Race for state superintendent heated despite agreement on two key issues

Source: Web broadcast

Moderator Janis Hirohama introduces candidates Marshall Tuck, Lydia Gutierrez and Tom Torlakson at the PTA and League of Women Voters forum for the candidates in Los Angeles in May.


Moderator Janis Hirohama introduces candidates Marshall Tuck, Lydia Gutierrez and Tom Torlakson at the PTA forum for the candidates in Los Angeles in May. Source: web broadcast.

Moderator Janis Hirohama introduces candidates Marshall Tuck, Lydia Gutierrez and Tom Torlakson at the PTA and League of Women Voters forum for the candidates in Los Angeles in May. Source: Web broadcast.

The candidates’ views on charter schools, teachers unions and education reform have turned the race for state superintendent of public instruction into an expensive proxy war between big labor and big donors.

But Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck, the two leading candidates, both Democrats, share similar views on the two biggest education initiatives – and challenges – of the decade in California. Torlakson, seeking his second four-year term, and Tuck, the former president and CEO of a group of charter schools in Los Angeles, fully support the state’s new school financing system, the Local Control Funding Formula. And both are firmly behind the Common Core State Standards, which have replaced California’s state standards in math and English language arts.

“The Common Core is a massive shift for our schools and should be a top priority in terms of support for the next two years,” Tuck wrote on his campaign website.

“Embracing Common Core bodes well for the direction we are going,” Torlakson said in an interview this week.

Lydia Gutierrez

Lydia Gutierrez

The true contrarian in the race, at least on these issues, is a little-known veteran teacher from the Long Beach Unified School District who also ran in 2010. Lydia Gutierrez, a Republican, opposes both “high-stakes testing” and the Common Core standards, which she criticizes as untested and unproven.

What’s given the race unexpected visibility and bite is that Torlakson and Tuck are on opposite sides of a fault line of education reform – nationally and in California. Tuck believes that teachers unions are too powerful and that “parents should be the biggest voice in education and a threat” to the unions, he said in an interview. He favors curbing teacher tenure and seniority and using standardized scores to some degree for teacher evaluations. He backs the “parent trigger” law, which gives parents of students in low-performing schools the leverage  to demand structural changes, including switching to a charter school.

Until he resigned to run for state superintendent, Tuck ran the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a group of 17 low-performing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District that then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took over in 2007. Before that, he opened up nine charter schools in Los Angeles as president of Green Dot Public Schools.

Torlakson, a former legislator, is a close ally of the state’s teachers unions and favors their workplace protections. He opposed the state pursuing a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law, which Tuck supports, in part because a condition required using student test scores for teacher evaluations. The California Teachers Association, in turn, has spent about $4 million on TV and radio ads praising Torlakson and criticizing Tuck. That’s about four times the $1 million and change that Tuck and Torlakson each have raised for their own campaigns. Gutierrez has raised about $30,000.

Major donors backing Tuck include William Bloomfield, a real estate developer from Manhattan Beach, who has spent $720,000 on mailers promoting Tuck. The California Senior Advocates League PAC, an independent expenditure group funded by Bloomfield and philanthropist and charter school supporter Eli Broad, has spent an additional $800,000 for Tuck.

Tuck has the endorsement of the state’s largest newspapers ­– the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News – which praised his energy and ideas while criticizing Torlakson as being too ingratiating toward teachers unions. But Torlakson has secured the endorsements of a daunting list of players in the state Democratic and education establishment: dozens of county and district superintendents, legislators, labor leaders, members of Congress – all listed on his campaign website.

That list reflects the difficulty Tuck faces in trying to unseat an incumbent state superintendent who reflects the current mainstream in Sacramento on K-12 education: Move forward on local control and the Common Core, move carefully on holding districts and teachers accountable for new standardized tests, and defy the Obama administration if Washington gets in the way of California’s priorities.

The state superintendent is the only statewide elected position that’s nonpartisan, meaning that candidates’ party affiliations aren’t listed on the ballot. Unless one of them gets more than 50 percent of votes in the June 3 primary, the top two candidates will square off again in November.

The state superintendent’s main job is to run the state education bureaucracy and enforce the California Education Code, a voluminous book of regulations and education laws. The state superintendent can sponsor key bills, as Torlakson did with AB 484, which set the timetable for new standardized tests, and make policy recommendations to the State Board of Education. And, as the highest-ranking education official, the state superintendent has a big megaphone. Torlakson has used his position to promote career education pathways and more money for preschools.

Power shift from Sacramento

Tom Torlakson

Tom Torlakson

Torlakson is a San Francisco native and former high school teacher and track coach turned Contra Costa County supervisor. He then spent 14 years as a state legislator before he was elected superintendent in 2010. Torlakson was on board for the big reforms in Gov. Jerry Brown’s first term, although he and his deputies initially complained about the potential lack of state oversight under early versions of Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula. But he was squarely behind it by the time it became law in 2013, even though it accelerated the shift of control over spending decisions from Sacramento and the state Department of Education to local districts.

The funding formula “is a historical shift to give power back to school boards,” Torlakson said at a candidates forum co-sponsored by the California PTA and the League of Women Voters of California in Los Angeles in May. “Districts will be measured on how well they involved parents. We are working with a number of groups on parent training and shared decision making.”

Torlakson acknowledges that the Department of Education must adapt to reflect the new dynamic of local control, and it’s ready to do so, he said. There will be “less emphasis on compliance” and more on working with districts to improve the quality of their programs and share model programs and practices through a new agency, the Collaborative for Educational Excellence.

But Tuck said that the department has shown it’s incapable of doing that well, because it has failed in its primary responsibility to collect the data needed to make those judgments. Low-performing schools have received billions of federal dollars in School Improvement Grants and through the Quality Education Investment Act under a bill that Torlakson sponsored, but, Tuck said, the state did no research to figure out lessons learned and what worked.

“We saw big dollars going to high-poverty schools. Has the state been transparent about the results?” he asked. “What practices did schools use? Change staffing? Adopt a longer day?”

Although money moved to local districts, they still must comply with the 2,300-page Education Code. Tuck said his priority would be reducing the number of regulations, giving districts the flexibility that charter schools have. Meanwhile, the state should be using its authority to issue waivers from the code. And yet, Tuck said, when the San Jose Unified School District and its teachers union asked for a waiver to extend the probationary period for teachers, the state board wrongly voted it down based on Torlakson’s recommendation.

A lot riding on Common Core

Torlakson rolled the dice, jeopardizing tens of billions of dollars in federal revenue, when the state refused to comply with the federal requirement that it test students in state standards in math and English language arts this year. Instead, through Torlakson’s testing bill (AB 484), the state ended nearly all state standardized tests and put the state’s accountability system on hold for at least two years. The state took the position that districts should focus attention on the field or practice test for the Common Core assessments. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan backed down from imposing penalites, and Tuck agrees that the suspension of testing was the right decision, though he argues that schools and parents still should get a report on the field test results.

How smoothly the Common Core is implemented in coming years will largely determine Torlakson’s legacy. Torlakson pushed for the $1.25 billion last year that gave districts money to upgrade technology, buy instructional materials and train teachers in the new standards, and he’s hoping Brown will agree in budget negotiations to include $1.25 billion more next year. Tuck agrees that it’s critical to “double down” on the Common Core over the next few years.

But it’s every district for itself in the new world of local control, and there’s been no reliable measure of how well prepared schools will be this fall to start teaching the English language arts and math standards for the first real round of Common Core tests next spring.

Marshall Tuck

Marshall Tuck

Torlakson said that, except for a few glitches, the field tests went well and point toward a “smooth transition.” He points to the Common Core resources page on the Department of Education’s website. “We have provided great services with training modules,” he said. “We don’t believe we have all the answers. This will be a state-local partnership.” And the rollout, he said, will take years. “It’s not like flicking on a light switch.”

But Tuck said the state has not implemented the new standards well since adopting them in 2010, and the state is far behind in helping districts prepare for them. “The department has not done a good job sharing resources, and it is hard to find quality resources on the website,” he said. “The state should be doing video chats to support educators in the field, talking about how to create and share lesson plans. Almost nothing like that has been done.”

Other priorities

 At the PTA forum in May, candidates were asked what would make the smartest investments in education.

Gutierrez, a master teacher who has taught kindergarten though eighth grades in a quarter-century of teaching, called for eliminating high-stakes testing. She said music, arts and vocational training should be restored in middle schools, “when students start deciding what their future is.”

Torlakson also called for more money for career education, to give students a taste of the work world, and for preschools, because “early learning gives a better start.”

Tuck called for more money to train teachers and principals to be effective. He also supports “parent college” on Saturdays, referring to a program he started to involve parents in their children’s education, and a longer school day to make room for the arts and civics.

Asked in an interview why he should be re-elected, Torlakson cited the progress he has achieved working with Gov. Brown. “We were able to stop the fiscal crisis and are moving forward with exciting reforms for student success,” particularly in establishing partnerships with businesses to advance career education and readiness. (On Friday, he announced $250 million worth of career pathways grants to coalitions of schools and businesses.) He cited the 80 percent overall high school graduation rate last year, a record high, as an indicator of progress.

Tuck points to a different statistic, the increase in the four-year graduation rate from 36 percent to 58 percent in five years at the academically struggling Partnership schools. As the only candidate who has actually run schools, he said, “I saw that when you empower parents, empower teachers to do right by kids, beautiful things happen.”

John Fensterwald covers education policy. Contact him and follow him on Twitter @jfenster. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.


Filed under: Common Core, Evaluations, Federal Education Policy, Hot Topics, Local Control Funding Formula, Parent Involvement, School Finance, State Education Policy, Testing and Accountability

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41 Responses to “Race for state superintendent heated despite agreement on two key issues”

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  1. Don on Jun 4, 2014 at 9:18 am06/4/2014 9:18 am

    • 000

    Well it appears I was wrong about Torklason winning easily. He didn’t get the 50% which means Tuck will likely close the gap considerably in the runoff. The reformers see this contest as crucial to push their agenda to the next level.


    • Floyd Thursby on Jun 4, 2014 at 11:49 pm06/4/2014 11:49 pm

      • 000

      Go Tuck. We can’t expect anything from an insider but a continuation of what we’ve been doing, which isn’t working, having one of the richest states and one of the lowest in test scores. GO TUCK!

        • Floyd Thursby on Jun 5, 2014 at 1:11 pm06/5/2014 1:11 pm

          • 000

          Caroline, I agree with you on redistribution issues, support higher inheritance tax, a guarantee all money is taxed at least once, support higher minimum wage, etc. I don’t feel it is a right-left issue. The thing is, sure some billionaires are on both sides, but LIFO causes bad teachers to stay on for many years and teach mostly poor kids. More affluent parents complain more, and the lemons are passed around, did you see ‘Waiting for Superman’ and ‘The Lottery’? These aren’t rich kids being hurt by LIFO and the status quo. Teacher quality is a factor, and if you get one bad teacher for a year, it hurts.

          Getting rid of LIFO would help income inequality as kids in private school get a guarantee and teachers get fired. I know publics do as well or better after adjusting for income. Personally I suspect a softness in childraising of many well off kids, not pushing to reach their potential, as well as the practice of multiple kids families generally sending their best to public, as I’ve seen in several families with Lowell. The 2 average kids go to SI and the 1 star goes to Lowell. However, the stats don’t lie.

          Everything I posted was based on a per capita basis. Obviously I’m not bragging we have a higher income total than a state a fraction our size, but if we see more per capita, then we achieved something. Frankly I’m not bragging much. I think California could be #1 in a lot of things we’re near bottom on, including teacher pay, test scores, SATs, etc.

          I also don’t think this adds to income inequality. If you cut sub costs, teachers would have to work harder but with no LIFO, they would make more. If you adjust by average income, the teachers in the states without LIFO earn more.

  2. Gary Ravani on Jun 2, 2014 at 6:13 pm06/2/2014 6:13 pm

    • 000

    Several weeks ago a CA Congressman discussed how he was flummoxed when one of pet pieces of legislation went awry. That was NCLB, and he could not understand how it all came to be an unhealthy fixation of test scores. A fixation that the national Research Council asserts did little to improve student learning and did a lot to narrow the curriculum and reduce the chances of kids getting a well rounded education.

    The problems was the good Congressman had no background in education. And, as well, he didn’t listen to real educators who told him what would go wrong.

    In order to effectively carry out real education reform you must have someone who knows real education and knows how important it is to listen to real educators.

    In the election for SPI, between Torlakson and Tuck, we have the chance to select between someone with on the ground, in the trenches, experience with education (an actual classroom teacher!) in Torlakson and another know it all whose experience was in banking and then pushing the privatization agendas of charter school moguls. Oh yes, he was in charge of a mayor’s failed “reform” efforts in LA.

    CA has embarked on an ambitious series of statewide reforms. They involve adopting and implementing the Common Core Standards and new computer based assessments. This in a state that is near last in the nation in funding per student, with the highest class sizes, with few curricular materials, and limited capacity for needed teacher professional development.

    In order to not experience a major FAIL (see New York) in these efforts it will take someone who knows schools, knows teaching, and knows how to work with the classroom teacher who will actually do the work.

    That person is Tom Torlakson.


    • Don on Jun 2, 2014 at 11:48 pm06/2/2014 11:48 pm

      • 000

      Regarding your comment – “(an actual classroom teacher!)”, you have to go back 35 years to the Seventies to find Tom Torlakson in the classroom. He started his career as a full time elected official in 1980 and hasn’t stopped since then. I don’t hold it against him, but he’s hardly in the classroom trenches. He’s been in the union trenches. And they’ve been buying him ad time in a thinly veiled attempt to hide political office campaigning as public service announcements. Well, what else is new? Whatever means necessary will be employed to keep the likes of Marshall Tuck out of office. He has about as much chance of winning as a scab elected building rep.

      • TheMorrigan on Jun 4, 2014 at 5:35 am06/4/2014 5:35 am

        • 000

        Didn’t Torlakson teach in the community colleges, Don?

  3. Replies

    • Don on Jun 2, 2014 at 1:22 pm06/2/2014 1:22 pm

      • 000

      Carefully researched? Including this statement?:

      “Before continuing, it’s necessary to make the social justice disclaimer about standardized test scores and all the other “achievement” metrics employed by those ruling our society. In a word, standardized tests are both racist and classist. They are far more a measure of socioeconomic advantages, or disadvantages, than anything else. Special needs students and English Language Learners are two of the groups most discriminated against by the testing-industrial-complex. Tests like the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) had their origin in the white supremacist and eugenics movements.”

      I understand the complaints from the left about Mr.Tuck. But this article tells us much more about the author’s bias than the facts about Marshall Tuck.

  4. Transparent on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:05 am06/1/2014 8:05 am

    • 000

    Forgive me for pointing out that Tuck may like the “parent trigger” but check the list of eligible schools in Los Angeles and I believe that you will find all of the schools that are a part of PLAS are would-be targets. Is he taking credit for that?


    • Don on Jun 1, 2014 at 10:36 am06/1/2014 10:36 am

      • 000

      Bill, what do you mean by eligible schools?

      • Transparent on Jun 2, 2014 at 4:56 pm06/2/2014 4:56 pm

        • 000

        The state produces a list annually of schools that qualify….at least they did so for the last few years. With the API being abandoned, I am not sure what they plan to do now.

    • FloydThursby on Jun 1, 2014 at 11:20 am06/1/2014 11:20 am

      • 000

      The real solution is to take what we know is better in charter schools and extend that to all schools. The two most effective things are that you can fire bad teachers in a reasonable manner/time frame/cost, and they provide after school tutoring and work with parents. Most public schools, some parents rarely go into the school, they may be in a car parked in front picking their kids up, but they rarely engage, and the low number of bad teachers do a lot of damage as they are untouchable, everyone knows who they are, etc. We know that works, and 70% of Californians agree, but the union blackmails legislators into allowing it to continue by threatening to donate to their opponents and not endorse them. We know it works, yet most of us stay silent, but staying silent in the midst of great oppression renders us equally guilty by our silence. Children are suffering. Most teachers are good, but if you protect the terrible ones, you are harming many, many children. This is where Tuck is the better candidate. Torlakson has no plan on this issue at all except the blind failed status quo.

      • CarolineSF on Jun 2, 2014 at 7:19 am06/2/2014 7:19 am

        • 000

        Charter schools’ big advantage is that they are free to pick, choose and kick out students. (There are no oversight mechanisms that limit charters’ ability to engage in those practices.) If individual public schools do that, as when charter schools do that, the public school system still must cope with the rejected students.

        • Don on Jun 2, 2014 at 8:21 am06/2/2014 8:21 am

          • 000

          Caroline, this is going off topic, but your comment is mostly incorrect and needs to be clarified. Most charter schools have waiting lists and thus, by state law, they use lotteries for admission purposes. They don’t get to decide who gets in and who doesn’t unless you are claiming that they violate the law by cheating on the lottery.(IN SFUSD, the district runs the charter lotteries.) Currently there are hundreds of thousands of students on charter school waiting lists statewide. As for expulsion, according to the UCLA Law Review, nearly 100,000 students are expelled every year in California’s public schools. Of course some students are expelled from charters just like at TPSs and some are counseled out. How is this different from any other school? I know plenty of examples at regular schools where students left rather than be expelled.

          Though this does not speak to charters in general, I can tell you from personal experience that my son’s charter goes above and beyond to avoid kicking anyone out and shows more commitment to educate all than I expected. I was sure some kids would get expelled, but that didn’t happen. That doesn’t mean you aren’t correct in that some charter schools expel at a higher rate, but I’d like to see some data on charter expulsions. That said, charters are here to provide something different than what’s available in traditional schools. If student behavior conflicts with the mission than expulsion may be necessary and right. That charters may add to the student population at continuation schools which are mainly populated by students previously at regular public schools is par for the course. No schools can exist without some limits on behavior. I don’t see what point you are making.

          As for oversight, I agree with you. I have tried to get SFUSD, the chartering authority, to provide more general compliance oversight at charter schools and they just don’t do it, even though they’re paid to do so. So who’s at fault here?

          • Floyd Thursy on Jun 2, 2014 at 10:52 am06/2/2014 10:52 am

            • 000

            Caroline, what do you think about the idea all schools should operate under a different system than LIFO? I believe this would help all children in public schools. Only 11 States have this, and California is one of the richest states (per capita, easily the richest gross but that’s irrelevant), with the 4th highest overall taxes per capita, yet we spend less and have schools near the bottom. Why does a top state not have top schools? Could LIFO be part of the problem? If so, we not reform it? Not just for charters, but for the entire state…

            • el on Jun 2, 2014 at 4:15 pm06/2/2014 4:15 pm

              • 000

              The process of Last In, First Out (LIFO) only applies when there are layoffs, and most typically, when there are layoffs that are large and unspecific as opposed to a layoff due to a genuine reduction of need for services. Its existence should not affect personnel decisions in a healthy and properly funded school system.

              It is not, as you suggest, something that prevents teachers from being removed for cause.

          • CarolineSF on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:31 pm06/2/2014 9:31 pm

            • 000

            Sorry to remain off topic, but correcting misconceptions. My original post is accurate.

            SFUSD has no control over charter schools’ admission processes. SFUSD officials have weakly voiced dismay over the lengthy, demanding application for the district’s most popular charter high school, for example, but have no power to get it changed. S.F. charters have refused to accept applications from students they don’t want. One charter imposed an unrealistically early application deadline that eliminated unaware families. I put my own daughter into the application process some years ago for KIPP S.F. Bay Academy to learn if the school required applicants to take a test before accepting them, which it did. SFUSD has no control over these winnowing processes.

            Waiting lists are unverifiable. San Francisco’s then-two Envision charter high schools (one has folded) used to publicly claim to have waiting lists, but their board meeting minutes were posted online at the time, and at their board meetings, the schools’ underenrollment problem was discussed. Friends who toured the school told me that all families who visited were placed on the waiting list, whether they were interested or not. So, are claims of long waiting lists valid? Discuss among yourselves.

            Regarding charter expulsions. First: If a public school expels a student, the public school system still must deal with that student. If a charter school expels a student, the charter school doesn’t ever have to deal with that student again; the student is now the responsibility of the public school system. Second: If we look at middle schools — where students are too young to legally drop out — charters have high attrition (students leave and aren’t replace), and public schools don’t. I’ve done much research and posted many blogs about this, and I’m quoted in Jay Mathews’ book about KIPP, “Work Hard, Be Nice.” Continued…

            • CarolineSF on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:45 pm06/2/2014 9:45 pm

              • 000

              Continued: Why don’t charter authorizers provide more oversight? The charter sector wields immense political muscle and has powerful media support.

              In 2001, SFUSD moved to investigate issues with a charter in its district, Edison Charter Academy. Edison mustered a vast amount of media and political support. SFUSD was under fire from the local and regional press, national press such as USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, and even international press such as the London-based Economist. The New York Times ran a Page 1 story on the issue, heavily weighted toward Edison’s viewpoint, including a significant, material, never-corrected inaccuracy. (John Fensterwald may be able to shed some light on the thinking behind the media show of force. Did anyone consider whether charter authorizers should have the power to oversee privately run, publicly funded charters?)

              In 2003, SFUSD had another problem with a non-chain charter high school. Two of its students had died on an unsupervised school wilderness outing. The school was in financial shambles, bouncing teachers’ paychecks; and the school was “graduating” students who fell far short of the legal requirements for graduation. Test scores were also rock bottom: 1-1 on the API. There was a loud outcry and protest when SFUSD moved to shut the school down, with the protest supported by the state’s charter lobbying organization, now called the California Charter Schools Association. To this day it’s easy to find people in S.F. who are outraged that the district closed down a “successful school.”

              School districts still find this kind of power arrayed against them when they scrutinize charter applications and make decisions. Here in S.F., this occurred with a charter applicant that was eventually opened under state auspices and has struggled ever since, Flex Academy. John F. may also be able to shed some light on the thinking behind the pressure put on the school board to approve the charter. (Continued…)

            • CarolineSF on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:47 pm06/2/2014 9:47 pm

              • 000

              Situations like these make it extremely difficult for charter authorizers to exert any oversight at all over charter schools. I’m curious about whether that’s taken into consideration when outsiders put pressure on school boards to reverse their decisions. John?

              Here I’m giving history and facts. “Floyd,” I can’t give you opinions.

            • Floyd Thursby on Jun 2, 2014 at 11:30 pm06/2/2014 11:30 pm

              • 000

              Caroline, you avoided the question. I believe you are biased towards the status quo, LIFO, etc. I agree charters aren’t perfect, and that was wrong, but KIPP and Gateway get better results than schools with comparable populations. You really have to compare demographics, for instance kids in private school do better, but if you adjust for family income, they don’t, at all. That’s why I support public schools, plus they add to integration. However, studies show kids are hurt by LIFO. You sidestep that issue. As for expulsions, it’s a hard question. It’s clear if every parent were involved, came to meetings, did flashcards and reading and spent weekends teaching their kids, achievement would rise, and it’s also clear bad behavior distracts other kids. You can tell kids to behave, but if there is no consequence to saying no and refusing, then these orders may be ignored. KIPP has rules that if everyone follows, achievement rises, the achievement gap drops, all good for society and the school, and the future achievement and income of the kids. Should they let one kid be selfish and enjoy attention and say f you to the authorities, ignore the rules, and encourage others to do the same, rules designed to give them a better life and future, and meanwhile damage every child in the room? Now take into consideration, such a child has virtually no chance of success, but now they will ruin the futures of everyone else in a selfish act. If charters can’t expel, the entire mission is at risk. The entire change in bad behavior which causes a lack of mobility and generations of poverty. You seem to be looking for any excuse to shut down all charters and ignore the positive rules they have which all schools should follow. I feel your criticisms probably have to do with your desire to perpetuate the status quo of LIFO and blaming poverty, not finding real viable solutions that work.

            • Don on Jun 3, 2014 at 3:52 pm06/3/2014 3:52 pm

              • 000

              Caroline, anecdote is the weakest form of argument. You are making a global generalization about charter school admission and expulsion based on what data? A couple of schools that went belly up years ago? You’ve been harping on about one SF charter school, Edison, since its namesake’s experiments with incandescent light. We know you don’t like charters. But you fail to make a case against the whole movement by citing a few egregious examples of malfeasance.

              I agree with you that the admission policy of the school you alluded to is unfair. But it is in compliance with law and with the charter. If the District was as outraged as you or I am about it they wouldn’t have renewed the charter two months ago. I notified the District of specific charter violations budget and it did nothing despite pocketing the 1% for oversight. I am a firm believer that charter need to be held to a higher standard of transparency and community involvement. But with the chartering authority washing its hands of responsibility and the CDE out of the compliance business, what do you expect?

      • Sonja Luchini on Jun 2, 2014 at 5:06 pm06/2/2014 5:06 pm

        • 000

        The only “best practices” that charters can share is “exclusive enrollment” which cannot be done in a regular public school as it violates the rights of students. Charters manipulate enrollment, period. They do not take moderate/severely disabled students, English language learners, foster or homeless youth in the same percentages as regular public schools. Data regarding “enrollment by disability type” proves it.

        Charters also don’t have teachers with the proper credentials to instruct the more severely disables so do not take them. If not hiring the teachers and not enrolling ALL children – what, exactly IS “better” in a charter school?

        • CarolineSF on Jun 3, 2014 at 7:32 am06/3/2014 7:32 am

          • 000

          “Floyd,” I didn’t sidestep the issue. I told you directly that I cannot give a personal opinion. My description of charter school enrollment and attrition issues, and of history that makes it nearly impossible for charter school authorizers to exert any oversight, is not opinion but history and fact.

        • Don on Jun 3, 2014 at 5:30 pm06/3/2014 5:30 pm

          • 000

          Sonja, districts are required to educate all comers but that doesn’t mean that all schools have to do so. Most districts do not provide the full spectrum of sped services at every school and neither do charters. Often the smaller size of charters makes it difficult from a cost/benefit perspective, both for the district and the charter. In any case, charters often operate their special ed programs under the district SELPA and they are considered a school within a school.

          As for the assertion that they don’t take ELL students or foster kids, where do you come up with this stuff?

          • navigio on Jun 3, 2014 at 7:09 pm06/3/2014 7:09 pm

            • 000

            C’mon, you know many charters implement barriers that make it more difficult for those students to get in then make it more likely that they leave once/if they overcome those barriers.

          • CarolineSF on Jun 4, 2014 at 9:07 am06/4/2014 9:07 am

            • 000

            Don, I listed a number of real-life practices of charter schools in San Francisco that serve to winnow applicants and over which the school district has no control. Those are facts, not opinion.

            I AM making a case that the barrage of criticism faced by school districts when they move to oversee a charter, or to reject a charter school application, may deter oversight of charter schools. Obviously I’m not discouraging free speech or criticism, but in many cases these critics are distant outsiders with piecemeal information but inordinately powerful voices. The two most extreme examples are years ago, true, but the Flex Academy issue was three or four years ago.

            • FloydThursby on Jun 4, 2014 at 9:23 am06/4/2014 9:23 am

              • 000

              Caroline, intimidation can be a negative in this, I agree. However, reasonable oversight should occur, but there are somewho would provide so much oversight that it would detract from the mission at hand and be harassment. Yes, some oversight is due, but we must be careful.

              It is similar with LIFO. Many principals are only at a school for 3 years. Many say LIFO is great, we just need principals to be more agressive infiring the bad teachers or getting them retrained, but in the real world many are intimidated by resistance from other good teachers and the huge amount of time it takes, as well as paperwork.

              You are providing facts but you seem very selective. You never post facts that charters have higher test scores for the groups with the lowest test scores. It would be easier to trust you when you claim to only be interested in the facts, not opinions, if you had more balance. You are extremely selective in your facts and are not considering the good test scores at some charters in SF. You only choose to mention facts which are bad for charters, so your facts in my view constitute an opinion and a subsequent excuse to avoid responding to facts and opinions which disprove many of your ssertions, or at the very least cast doubt upon them. You are not as fact-based as you are leading the rest of us to believe. You surely have an agenda.

            • Don on Jun 4, 2014 at 10:46 am06/4/2014 10:46 am

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              I am absolutely in agreement with the idea that charters should not practice selective admission or abuse expulsion,including “counseling out” students, though that is a trickier issue. At the school in question I personally complained to the leadership of the application date changes which I thought were very ill-advised and in the end it backfired on that leadership. In fact, the charter document required such a change to have the approval of board at the school. That didn’t happen. I complained about this to the District and they did nothing. Caroline, you are dismissing the chartering authority’s responsibility. They are charged with oversight and paid to do it. That they don’t doesn’t exonerate the school, but it speaks to the need for checks and balances.

              I can’t say what is happening all around the state at each individual charter and it seems that it is difficult to get good information on this subject. That should not preclude us from discussing it, but it does make it difficult to demonstrate what is going on industry-wide. I can be for great accountability, tougher oversight and charter schools at the same time. The CCSA has already gotten the picture that a laissez-faire attitude is not conducive to the long-term health of the industry. In the context of LCFF and the limited oversight of districts, it is all the more clear that, left to their own devices, LEA’s will not produce the greatest level and accountability and transparency be they traditional or charter schools and districts.

              Finally, for-profit charters should be outlawed. It is asking for trouble. We went off topic so I’m signing out of this thread.

  5. Manuel on May 31, 2014 at 8:59 pm05/31/2014 8:59 pm

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    It is interesting that Mr. Tuck expresses concern over the use of the School Improvement Grants because he said “the state did no research to figure out lessons learned and what worked”.” He also said “We saw big dollars going to high-poverty schools. Has the state been transparent about the results?…What practices did schools use? Change staffing? Adopt a longer day?”

    Well, in LAUSD, $52,033,000 went to nine schools during 2010-13. But here’s the kicker: $22,276,465 went to four schools that were administered by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. Guess who was the CEO of PLAS? Yep, Mr. Tuck himself.

    So why is he asking these questions from Torlakson? Shouldn’t he already know the answers to his own questions?

    Even though I don’t believe the API is an appropriate measure of “excellence,” it is good enough for comparison. So let’s take a look at one of those schools Edwin Markham Middle. Its 2013 Growth API was 633, 2012’s was 627, 2011’s was 585, 2010’s was 570, and 2009’s was 526. Does this justify spending $5,523,491?

    Markham had 82.01% of its students qualify for Title I funds. Let’s compare it to a school with a similar level of poverty but not managed by the PLAS: Columbus MS with 81.97%. Its 2013 Growth API was 698, 2012’s was 725, 2011’s was 692, 2010’s was 678, and 2009’s was 655. It did not go up at a steady rate as Markham’s. In fact, it went down in 2013 (which I think happened to every school in the state), but it did not get $5 million more to increase its API.

    Clearly, it is not a simple answer. But Mr. Tuck is in a position to answer his own question instead of implying Torlakson’s office did not demand sufficient accountability. If anything, Mr. Tuck should instead explain why $5 million did not take Markham’s API past 800.


    • Don on Jun 1, 2014 at 12:27 am06/1/2014 12:27 am

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      Regarding your analysis of SIG school outcomes in LAUSD, I did my own analysis of the same in SFUSD which I posted on my blog. Here is the summation of that:

      “Over the three-year period the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program produced very different achievement results among the nine recipient schools in the SFUSD. Three schools did very well, over-performing district averages, and three did very poorly, underperforming district averages. Two schools posted statistically average results compared to non-SIG schools, thereby under-performing as SIG recipients. One school was excluded from analysis due to a school merger that made an apples-to-apples comparison impossible with the info I had at hand. Approximately $12,000-$13,000 was spent per student on average in the nine schools over the 3-year period, factoring in attendance and not including normal funding.”

      “It is difficult to concur with SFUSD that the grant program was successful since at least half the schools didn’t do significantly better than the district as a whole and some did considerably worse, especially considering the statistical benefits enjoyed by low performing schools that have more potential upward test score mobility than higher performing schools as well as the fact that test participation rates are lower at low-performing school – a factor that raises aggregate scores. Despite the extraordinarily large and unprecedented windfall funding that was SIG, the costs versus results point to a very uneven intervention with more poor results than good ones. The fact that some schools outperformed while others underperformed speaks to poor implementation at the district level where money totaling in the millions was spent on administration”. End

      After the poor showing with SIG, some districts don’t merit the increased discretion over spending that LCFF provides.

  6. Tressy Capps on May 31, 2014 at 4:01 pm05/31/2014 4:01 pm

    • 000

    Torlakson re:LCFF. There will be “less emphasis on compliance” Then what is the point? You can’t just hand over a bag of cash and naively believe school boards will do the right thing. Laws without oversight are useless. Which of these candidates will enforce the LCFF law? What is the penalty if a school board refuses to engage parents? Between common core and this squishy LCFF feel good law, parents need to get involved NOW. The future of our children is at stake.

  7. Frank Biehl on May 31, 2014 at 3:47 pm05/31/2014 3:47 pm

    • 000

    I believe that under Proposition 14 the top two candidates will run against each other in November regardless of whether one of them receives over 50% of the vote in June.


    • John Fensterwald on Jun 1, 2014 at 4:24 pm06/1/2014 4:24 pm

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      Both campaigns confirmed, Frank, that 50 percent plus one vote in the primary for state superintendent wins outright, with no runoff.

      • Floyd Thursby on Jun 2, 2014 at 12:17 am06/2/2014 12:17 am

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        That would be awful and cut focus on education for November. Vote against Torlakson just to guarantee a 2d round, then we can decide later.

  8. Doug Lasken on May 31, 2014 at 11:50 am05/31/2014 11:50 am

    • 000

    It’s disappointing that both frontrunners, Torlakson and Tuck, support the Common Core Standards and their $2 billion California price tag (paid from our taxes out of Prop. 30). Nobody outspends Pearson Publishing et al at the lobbying trough, so the result should not be surprising: a botched implementation, especially in CA, where there will be no test scores K-12 for a year or more (the exact opposite of the accountability we were promised), but the all-important check is in the mail.

    The standards will have at best a mild local impact here and there, but they will no more change the facts on the ground (graduation rates, test scores, etc.) than did their similarly expensive and super-hyped predecessors. We have allowed publishers to dictate American curriculum to enhance their bottom line. Shame on us!


    • FloydThursby on May 31, 2014 at 11:41 pm05/31/2014 11:41 pm

      • 000

      I like Tuck better because he wants to end LIFO and put more money into tutoring disadvantaged students. No formula is going to close the achievement gap without ending LIFO and providing tutoring for kids who lack it at home. I see Torlakson as more status quo, if he gets in no progress will be made on these issues.

      • CarolineSF on Jun 2, 2014 at 7:22 am06/2/2014 7:22 am

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        Do the “right-to-work” states, where unions have no teeth, somehow have LIFO despite that, Floyd? The list of “right-to-work” states directly correlates with the list of the states with the lowest academic achievement.

        • FloydThursby on Jun 3, 2014 at 3:52 pm06/3/2014 3:52 pm

          • 000

          I’m not saying it should be easy, but it should be possible. Have you ever in SFUSD had a bad teacher who was guaranteed a job? I have. Imagine being a principal and trying to implement reforms or improve a school. I’ll research this and post later. I think California’s achievement is pretty low, but I’ll research it, I don’t want to speak before I’m sure.

          • FloydThursby on Jun 3, 2014 at 3:54 pm06/3/2014 3:54 pm

            • 000

            Also, I’m not for Right to Work, I think that’s a misnomer. I don’t want to have no union, I just don’t think it should be a situation where it’s almost impossible to be fired. It’s not either/or. 91 were fired in 10 years in the whole state, out of 300,000. I think if you want to start a career and finish it, maybe 95% should achieve that, but not 99.95 like now. Some quit, but very few are forced. It’s just a recipe for poor performance. You wouldn’t get people calling in sick when healthy and other things like that if you’re worried about what your boss thinks of your work.

            • FloydThursby on Jun 3, 2014 at 10:54 pm06/3/2014 10:54 pm

              • 000

              Caroline, the data is decidedly mixed. 12 States have LIFO: (Oregon, California, Alaska, Hawaii, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Kentucky, W. Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York)

              Ranking from 1-50 of each (51, includes DC) is 40, 30, 32, 13, 18, 19, 3, 6, 37, 51, 5 and 10. 264/12 is 22, so slightly above average, but it runs the gamut. LIFO is different from right to work, but non-LIFO states are clearly #1, 2, 4, 7, 8 and 9. California is 30.

              Read the wikipedia piece on LIFO, it clearly hurts minorities more.




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