Marshall Tuck bucks the establishment

A real choice in the state superintendent of public instruction race

Read Marshall Tuck's plan to improve California schools at Learn more about Tom Torlakson at
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.

Although I have never seen it, I have heard many descriptions of the California Education Code. Often these descriptions include terms usually associated with a case of poison oak, a bad head cold or a termite infestation. But I had the opportunity to change this situation last week, when I met with California state superintendent of public instruction candidate Marshall Tuck in his low-key campaign office on Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles.

I asked him why he is running. Like an attorney presenting the smoking-gun evidence in a trial, he reached over and handed me the code book. This book has more than 2,000 pages. It gives detailed and sometimes contradictory instructions on everything including facilities management and working with the school’s labor force.

The California Education Code is to education policy what the Winchester Mystery House is to architecture. Instead of adding rooms each year, we add more codes. And then we add codes to correct codes. I once asked a principal why she left California for Nevada, where she made less money. She handed me the Nevada education code book. It was small.

Tuck is an unusual candidate. He has not served in the Legislature. He is not supported by the teachers union or the Democratic establishment. But an unusual candidate may be what we need to reform our troubled education system.

As president of Green Dot Public Schools, he organized 10 highly successful charters. The waiting list to get into these schools is so long that they use a lottery system to pick students. The Green Dot schools outperformed comparable schools in overall academic achievement.

After working with Green Dot, he became the CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a group of 17 public schools with 15,000 students. Over the last five years, these schools ranked first in academic improvement among school systems of equivalent size.

Tuck believes that real reform is not possible with so much micromanaging from Sacramento. He opposes rules that require those with the least seniority to be fired first during layoffs. And he does not believe that teachers with only two years on the job should receive tenure. Obviously, these stands have not made him popular with the teachers union.

The union has been a major supporter of the incumbent Tom Torlakson. Torlakson has resisted President Barack Obama’s eduction reform, turning away millions of dollars in increased aid. He has been unwilling to challenge the union.

Our schools need help. California fourth graders rank 47th and 46th, respectively, among 50 states and the District of Columbia in reading and math proficiency. Tuck wants to get financial help for our schools, to improve the quality of education for our students and is willing to correct the education code in a meaningful way. He deserves your serious consideration.