Tag Archives: Superintendent of Public Instruction

1st Half Money Race: State Superintendent of Public Instruction

It’s not the most high profile race, but it does have some interesting candidates.  Gloria Romero is a state Senator, representing portions of East LA and the San Gabriel Valley. Tom Torlakson, is a long-time Bay Area politician. And then we have a political neophyte with an interesting background in education, Larry Aceves.  I’ve not heard about any Republicans jumping into this race, but it’s technically non-partisan. All candidates are in one heat in the June 2010 primary, with the top two going on to the November general if nobody exceeds 50%.

As of right now, Asm. Torlakson has a cash lead, but Sen. Romero is right behind and Mr. Aceves has done a respectable job raising money to be considered a strong candidate.

Check it out over the flip.

Larry Aceves

Let’s start with the newbie. Aceves is a long-time educator, in jobs ranging from teacher all the way up to superintendent. He’s made talking to stakeholders a priority of his campaign. But judging from the fundraising numbers, he’s not ignored that portion.  And this seems to be a grassroots effort, as most of his contributions have been on the small side, and many of them have been from educators. If he keeps up this level of fundraising, it would not be all that surprising to see him sneak into the run-off in November while the electeds focus on each other.

Contributions: $207,854.51

Cash On Hand: $144,799.22

Gloria Romero

Romero is a long-standing elected official, rising from a Community College Trustee to state senator.  She’s been known for advocating for some tough policies, such as sentencing reform. Recently, she’s turned much of her legislative focus to the educational realm, and has some significant accomplishments in that area. But, while she did avoid some of the worst budget votes, she did vote for much of the package.

Contributions: $134,566.15

Cash on Hand: $187,395.34

Tom Torlakson

Torlakson has also been in every position in politics from the East Bay. He was a Supervisor a ways back, and then moved up to the state level. He served in the Assembly for four years, the Senate for 8, and now is in his last term in the Assembly.  He’s focused a lot of his legislative efforts on education, and has been pretty productive in local governance issues.  On the other hand, he was a pretty solid vote on the budget. That may come to haunt him later.

Much of his contributions, over $356,000, come from a transfer from his assembly account. So this number should be taken with a grain of salt. His actual contributions this period were about $190,000.  Even with his cash advantage, nobody is really running away with this race because of money. Considering Torlakson’s burn rate so far, it’s still questionable how long he will have a cash lead.

Contributions: $545,807.00

Cash on hand: $349,283.80

Prop 8 and the MYVOTE Mock Election

Yes, It’s Only a MOCK Election…but…

This week over 900 California schools are scheduled to participate in the MYVOTE project co-sponsored by California’s Secretary of State and Superintendent of Public Instruction.

While it is certainly advisable to help our students learn the democratic principles of participation in our political process, this lesson also shows students how deceptive the ballot propositions can be in our state. Case in point:

Prop 8   Same Sex Marriage   __ Yes __ No   (spaces are actually boxes to check)

This is the exact wording for Proposition 8 that students will see on the ballot they receive. Now, we can say this in ONLY a mock election, and it doesn’t really count.  But what are students to think when wording is such that it means exactly OPPOSITE of what the proposition really is???  Anyone who does not bother to look at the underlying link that explains that Proposition 8 is really the ELIMINATION of equal rights for our gay population will get it wrong….whichever direction their vote is intended.

When contacted last Friday, the head of the program saw “no problem” with the way it was worded. Likewise, a top staffer to our Secretary of State on Monday said that the description as written “is accurate.” I’m not kidding!!! He said we’ll have to “agree to disagree” when I protested that it was NOT accurate when it meant the exact opposite. And, NO, I won’t “agree to disagree” to such an egregious misstatement that has DEFINITELY confused quite a few students, as well as teachers.

Between these two calls, I e-mailed the following letter (in part) over the weekend and have received no reply as of Tuesday night.

To: Secretary of State Debra Bowen   10/26/08

cc: Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell

re: MYVOTE, Student Mock Election

I would like to commend you on the excellent lesson plans for the MYVOTE project. It certainly will help this present group of students understand their role in our democracy, and it is particularly good with the presidential race. The state propositions present more of a challenge, and I phoned your office on Friday about a serious ballot problem:

     Prop 8  Same-Sex Marriage   __ YES __NO    (Box before each choice)

While the analysis link does describe the proposition using the word “eliminate,” the above ballot line clearly will lead to student voter confusion and taint the results.

It is for this reason that I request that you eliminate the final vote from any results that are posted on your site. Most of the teachers participating in this have already printed their ballots, and a correction at this late date is unlikely to be followed (or even acknowledged).  

As with adult voters, quite a few students will simply look at the 3-word description and vote accordingly. And, since many of this generation SUPPORT same-sex marriage, they will vote “yes.”  This vote then, if posted, will be taken by the “Yes on 8” campaign and turned into another last minute ad or mailer.  Close to $25 million has been put into this campaign to deprive Californians of equality, and I’d hope that our students do not become pawns in their despicable campaign.




Arnold’s Year of Education: An Attack on Democracy

One of the dominant political developments of our time is the legislative branch’s abdication of its Constitutional responsibilities to the executive branch. What kid oakland called a “battle for governance.” It’s most pronounced in Congress, which has almost voted itself out of existence under the Bush Administration (even when Democrats control it).

But you can see it to some degree here in California, at the state and even the local level. Although designed to be co-equal branches, the state legislature has often deferred to the governor’s office on major legislation. Unwilling to challenge a weakened Arnold, Democrats in 2006 cut deals with him and helped his reelection, intentionally or not. In 2007 Democrats wound up having to give into the governor’s demands for a $1.3 billion public transportation cut and adopted much of his health care proposal, including Arnold’s individual mandate plan.

So far, though, the California legislature has resisted Arnold’s other power grabs – with crucial help from progressive groups, activists, and voters in the 2005 special election, of course. Now Arnold is trying again, using his “Year of Education” as an effort to seize more control over state government. In this instance his plan is to take control of the state Department of Education from the Superintendent of Public Instruction:

Another idea on the agenda that went nowhere in 2002 was handing the governor much of the responsibility for education. That proposal was part of the California Master Plan for Education, headed by then-state Sen. Dede Alpert, a San Diego Democrat, and opposed by Jack O’Connell, who was running for state superintendent at the time. He was on the master plan committee but withdrew his name because of that proposal.

Now, Alpert is the vice chairwoman of the governor’s education committee.

On Friday, O’Connell declined to comment on the new report until its official release.

Although the Chronicle frames this as a personal spat, there is a more fundamental issue here: democratic governance of education. The Superintendent is an elected position, designed for one purpose – overseeing public education. Obviously the governor is elected as well, but to oversee a number of different subjects. In a race for the governor’s office any number of issues may determine the outcome, but in a race for the Superintendent’s office, education is the only issue.

At root is a suspicion of, even a hostility to, the role of democracy in education. More and more schools around the country are being taken over by executives, in some cases unelected, on the unproven theory that strong leadership is more important for education than democracy and inclusion.

It’s an ironic story. Schools are consistently underfunded and their surrounding communities left to rot in poverty. When students predictably fail to achieve success at the same rates as their peers in better funded, wealthier locales, the media and politicians blame the schools, blame the teachers, and eventually, blame the elected school boards for the problem. Someone, usually a mayor or a governor, proposes a takeover of the schools “to produce results.” It’s happened in Newark, Washington DC, Chicago, and was proposed for LA under Antonio Villaraigosa.

Putting an executive in charge is only a good idea to those who think that education is or should be a top-down affair. In reality education is neither top-down nor bottom-up, it’s instead a collaborative effort where students, teachers, parents, administrators, politicians, and members of the public all have a role to play. In some cases the role is primary, in other cases it’s supportive. But in all cases education is something that only works when there is a lot of involvement, not when people follow orders from the top.

As public education is a public affair, the voters have a right to their voice in the matter. Locally, the elected school board is the way that gets done, the way that democracy functions in public education. It’s not perfect, and not sufficient – there is always room for more democracy at the school level and elsewhere in education – but it is at least a way for the public to have a role in planning and administering education.

School boards are inherently controversial. There have often been efforts by wingnuts to hijack these boards for their own agenda – the Dover, PA school board that wanted to force “intelligent design” on students is a recent high-profile case, but it’s happened many times here in California as well. And sometimes progressives get a hold of school boards and actually try to use them to address things like the achievement gap. When they do, however, they’re often attacked by a business-media alliance, as they were in Seattle last year. Accused of abandoning the core mission of schools to focus on “unnecessary” issues, progressive school boards are often targeted because they have what political scientist Samuel Huntington once infamously called “an excess of democracy.” Rein in democracy, it is believed, and we can finally “get things done.”

The Superintendent of Public Education is the closest thing to a state school board we have, at least in terms of democracy. There are MANY boards, commissions, and departments that have jurisdiction over education in this state, from the Department of Education to the UC Regents – but of these, only the Superintendent is directly elected. And since 1970, when Californians threw out the far-right Max Rafferty for the progressive Wilson Riles, the nonpartisan office has been held by Democrats. In contrast, since 1900 there have only been four Democrats elected governor in California, two of whom were named Edmund G. Brown.

Arnold’s attack on the office of the Superintendent of Public Education should then be understood in that context – the larger context of an attack on educational democracy, and Arnold’s desire to take power over education away from an office held usually by Democrats.

Yesterday I explained the funding elements of Arnold’s plan – how it involves eliminating specific program funding and instead provides block grants to schools. Oversight of this process is key to its success, and unfortunately, not all districts can be trusted to handle it properly. By removing the Department of Education from the Superintendent of Public Instruction Arnold proposes to make it more difficult for the public to have a democratic oversight role, and would wind up limiting the role of democracy in public education.

Democracy is difficult. Democracy can be ugly. But it’s also crucial not just to a free society, but to an educated society, and to the public education system that undergirds them both.