Marshall Tuck for State Superintendent of Public Instruction

California’s June 2018 Election

The race for superintendent is a choice between the status quo and student-oriented reform. While Assemblymember Tony Thurmond steers clear of controversial reforms, fellow Democrat and education nonprofit leader Marshall Tuck isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo to improve student outcomes. Two other candidates, Lily Ploski and Steven Ireland, are running small party-unaffiliated campaigns. Education is too important to leave to stasis: Marshall Tuck is the right choice for our children.

Tuck supports teacher reforms such as extending the pre-tenure probationary period from two to three years — as 42 other states currently do — which came to the floor as AB 1220 last year. Tuck also wants to offer school districts the flexibility to base layoffs on factors other than seniority, such as effectiveness; make it easier to dismiss low-performing teachers; and extend learning times. There is little controversy among education scholars that these reforms would improve children’s learning and downstream outcomes, but teachers unions remain rigidly opposed to any changes. Opposition from teachers unions shouldn’t be confused for opposition from teachers, many of whom would benefit from hiring systems that match other industries to reward top performers. While Thurmond caved to these pressures and abstained from voting on AB 1220, Tuck demonstrates willingness to take on the tough issues.

Thurmond touts his votes to expand education funding in the Assembly. This is important, but without new funding, the cost of education programs is other state expenditures, which aside from education are primarily healthcare and antipoverty programs. He does propose growing the pie by reducing the threshold for local parcel taxes, which largely fund education, from two-thirds to 55 percent.

Thurmond also seeks to reshuffle the General Fund toward two programs that deserve skepticism: subsidized childcare and teacher housing.

Childcare is an important service for many, but it can be met with cash transfers to low-income families with children rather than a new apparatus to further separate the poor and disfavor stay-at-home parents. I’ve written more on childcare in my opposition to San Francisco’s Prop C, and have proposed replacing the U.S. Child Tax Credit with a cash benefit for all children, a program that California should initiate.

Similarly, teacher housing is a poor substitute for higher teacher salaries, which Tuck advocates. It would benefit younger teachers over experienced ones, since they would be less likely to have roots in their current home; it wouldn’t be able to supply all housing, so would likely be a lottery that could inspire animosity among colleagues; and it creates a challenge for the many teachers who stop teaching, particularly the younger ones who would elect to the program. Teacher raises and abundant housing for all would enable teachers (and other workers) to live near their workplace.

Controversy around charter schools has only been exacerbated by Betsy DeVos’s emphasis on private and religious schools. Some are low-quality or even predatory, but the research is clear that some charter schools, particularly those under large charter management organizations like KIPP, positively impact learning. Our education portfolio should include them, though we should also be vigilant of underperforming schools. Tuck and Thurmond agree on core components of this discussion, such as banning for-profit charter schools and shutting down low-performing ones (they also agree about continuing to forbid private-school vouchers). Where Tuck differs from Thurmond is openness to exploring charter schools as complements to traditional public schools, to experiment with new pedagogy and ultimately scale successes; Thurmond is purely skeptical of them.

Both candidates have many endorsements from educators, elected officials, organizations, and newspapers. Thurmond’s reticence toward new ideas has won the support of teachers unions and the California Democratic Party — whose national arm receives tens of millions of dollars from teachers unions each election cycle. Tuck’s embrace of positive reform earned him the endorsement of Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education under President Obama, and bay area editorial boards.

For an education system that can adapt to our rapidly changing economy, Tuck is the right choice for superintendent.

Written by

Economist. Founder and president of the UBI Center. Studied at MIT and UC Berkeley. YIMBY. Former Google data scientist.

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