Why Tom Torlakson needs your vote for State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Notes From the Education Wars: Marshall Tuck and the Plot Against Public Education

By AFT Guild, Local 1931 Political Action VP Jim Miller

After my column last week on the battle between Tom Torlakson and the corporate education reform machine backing Marshall Tuck, I was pleased to see The Nation magazine’s special issue on schools. The writers aptly note that the struggle in American education is not one of the “status quo” versus “reform,” but rather, it is between a kind of educational class war dressed up as reform and a more progressive vision that seeks to empower all kids equally.

As the lead editorial observes:

The havoc wreaked by so-called education reform has had the upside of crystallizing a movement of parents, teachers, school staffers and kids who are fighting for education justice. Schools . . . are still a vital social safety net for children. A truly progressive vision for public education shouldn’t focus on stories of how a few kids competed their way out of blighted neighborhoods. Instead, it should focus on taking back that stream of money going to charter chains and corporate tax cuts and redirecting it toward schools anchored in strong communities and using proven methods for teaching kids—the very methods deployed in schools where the rich send their children. Indeed, the most disadvantaged kids should get even more support for their schools than their privileged suburban counterparts. Without education equity, we don’t have an educational system at all—we have a rigged rat race that starts in kindergarten.

A more progressive and just vision, as the above notes, is the anathema of the corporate education reform wrecking crew because it points out the deep and pervasive impact of economic inequality and calls on the rich and the corporate sector to adequately fund public education through progressive taxation. It also calls out the plutocrats and venture capitalists from Wall Street for looking at American public education as an untapped source of profit whatever the consequences of their Machiavellian “disruption” on students.

As Bob Herbert recently pointed out in a great Politico piece entitled “The Plot Against Public Education”:

Corporate leaders, hedge fund managers and foundations with fabulous sums of money at their disposal lined up in support of charter schools, and politicians were quick to follow. They argued that charters would not only boost test scores and close achievement gaps but also make headway on the vexing problem of racial isolation in schools . . . None of it was true. Charters never came close to living up to the hype. After several years of experimentation and the expenditure of billions of dollars, charter schools and their teachers proved, on the whole, to be no more effective than traditional schools. In many cases, the charters produced worse outcomes. And the levels of racial segregation and isolation in charter schools were often scandalous. While originally conceived as a way for teachers to seek new ways to reach the kids who were having the most difficult time, the charter school system instead ended up leaving behind the most disadvantaged youngsters.

Which leads us back to the race between Torlakson, who is skeptical of such schemes, and Marshall Tuck, the pure embodiment of the reckless, unaccountable arrogance of corporate education reform.

As Diane Ravitch recently put it in her blog, “What qualifies Tuck to run the state education department? Well, he was an investment banker. The rich and powerful like him. He has friends in Hollywood. He thinks no teacher should have tenure. He failed as leader of Green Dot. He failed running the mayor’s takeover schools. That means he is an expert on reform.”

And just in case you might be thinking she exaggerates the extent to which Tuck is a tool of plutocrats, last week’s campaign report from “Parents and Teachers for Tuck for State Superintendent 2014” showed that his support is not so much from Mom and Dad and the kindergarten teachers as it is from rich folks with big plans to “disrupt” California’s schools.

More specifically, according to the Sacramento Bee, the disingenuously named “Parents and Teachers” committee has raised:

[M]ore than $4 million from prominent business and technology figures since it was created last Friday.

The fund includes $1 million each from Los Angeles businessmen Bill Bloomfield and Eli Broad, a major financier of efforts to overhaul public education. The Gap co-founder Doris Fisher and Laurene Powell Jobs, philanthropist and widow of Steve Jobs, have each contributed $500,000.

The group has spent $287,850 so far, primarily for radio airtime and production costs. Bloomfield separately spent another $280,505 on behalf of Tuck, mostly for slate mailers.

Not coincidentally some of the same big donors behind Tuck were also prominent in the anti-Proposition 30 and pro-32 efforts in 2012. This round they are hiding behind the parents and teachers rhetoric in their latest attempt to undermine public education and California’s children in the service of moneyed interests.

Now one can always expect campaigns to lie about who they are but, fortunately, the folks on the libertarian right are more honest about their intentions. In a recent piece responding to The Nation’s special issue on education, Reason, who love Tuck and his anti-union agenda, celebrated the fact that libertarians are, in their estimation, winning the war against public education:

Thankfully, the libertarian approach to education is winning the long game. People increasingly agree that school reform is a liberating force with the power to rescue kids from the death sentence of public education . . . With any hope—and with heartfelt apologies to The Nation—it is too late to “save” traditional public education.

If you disagree and would like to do your small part to help protect the cornerstone of American democracy in California, please vote to re-elect Tom Torlakson as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.