California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will have a challenger in his 2014 re-election bid: Marshall Tuck, who most recently served as CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which operates 17 schools under mandate to improve their performance with the blessing of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Tuck, who officially tossed his hat into the K-12 ring Aug. 21, has also worked at Green Dot Public Schools, a prominent charter school network in Los Angeles, and worked at a software company, Model N, in the San Francisco area.
Tuck, a graduate of UCLA and Harvard Business School, has also spent time abroad teaching and “doing service work” in Thailand and Zimbabwe. He’s touting himself as a product of the state’s public schools, and said that through his work he’s seen “the power and the promise of public schools.”
“But too often, I also saw how Sacramento’s education bureaucracy stifles innovation, and blocks progress instead of leading the way. With a culture of regulation and resistance to change, Sacramento often makes it harder for principals and teachers to do their jobs,” Tuck said in a statement on his campaign website. “In California, we embrace innovation everywhere, except in our public schools.”
His most recent organization, the Partnership for L.A. Schools, was the result of Villaraigosa’s attempt several years ago to assert mayoral control over the Los Angeles United School District. After that attempt at a mayoral takeover failed, the partnership was created to give the mayor greater discretion over a relatively small number of schools.
The state superintendent’s position is a non-partisan office. Torlakson was elected in 2010 with the strong backing of teachers’ unions: The California Teachers Association (which contributed $25,800 to Torlakson’s campaign for the 2010 cycle) and the California Federation of Teachers (which also contributed $25,800) were among the top-five contributors for his successful campaign three years ago. Unless there’s a sudden shift in the political dynamic, the unions’ continuing support for Torlakson would seem to give him a significant edge. But it’s also worth pointing out that both Green Dot Public Schools and the Partnership for L.A. Schools employ unionized teachers.
When I talked to Green Dot founder Steve Barr today, he mentioned that Tuck was the first person he hired at the organization, and that Tuck “rolled up his sleeves” and did the hard work in neighborhoods to get the organization off the ground, including knocking on doors to speak with immigrant parents about their children’s education.
A former teacher, county politician, and member of the state legislature, Torlakson has a very different background from Tuck. To some extent, perhaps Torlakson and Tuck represent different aspects and priorities of the K-12 policy and political community, a view that Barr certainly holds. By announcing relatively early in the 2014 cycle, Tuck has some time to build name recognition and potentially leverage some of his high-profile political and K-12 relationships to help his campaign.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.