Marshall Tuck, the longtime head of a nonprofit overseeing 15 Los Angeles campuses, will run for state schools superintendent, setting up a challenge to incumbent Tom Torlakson, who has been strongly backed by California’s teacher unions, The Times has learned.
Tuck confirmed in an interview that he plans to file his candidacy papers Wednesday; the election is next year.
The role of state schools chief, Tuck said, is “to ensure that we’re leading fundamental change in our schools, making sure we’re shaking up an education bureaucracy from one that often blocks innovation to one that’s facilitating and supporting it.”
In challenging Torlakson, Tuck, 40, is taking on not only an incumbent, but almost certainly one of the state’s most powerful interest groups as well. In the previous campaign, the California Teachers Assn. led a coalition of union groups that spent $3.9 million on behalf of Torlakson, a former teacher.
“We have a great working relationship with Tom Torlakson,” said CTA spokesman Mike Myslinski. “His experience as a classroom educator gives him invaluable insights into what works for our students and our public schools.”
Torlakson, 64, has proved the union’s closest ally among statewide officeholders, taking positions tightly aligned with it. The state schools’ chief has few direct powers, but oversees the California Department of Education, including the testing program, and plays a key role in developing policy and legislation.
Under Torlakson and Gov. Jerry Brown — who also enjoyed teachers union support — the state has bucked national trends in education policy.
Top state officials, for example, have resisted efforts to make students’ standardized test scores a major component of a teacher’s performance evaluation. In this and other ways, officials have refused to make policy concessions to the Obama administration that would have resulted in increased funding, as well as freedom from some provisions of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law.
Brown and Torlakson said the trade-off wasn’t worth it — that the federal requirements had huge hidden costs and promoted questionable policies.
Tuck is expected to have the support of officials and philanthropists who have taken on teachers unions in recent years. But Tuck insisted that he does not want to be seen as a union foe and said he hopes to draw from a broad base of donors. He noted that he worked with unions in his two major roles in education, as head of a charter school organization and in leading a nonprofit that was controlled by former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
From 2002 through 2006, Tuck was president and chief executive of Green Dot Public Schools, which grew from one to 10 charters during his tenure. He also helped in the move to take control of Locke High School near Watts. Unlike most charters, Green Dot schools are unionized.
In 2007, Tuck became the first leader of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Villaraigosa’s nonprofit. Overall, these historically low-performing schools have improved in the years since. The partnership worked under standard union contracts, but opposed the teachers union on some key issues.
Neither the two statewide teacher unions nor Torlakson’s campaign had an immediate response to Tuck’s candidacy.