Education Week - November 12, 2014 - (Page 16)
California Chief's Win a Bright Spot for Teachers' Unions
Torlakson beats back
By Andrew Ujifusa
California Superintendent of Public
Instruction Tom Torlakson's narrow
re-election victory over challenger
Marshall Tuck in the highest-profile
election for state K-12 chief this year
gave teachers' unions a big political
win over their critics, after tens of
millions of dollars in campaign contributions
supercharged that race.
Mr. Tuck, a former leader of a Los
Angeles charter school network,
had pledged to fundamentally
overhaul California schools and
give them more freedom from the
state education code. He criticized
California students' relatively poor
showings on national assessments
in reading and math.
But Mr. Torlakson, who was backed
heavily by the California Teachers
Association and the California Federation
of Teachers, successfully argued
that significant changes already
underway represented the right direction
for the state's public schools.
Those changes include the new "localcontrol
funding formula," which shifts
power from the state to districts.
Mr. Tuck also failed in his effort
to use the Vergara v. California ruling-in
which a state judge declared
this year that teacher-tenure laws
backed by the unions were unconstitutional-as
a wedge issue, said
David N. Plank, the executive director
of Policy Analysis for California
Education, a think tank at the Stanford
Graduate School of Education.
"They'll try again," Mr. Plank
said of union critics and others who
backed Mr. Tuck. "But they had a
very favorable set of circumstances
this time, and it was not sufficient to
get them through."
Elsewhere, Republicans were
poised to win the remaining six elections
for state superintendent that
took place this year. The California
race, the only one that featured an incumbent,
was nonpartisan, although
both Mr. Torlakson and Mr. Tuck
identify themselves as Democrats.
Several successful candidates made
opposition to the Common Core State
Standards a central part of their
campaigns, although the standards
weren't a major issue in California.
Unions Win Out
In California, Mr. Torlakson, who
was first elected in 2010, received 52
percent of the vote, while Mr. Tuck,
who ran the Green Dot network of
charter schools in Los Angeles as well
as a turnaround district of regular
public schools in the city, got 48 percent,
according to the latest returns
the day after the Nov. 4 election.
The race reflected national tensions
within the Democratic Party
over K-12 policy, and the proxy war
between the two groups got hot
Mr. Tuck won areas with relatively
large shares of Republican voters, including
Riverside, San Bernardino,
and San Diego counties in Southern
California. But Mr. Plank said the
challenger failed to build enough of
a constituency to overpower Mr. Torlakson's
"Had the challenge been successful,
I think it would have energized
Democrats for Education Reform
and similar groups across the country,"
Mr. Plank said.
Claims of Progress
But dfer, a national group with 13
California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson bested
opponent Marshall Tuck by a few percentage points to gain re-election.
enough for total spending on the
race to top $30 million.
Unions and others backing Mr. Torlakson
criticized Mr. Tuck for backing
the plaintiffs in the Vergara case and
said the case would wrongly undermine
teachers' job security. They and
Mr. Torlakson also pointed to Mr.
Tuck's background as a Wall Street
investment banker as a sign that he
would radically upend public schools
in ways favored by his backers in the
corporate and philanthropic worlds,
such as Eli Broad, the co-founder of
the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation,
and William Bloomfield Jr., a
real estate developer.
Those in Mr. Tuck's camp, in turn,
accused Mr. Torlakson of presiding
over a stagnant, low-performing education
system and of being a tool of
unions that place a priority on protecting
their political power over the
interests of students.
But the big spike in spending on the
race and the attention that the Vergara
case brought to the contest did
not translate into an increased turnout.
On the contrary, the total number
of votes cast in the chief's election
plummeted from 7.7 million in 2010,
when Mr. Torlakson defeated Larry
Aceves and Diane Lenning, to 4.4 million
in the Nov. 4 election. (Turnout
was also down in the governor's race
and other statewide contests.)
state affiliates that supports school
choice and the use of test scores in
teacher evaluations, among other positions,
insists that despite Mr. Tuck's
defeat, the race did provide the group
with momentum, since the campaign
put issues like teacher tenure, which
hitherto had been obscure for the
public, on the table.
Joe Williams, the executive director
of dfer, told reporters on a conference
call last week that California unions
spent "a lot of money to win a race
that should have been a gimme for
"We're very much on the cusp, and
education reform is an issue that's
firmly on the table," Dan Chang, the
head of an independent campaign
committee that backed Mr. Tuck,
said on the same call.
The win for Mr. Torlakson, an ally
of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown
With Grip on Congress, GOP Leaders Vow Action on Education
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 15
two similar proposals structured differently-a
piecemeal overhaul and a
large, broader bill. Under both proposals,
states would still have to test students,
but they wouldn't have to set
goals for student achievement. In addition,
they wouldn't have to intervene
in schools that aren't
making progress with
of students, such as
minorities or those
Rep. Kline said he expects
to work closely with Sen. Alexander.
Meanwhile, Sen. Alexander will
likely pick up where he left off on the
nclb law, with a bill he introduced last
year that garnered support from every
committee Republican but didn't get a
single Democratic co-sponsor.
The measure, which is similar to
Mr. Kline's, would significantly scale
back the federal role in K-12 policy.
Among other provisions, it would
allow states to devise their own accountability
plans and eliminate the
federal role in requiring states to set
specific student-achievement goals,
or in identifying a certain percentage
of schools as low-performing.
Schools would still be required
to test students in reading and
math in grades 3-8 and once in
high school, as the law currently
requires, and report the results, including
for subgroups of students.
Sen. Murray, who is known for
being one of the Democrats' strongest
negotiators, will have an extra
incentive to work with Sen. Alexander
to overhaul the law: The U.S.
Department of Education recently
yanked her home state of Washington's
nclb waiver, sending it on a
messy transition back to the law's
outdated accountability system.
"She knows how to cut a good
deal," said a Senate gop aide, adding
that the committee under Mr. Alexander's
stewardship "will always be
an inclusive process."
Both chambers have made baby
steps toward reauthorizing the
Higher Education Act this year.
Rep. Kline has helped pushed three
bills through the House with bipartisan
backing-one that would increase
financial-aid counseling, another that
would simplify the amount of financial
forecasting families received for
estimated college costs, and another
that would allow colleges to test competency-based
Sen. Alexander, meanwhile, has
teamed up with Sen. Michael Bennet,
D-Colo., to offer a more comprehensive
among other things, the Pell Grant
16 | EDUCATION WEEK | November 12, 2014 | www.edweek.org
program, student-aid applications,
financial-aid counseling, and loanrepayment
"He wants to simplify [the law]
and so do I," Mr. Kline said of Mr.
Alexander. "The reason you take a
piecemeal approach is so people can
understand what you're doing-
both the House and Senate and the
larger public; it doesn't mean it has
to [be structured] that way."
Other K-12 Issues
Conservatives will almost certainly
use the budget process to try to eliminate
the Obama administration's
favorite competitive-grant programs,
such as Race to the Top, Investing in
Innovation, and the expanded School
Improvement Grant program. Gop
lawmakers in the House have tried
for the past few years to scrap those
programs, but Senate Democrats
have always championed them in
Sen. Alexander is especially critical
of both Race to the Top and the
nclb waivers-he is fond of saying
they've turned the federal Department
of Education into a "national
school board" and Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan into a "waivergranting
Meanwhile, school choice policies
have become signature issues for
a number of high-profile Republican
senators widely seen as having
presidential aspirations, including
Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and
Marco Rubio of Florida, both of
whom have written or co-sponsored
school choice bills.
Sen. Alexander also has a school
choice proposal, which would allow
states to take almost all of their federal
K-12 funds and combine them
into one giant block grant aimed at
creating scholarships for low-income
students that could be used at any
school, private or public.
Rep. Kline is less inclined to support
a voucher program and more
interested in passing a bill that
would replicate high-quality charter
schools. Such a bill would be similar
to a measure he ushered through
the House last year.
"Parents need more options and
choice, and public charter schools
offer that, without the controversy
that comes with vouchers for private
schools," Mr. Kline said.
Will Republicans Produce?
Luckily for the House committee
chairman, Sen. Alexander has worked
with Democrats-including Sen.
Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, whose
2014 race was punted to a December
runoff-on a bill to revamp the federal
Some political watchers aren't convinced
Republicans are motivated to
legislate, but the House and Senate
education leaders-along with
the Senate Republican leader, Sen.
Mitch McConnell of Kentucky-have
shot back at those concerns.
"Mission number one is to get results,"
said a Senate gop aide. "We
are not going to do a bunch of chestthumping
pieces of legislation that
make us feel good about ourselves."
Rep. Kline agreed: "I think we'll
get more votes on the Senate floor. I
expect that out of Mitch McConnell
and Lamar Alexander, and that will
be a good thing." At the very least,
Rep. Kline said, he has "great confidence"
Congress will move forward
on an nclb overhaul and the higher
"And then it will be up to the president
to decide what he's going to do
about it," he added.
President Obama, for his part,
seemed to be open to working across
the aisle, particularly with regard to
"I was encouraged that this year
Republicans agreed to investments
that expanded early-childhood education.
I think we've got a chance to
do more on that front," he said during
a post-election press conference
Nov. 5. "We've got some common
ideas to help more young people afford
college and graduate without
Andrew Seng/Sacramento Bee/MCT
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 12, 2014
Education Week - November 12, 2014
Republicans Enhance State-Level Advantage
Broad Poverty Index Gives Fuller Picture Of Stressed Schools
Chromebooks Gaining Popularity in Districts
Key Obama Priorities Facing Lack of Allies
News in Brief
Study: Close Screening Process Can Improve Teacher Hires
Study Finds Few Payoffs in Short-Term Career Certificates
Blogs of the Week
Chromebooks Ascend in K-12 Market to Challenge iPads
Perceived Threat to Net Neutrality Sparks Furor
GOP Leaders in Congress Outline Education Priorities
More Than $60 Million Later, Scant Payoff for Teachers’ Unions
California Chief’s Win a Bright Spot For Teachers’ Unions
Election 2014 Results
Blogs of the Week
RANDI WEINGARTEN: Collaboration Takes Two
FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: Overlooked and in Need: Black Female Students
JOE FELDMAN: Grading Standards Can Elevate Teaching
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
APRIL BO WANG: What About Helping Rural Schools?
Education Week - November 12, 2014