California’s Aspiring Education Bosses Face Reform Issues
By Evelyn B. Stacey, policy fellow in Education Studies
Californian is now a finalist in the federal Race to the Top process. That has forced candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction to confront key reform issues.
“The idea we can’t hold people accountable is ludicrous,” said candidate Larry Aceves in a one-on-one interview with PRI.
Aceves, a former superintendent of Alum Rock Union and the Franklin-McKinley school district, began his career as a bilingual elementary teacher before becoming principal of Imperial Beach Elementary. In 1991 he became superintendent in San Jose County, where he served for 15 years. In 2002-03, Aceves served as president of the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), which endorses him for state superintendent.
“I’m not saying assessments are the only tool,” Aceves told PRI, “there are lots of tools to use to measure. For schools that are underperforming we need to fix them. But there is a real concern there for parents.”
Recent events in Los Angeles have brought attention to the frustration parents are having. Many schools in the massive Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have been poor academic performers for many years. Last August, the LAUSD board passed a resolution to let parents, teachers and charter school operators to start or restart schools on 50 LAUSD campuses. Aceves opposes the idea.
“It is not a good idea to be giving schools away,” he said. “We need to figure out a way to make LAUSD work.”
Teacher quality, tenure and evaluations have been making the news. Aceves says he sees both sides.
“As superintendent I went through terminations, it is very expensive and time consuming,” said Aceves. “On the teacher’s side they want to know that they are not going to be fired arbitrarily. Certainly, teachers unions need to be at the table.”
The powerful California Teachers Association, with more than 300,000 members, endorses Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, a former high-school teacher. PRI was unable to conduct an interview with the Assemblyman, but his campaign website provides his perspective.
Teacher unions oppose the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, as President Obama’s Race to the Top requires. Assemblyman Torlakson told the SI&A Cabinet Report that he does think test scores “could be in the mix,” but “having a model that pits teachers against each other or gets down to possible nitpicking over scores could be detrimental to this idea of team spirit I see works so well, in the schools that are working so well. In terms of it being a major component I don’t think so.”
In an interview with the CTA, Torlakson held forth on school funding, which he believes is inadequate.
“Getting to the national average [school funding] in the next four or five years is a good start,” he said. “Proposition 98 is supposed to be the floor, not the ceiling, for education funding. We must expand and strengthen the Proposition 98 guarantees—including earlier payback of the billions taken from schools during bad budget years.”
California actually ranks 23rd among the 50 states in state per-pupil spending, and 21st among the 50 states in per-pupil funding from from all revenue sources, state, federal and local. Torlakson supports additional federal money but he has opposed recent legislation for Race to the Top that involved open enrollment and competition. These measures, he said, “were not necessary to compete for Race to the Top funds” and would “take California public education in the wrong direction.”
Assemblyman Torlakson airs strong views against school choice, which the CTA also opposes.
“Other legislators suggest parents should be allowed to send their children to other schools in other districts, regardless of where they live,” Torlakson says on his website. “They call this choice. I don’t consider this a true and fair ’choice’ system because it abandons the community public schools most in need of parental involvement and reform.”
In addition to an elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction, California’s government K-12 education monopoly also maintains an appointed Secretary of Education. According to the California Constitution, the purpose of education is to “encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.”