Education Week - November 12, 2014 - (Page 16)

California Chief's Win a Bright Spot for Teachers' Unions Torlakson beats back dogged challenger 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 union backers. "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 them." "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 particular subgroups of students, such as minorities or those with disabilities. 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." Higher Education 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 degree programs. Sen. Alexander, meanwhile, has teamed up with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., to offer a more comprehensive proposal involving, among other things, the Pell Grant 16 | EDUCATION WEEK | November 12, 2014 | program, student-aid applications, financial-aid counseling, and loanrepayment options. "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 budget negotiations. 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 czar." 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 charter-school-grant program. 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 education reauthorization. "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 education issues. "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 crippling debt." Andrew Seng/Sacramento Bee/MCT 2014 ELECTION

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
Report Roundup
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