You’d think that that public television would support public education, but you’d be wrong. The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) has gotten in bed with the billionaires and conservatives who want to privatize our public schools. PBS has nary a word to say about the big money — from folks like the Walton family (Walmart), Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Eli Broad, business titan and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Joel Klein (former NYC schools chancellor and now a Murdoch employee), and their ilk — that has been funding the attack on public schools and teachers unions. They’ve donated big bucks to advocacy groups, think tanks, and candidates for school boards who echo their party line.
PBS and its local stations have fallen all over themselves to promote Waiting for Superman, a documentary film that could easily been mistaken for a commercial on behalf of charter schools.
An election campaign now being fought almost completely out of public view could radically alter the way California’s school children are taught. If Marshall Tuck unseats incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the state’s public education system could become a laboratory for a movement that prizes privatization and places a high value on student test scores over traditional instruction. The contrasts between the two top contenders in the nonpartisan race could not be more dramatic – nor could the stakes for the country’s largest education system.
The 40-year-old Tuck is a Harvard Business School graduate who has worked as an investment banker for Salomon Brothers and as an executive at Model N, a revenue-management software company. He is a former president of Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school operation in Los Angeles, and later served as the first head of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools — former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s controversial education nonprofit that tried to improve 17 low-performing public schools,
The following additional conversations have been lightly edited for clarity. For full article, see A Great Divide: The Election Fight for California’s Schools.
Doesn’t the academic performance of California students have a lot to do with being near the bottom of the state on money spent per pupils?
Definitely funding has to play a role . . . but it doesn’t play the only role. I can share this from pure experience because I’ve worked in schools where we had limited funding and had better results. Also, at some schools where we actually got more funding the results didn’t necessarily translate into great success.
How do you counter arguments that Mr Torlakson has more classroom experience than you?
I’ve spent the last 12 years working directly in education, working with kids and parents, working with teachers, hiring principals, developing principals,
As the Vergara v. California trial ends its fourth week, the most conspicuous absence from the plaintiffs list may be that of the man most responsible for bringing the education lawsuit — David Welch, the 52-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of Students Matter. His Menlo Park-based nonprofit initiated Vergara and is picking up all of the plaintiffs’ attorneys and PR fees — a bill that was running nearly $3 million even before Welch’s high-powered legal team first set foot in Los Angeles Superior Court for the trial.
Vergara was filed on behalf of nine students and seeks to erase nearly a hundred years of teacher protections from the state education code that were adopted to prevent discriminatory and capricious terminations. The suit claims that five statutes addressing teacher dismissal, seniority and tenure disproportionately harm minority students in high-poverty schools by making it too difficult to fire incompetent teachers.
Are job protections for teachers to blame for educational underachievement among low-income students of color in California? That’s the provocative question ostensibly at the heart of Vergara vs. California, which seeks to invalidate the tenure, due process and seniority rights of hundreds of thousands of educators.
Astute observers of the nation’s escalating education wars, however, may be asking another question: When did it become permissible to use the welfare of children as a fig leaf for an all-out legal attack on teachers?
Or, as historian and teacher John Thompson wrote recently in Scholastic, “Are corporate reformers unabashedly using the courts as a battleground for battering employees’ rights, as opposed to helping children?”
Sadly, the answer to Thompson’s question appears to be an unequivocal yes. For while the outcome of Vergara will have far-reaching national implications, it is hardly unique in its attempt to scapegoat teachers for sub-par educational performance.