as the ideologues on the left and guess what? They don’t care about kids at all; what they hold dear is their preconceived and often repugnant notions.

        Create a school district that caters to exclusively Asian children and nobody would talk about teacher tenure at all; that’s because in general, Asian kids are high achievers in school. Given that they don’t differ biologically from white and African American kids, there can only be one explanation; their culture is superior when it comes to educational achievement.

        Send kids to school with good work habits, discipline and inquisitiveness and they will thrive regardless of whether their teachers have tenure. Send kids to school well nourished on good food, not exhausted from watching television and playing video games all night and not scared to death from watching their parent engage in loud and sometimes violent arguments with their domestic partners and kids will do well. Conversely, kids from dysfunctional environments will fail; take their teacher’s tenure away and they will still fail just as badly.

        Rightwing ideologues couldn’t care less about education; they have an ideological ax to grind and attacking teachers who work in often miserable conditions is the way to do it.

        • Gene

          Wow. In recent months I’ve actually been agreeing with a lot of your comments but this is way, way over the top. You might want to lay off of the melodramatic blanket condemnations of vast numbers of people. (Specificity is useful. Find 2 examples of the “ideologues” you find so dangerous and name them; your argument becomes substantially stronger then.) One logical conclusion from what you’ve written here is that all efforts at reform–whether charter schools, teacher training, curriculum reform, etc.–are utterly fruitless and should be ended this afternoon. You’ve elevated your central and valuable insight–that culture is the most important thing–to such a level of prominence that literally every other activity becomes a waste of time.

        • johngbarker

          Not to mention the vast sums of money being looted from schools by various reform hucksters.

          • wigwag

            You are absolutely right. Monetization is the key for many hedge fund and high tech types who spend millions of dollars to advocate charter schools/privatization, a federalized curriculum and computerized school testing systems. The educational sector is enormous and until recently there have been few opportunities for the avarice to profit by investing in this sector. That is changing now. For these folks its not about the kids (as they claim), it’s about the money. The rapacity of these bastards is hard to overstate.

            But these folks are used to buying what they want and they have purchased political leaders in both parties lock, stock and barrel. That’s why a “liberal” democrat like Andrew Cuomo and a “conservative” republican like Jeb Bush have virtually identical views on public education. They are both bought and paid for, just like so many of their colleagues in both political parties.

            There is actually a major opportunity for Tea Party types and genuine progressives to make common cause on this issue. The Common Core and ubiquitous testing are little more than legalized child abuse forced on Americans by political elites and their financial benefactors. These groups should get together to fight what you correctly call the “reform-hucksters” before it is too late.

      • Anthony

        “While all men may have been created equal, whatever that means, what strikes the most casual observer is their disparity of age, circumstance, capability and conditions. And, considering people in general with respect to their judgmental powers, what is most unequal about them is their intelligence.” In line with your assessment Anthony, what public policy would you contemplate going forward.

    • Loader2000

      Absolutely agree.

    • Anthony

      WigWag, K-12 education (public) in this country remains multidimensional (class interests, labor interests, financial interests, and perhaps overall citizen instructional interests, etc.) but teacher tenure as general proposition is not issue vis-a-vis instructional delivery (as your examples in second paragraph commonsensically demonstrate). In particular, I think remonstrances to overcome low literacy rates and narrow “the achievement gaps” demographically provide favorable context to interests promoting said purpose. Since, realistically other people’s children (generally) are not necessarily primal. Indeed within broader context of the business of public education (in current America), the founding ideals (true free quality universal education as launched in 19th century) are secondary if not tertiary to prevailing interests.

  • michaelj68

    “Torlakson the veteran schoolteacher”

    That is news to me as someone who lived in area Torlakson came from. He is the poster child of the slime bag who will do anything to get up the greasy pole of California politics a big part is selling out to the public sector unions. I doubt he has been in a classroom for over 20 years.

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