California Sued by Students & Parents for Failing to Teach Literacy

School educationA group of parents and students has filed what it hopes will be a landmark lawsuit against the State of California for its public schools failing to teach literacy.

Public Counsel and the prestigious Law Firm of Morrison & Foerster sued the State of California, the State Board of Education, the State Department of Education, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson for their collective failure to provide every child in the state access to literacy as required under the California Constitution.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of parents of students at two Los Angeles schools and one Stockton school, alleges that it is an urgent civil rights crisis that California has the three worst-performing schools and 11 of the 26 worst-performing public school districts in the nation for the ability of students to read and write.

Based on California’s testing standards, the suit states that “under-performing schools throughout California have student bodies consistently achieving less than 10 percent, and frequently less than 5 percent, proficiency in core subjects like reading and math.” To put the crisis in perspective, only 8 children out of the 179 students tested at Los Angeles’ La Salle Elementary were found to be proficient by state standards.

A Los Angeles Unified School District report from an attendance task force found that 800,000 students, or about one out of every seven enrolled students, was “chronically absent” for at least 15 days per year and at risk of dropping out.

Lead attorney Mark Rosenbaum stated that California has 13 percent of the worst-performing U.S. school districts. He added: “Public education was intended as the ‘great equalizer’ in our democracy, enabling all children opportunity to pursue their dreams and better their circumstances. But in California it has become the ‘great unequalizer.”

Rosenbaum referred to the state’s own literacy experts’ report, which concluded in 2012 that “there is an urgent need to address the language and literacy development of California’s underserved populations…”. Despite continuing concerns over the last five years, Rosenbaum argued that the state took no meaningful corrective actions.

During the five-year period following the grim literacy report, per-student spending on California K-12 educational programs did jump by 66 percent, from $9,370 per student in 2012-2013 to $15,521 per student for the 2017-18 school year.

But that concerted effort to improve student literacy was torpedoed in late 2015 by President Barack Obama’s signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requiring school evaluations to include at least one “non-academic factor.” ESSA replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, which relied almost exclusively on regular student testing for grade-level reading and math skills.

Unable or unwilling to improve literacy test scores, the California Board of Education in September of last year voted unanimously to undermine the testing by incorporating other non-academic factors in rating schools that include graduation rates, college preparedness, and rates at which non-native speakers are learning English.

Under the new educational evaluation system adopted by the Board of Education, each California school will not receive an overall literacy rating, but rather receive year-to-year comparative results for how it performs across categories of different student groups.

The Los Angeles Times called the vote the end of a long philosophical shift away from judging schools using only their test scores, “as more people agree that numbers alone can never capture the complexity of classrooms.”

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

California school officials use President Trump to mask their own failures

LAUSD school busThe nuance – the back-and-forth – was lost on many Obama-haters who celebrated the president. But it was also lost on Trump-haters, including public education officials and union leaders in California. They’ve used President Trump’s non-decision as an opportunity to rally their faithful by terrorizing undocumented families in the state.

California schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson denounced the president’s message as a “mean-spirited, political attack on students who are working hard to succeed.” Randall Booker, superintendent of Piedmont Unified in the Bay Area, said the president had launched a “direct attack on California families and their children.” In a letter to the California congressional delegation, University of California President Janet Napolitano called the president’s non-decision “callous and misguided” and said it “unnecessarily punishes hundreds of thousands of bright young people.”

Within a week of the announcement, closer to home, the board of the Santa Ana Unified School District voted to condemn the president’s move – or rather “non-move,” if you like. The resolution claimed “great uncertainty exists amongst students about what specific immigration policies will be pursued by the federal government, and immigrants and other populations within the SAUSD community are fearful of policies that may result in deportation or forced registration based on immigration status, religion or beliefs.”

I was the sole vote against the resolution, in part because we already passed a resolution in December 2016 asking Congress to act on immigration reform. But I was especially opposed to the resolution because the “uncertainty” it highlights has been caused by the very people behind this and similar resolutions. They are certainly the cause – and, if you believe them, the cure – of communal anxiety.

But I also voted against the resolution because I see it for what it really is: a tactic to transform Washington politics into local anxiety. Panic is useful for teacher’s union leaders and school officials who hope to distract us from the real issue: their failure to educate out students.

Their failure is documented in state tests that show a majority of our school children cannot read or perform math at grade level. Despite that undeniable evidence, SAUSD graduates these students from high school even though they’re unprepared for college or career. That’s a fraud.

Instead of correcting this social injustice, my fellow board members voted last week to condemn the president. That same night, teachers union leaders took their three minutes at the public-comments dais to condemn me for documenting the catastrophic, decades-long slide in student performance.

There is a crisis haunting our community. But it’s not a crisis the president caused. It’s not a crisis emanating from distant Washington, DC. Indeed, in the last several days, the president has begun talking with congressional Democrats about a deal that would permanently resolve the problem of people covered by the DACA program.

No, the crisis that should concern everyone has its origin right here in Santa Ana, California. It has been created by teacher’s union leaders, their allies and school officials who fail to educate generations of our children – and who attempt to distract us by sowing terror.

Under the law, all children, including immigrant children, have the right to a quality public education. Any other conversation is at best a sideshow meant to keep our community down.

This commentary appeared first in the Orange County Register. Cecilia Iglesias is a Santa Ana Unified school board trustee, president of the Parent Union, and director of community relations and education at the California Policy Center in Tustin. Researcher Stuart Clay contributed to this commentary.

CA Leads Drive to Reverse Focus on Standardized Tests

Standardized TestWhen President Barack Obama declared that “unnecessary testing” is “consuming too much instructional time” and creating “undue stress for educators and students,” it was another sign that the dominant strategy over the past 15 years to use standardized tests to hold children and schools “accountable” in education reform may have reached a tipping point.

California is on course to have a major impact on reshaping the national discourse – and practice – on this issue. The state is in the middle of devising a new accountability system, a massive and complex undertaking in a state as large and diverse as California, that is intended to go far beyond a narrow preoccupation with test scores.

President Obama’s recent anti-testing pronouncements are especially significant because using test scores as the dominant measure of school and student progress has been central to his K-12 education reform agenda.

Arne Duncan, Obama’s departing secretary of education, acknowledged the administration’s contribution to the problem. “It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he said. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

By contrast, Gov. Jerry Brown has been consistent in challenging the role of testing – and has clashed repeatedly with the Obama administration on this issue, even before he returned to the governorship in 2011.

Brown likes to recount what was apparently a seminal experience while he was a student at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco, when the only question on an exam asked students to give their impressions of a green leaf.

“Still, as I walk by trees, I keep saying, ‘How’s my impression coming? Can I feel anything? Am I dead inside?’ So, this was a very powerful question that has haunted me for 50 years.”

The point, Brown says, is that “you can’t put that on a standardized test. There are important educational encounters that can’t be captured by tests.”

State education leaders have echoed Brown’s deep skepticism about the excessive use of standardized tests.

“We must always be mindful that time spent testing generally comes at the expense of time our students would otherwise have spent gaining the very knowledge and skills that are the goal of education,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson declared three years ago in a report to the state Legislature on Transitioning California to a Future Assessment System.

Torlakson noted that many countries that “lead the world in achievement place little or no emphasis on standardized testing.” When they do test, he said, “they use more open-minded measures, sparingly and strategically, and often sample students rather than testing every child.” He suggested that if the federal government weren’t requiring it, California would do even less testing than it is currently doing.

Other prominent California education leaders have also been at the forefront of questioning how tests have been used in the national education reform agenda. Most significantly they include Linda Darling-Hammond, the president of the Learning Policy Institute, who is also Brown’s appointee as chair of the California Teacher Credentialing Commission. Two-and-a-half years ago Darling-Hammond took aim at what she calls the “test and punish” approach to accountability. “Without major changes, we will, indeed, be testing our nation to death,” she wrote.

But California has done more than talk about the issue.

The state has suspended – and is considering permanently abolishing – the Academic Performance Index, which for 15 years ranked schools based almost entirely on the test score results of students.

This past summer the Legislature suspended the California High School Exit Exam, at least for the next three years – and has even told districts to award diplomas retroactively to students who did not pass the exam and were denied a diploma because of it during the decade the exit exam was in place.

Also gone, for now, are standardized tests in 2nd-, 9th- and 10th-grade math and English language arts, end-of-course math tests in Algebra I, Algebra II, geometry, general math and integrated math; all history tests; and end-of-course tests in high school in biology, chemistry, physics and integrated science. 

One unresolved question is whether California will permanently eliminate these end-of-course standardized tests permanently or whether they will be replaced with ones that are aligned with the Common Core standards.

For now at least, the only standardized tests left that are administered by the state are the Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts, which all students in 3rd through 8th grade and 11th grade are expected to take. Students still take a science test in 5th, 8th and 10th grade because they are required to do so under the No Child Left Behind law. (Students with special needs take a variety of tests designed to take into account their specific disabilities.)

What makes what is happening in California especially interesting is that the state is not reflexively against tests in general. In fact, California is a leading backer of the Smarter Balanced assessments aligned with the Common Core – the very same tests that have fueled vehement anti-testing sentiments in some other states, most notably in New York.

That’s because strong backers like Darling-Hammond have argued that the assessments are significantly improved compared to the old multiple-choice tests, measure deeper learning skills, and have the potential to actually drive classroom instruction, not just be used to measure how well or how badly schools or students are doing. California has also prevented Smarter Balanced from becoming a lightning rod for opposition by resisting pressures from the Obama administration to use test scores to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

So rather than being against all tests, the state is moving toward establishing a much broader accountability system, of which tests – improved ones, according to proponents – will comprise just one part. In California, the new accountability system will be based on “multiple measures” rooted in eight “priority areas” established by the state in the 2013 Local Control Funding Formula law championed by Brown.

In addition to scores on the Smarter Balanced tests, these could include measures of middle and high school dropout rates, attendance rates, absenteeism and graduation rates, parent engagement, and “school climate,” as revealed in suspension and expulsion rates and student surveys.

Furthest along in developing a new “multiple measure” accountability system are the six CORE districts, which are  developing a School Quality Improvement Index that could inform what will happen in the state and nationally on this hugely complex task.

By March 2016, Torlakson must present his recommendations for a comprehensive assessment system to the State Board of Education, so the next few months will be crucial in shaping where California as a whole will end up on this issue.

Torlakson is being advised by an “Accountability and Continuous Improvement Task Force” which is mandated by state and is co-chaired by Eric Heins, the president of the California Teachers Association, and Wes Smith, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators. The 29 member task force includes many of the state’s most prominent education leaders.

All this is taking place as Congress, after years of gridlock on the issue, appears to be moving to replace the No Child Left Behind law with one that will move the nation distinctly in the direction California is already going. As task force member David Plank, executive director for Policy Analysis for California Education, said, “There is general agreement that California is in a position to lead, and to set a new course not only for the state but for accountability in general.”

Louis Freedberg is the executive director of EdSource

Originally published by EdSource

New bill seeks to terminate CA high school exit exam

Gov. Jerry Brown and state schools chief Tom Torlakson have made plain for years they want no part of the education reform agenda touted by President Obama and think tanks backed by Bill Gates. The state has not pursued federal Race to the Top funds, which were meant to incentivize grant recipients to measure teacher effectiveness. Most school districts effectively ignore the Stull Act — a 1971 state law requiring that student progress be part of teacher performance evaluations — and face no push-back from the governor or Torlakson.

cahsee.testNow the Legislature has taken a first step toward bailing out on another part of the reform agenda: mandatory high school exit exams, which began in California in 2006 and were supposed to ensure a high school degree meant something. On a party-line 6-2 vote, Democrats the Senate Education Committee this week approved a bill by Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge, that would scrap the state’s high school exit exam beginning with the class of 2017. Liu, a former teacher and teachers union official who represents the Pasadena area, chairs the committee.

Cabinet Report had more on her measure and a big complicating factor: What to do about students who were denied diplomas in the past because they failed a test that the state may abandon:

The legislation … that would suspend the state’s exit exam also calls on education officials to reconsider how students in the state are deemed not only ready to graduate but to lead productive lives afterward.

The question of whether to issue diplomas retroactively did come up when the bill was being drafted, according to a Liu staffer, but the provision was not included in the legislation.

Opponents of handing out diplomas retroactively to thousands of people who failed the test argue that it’s not necessary because there are several opportunities to continue retaking it, even years after graduation, and doing so cheapens the value of the diploma as a gauge for prospective employers.

Others, however, say these one-time exams provide little evidence that the person passing them is academically prepared for college and/or career.

Indeed, despite a 95.5 percent passing rate for California seniors last year, a study by the Legislative Analyst’s Office found that over 50 percent of the state’s high school students are in need of remedial work when they arrive at community colleges.

Independent evaluation praised effect of exit exams

However, the Senate bill analysis noted praise of the exit exam and its impact.

According to independent evaluations conducted by the Human Resources Research Organization, California’s high school exit exam has served a valuable purpose by ensuring students demonstrate competency on standards, providing remediation opportunities prior to grade 12, and helping to overall narrow the achievement gap between subgroups. … A very strong relationship was discovered between CAHSEE achievement and college enrollment.

Liu’s measure, Senate Bill 172, will next be reviewed by the Senate Appropriates Committee.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Triumph of the Status Quo — Torlakson over Tuck

California’s education reformers had high hopes for Marshall Tuck’s insurgent campaign against State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. The 41-year-old former investment banker and charter school president tried to paint the 65-year-old incumbent, former legislator, and fellow Democrat as a creature of the state’s powerful teachers’ unions. Tuck wasn’t wrong, though both candidates spent a great deal of energy and money attacking one another’s character. And the race did expose a growing fissure between traditional union-aligned Democrats and an emerging faction of pro-business, pro-reform Democrats. But the biggest difference between Torlakson and Tuck—their respective plans for reforming the state’s tenure and dismissal statutes—didn’t galvanize voters.

The day before the election, a Reuters analysis called the nominally nonpartisan state superintendent’s race the “most expensive political contest in California . . . for an office nobody’s heard of.” The candidates and their allies poured more than $30 million into the election—more than three times what Governor Jerry Brown and his Republican opponent, Neel Kashkari, spent on their campaigns combined. The California Teachers Association alone spent $11 million, including at least $2 million on independent radio and TV ads touting Torlakson and denouncing Tuck. Meantime, about a dozen well-heeled education reformers, including Los Angeles real estate developer Eli Broad and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, contributed nearly $10 million to an independent campaign committee backing Tuck.

Yet in the end, Torlakson bested Tuck by a margin of 181,489 votes out of more than 4.3 million ballots cast. Not a landside, but not a nail-biter, either. What happened?

Tuck’s candidacy hinged on two issues: tenure reform and greater local control, especially for charter schools. He hammered Torlakson for supporting the state’s appeal of Vergara v. California, the class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles that seeks to void the state’s tenure, seniority, and dismissal rules. L.A. Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu had ruled in June that students and newly hired teachers “are unfairly, unnecessarily, and for no legally cognizable reason (let alone a compelling one), disadvantaged by the current [law].” Torlakson called Treu’s ruling “an attack on teachers” throughout the campaign. Tuck said Torlakson’s eagerness to appeal the decision showed that he put union interests over the interests of children.

But polls showed that Vergara resonated weakly with voters. Though 42 percent of likely California voters ranked education as their top priority this year, and the vast majority of voters surveyed after Treu’s ruling agreed that the state should do away with “last hired, first fired” tenure protections, nearly 60 percent said they didn’t know what the lawsuit was about. Reformers may not like to hear it, but Governor Brown wasn’t wrong when he dismissed tenure reform in the campaign’s waning days as an “ephemeral” issue. Nor was Torlakson wrong when he said, “I think [Tuck] is focusing inappropriately on one lawsuit, one set of issues around that.”

Tuck also touted his experience as president of the Green Dot chain of charter schools. He voiced his support for California’s landmark parent-trigger law, which lets parents at failing schools petition to force their school district to implement certain reforms, including charter school conversion. Here again, though, voters don’t completely understand charter school reforms. And the CTA and its lesser partner, the California Federation of Teachers, have opposed parent-trigger campaigns and generally consider the charter movement to be “privatization,” even though California’s charters are nonprofit organizations that must adhere to the state education code. The teachers’ unions and their surrogates, such as Diane Ravitch, used Tuck’s charter school ties to paint him as a racist, a bigot, and a tool of “the power elite.” Their attacks bordered on defamation, but they worked.

Outside those contentious but narrow policy questions, Torlakson and Tuck didn’t differ much. Both expressed enthusiasm for the Common Core State Standards, despite their declining popularity among Californians. The PACE/USC Rossier School of Education poll in June found just 32 percent of voters supported the standards, while 42 percent opposed them—a sharp drop over the previous year’s survey, which found majority support. Yet Tuck chose to distinguish himself from Torlakson by accusing the incumbent of implementing the standards too slowly.

On school funding, both candidates agreed that the state should spend more on public schools—apparently, the 1988 constitutional amendment requiring the legislature to earmark at least 40 percent of the general fund for elementary and secondary education provides too little money. Tuck himself told an Education Week reporter last month that on questions of compensation and professional development, “I have tons of alignment with CTA’s agenda.” At bottom, Tuck and Torlakson shared the belief that whatever ails public education, greater government intervention can cure it. They simply disagreed over the means. And with 40 percent of voters still undecided days before the election, it’s easy to see why voters chose to play it safe with the incumbent.

Before Election Day, education policy wonks speculated that the outcome of the Torlakson-Tuck fight could resonate into 2016. Sacramento Beecolumnist Dan Morain argued, “Public school unions will be fundamental to Democrats’ success. But there will be a cost. Teachers unions have not been a force for change for the better. . . . The question is when, not whether, that divide will become a problem for the Democratic Party.” Not this year. The status quo holds, for now.

CA Teachers Brace for Impact on Election Day

The expensive race for California superintendent of public instruction may have the biggest education impact of any election Tuesday.

Regardless of its outcome, the race will send shockwaves across the country and set the national tone for how strong unionized teachers remain in an era of rapid change for public education.

The showdown is between incumbent superintendent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck, both Democrats. Torlakson easily won the primary over the summer, taking 46 percent of the vote to Tuck’s 29 percent (California uses a nonpartisan primary in which the top two candidates advance to the general election, regardless of party). Since then, however, the gap has narrowed tremendously, and the final outcome is completely uncertain. The final polls prior to Election Day show the candidates tied with 28 percent support each, while an incredible 44 percent of voters are undecided.

Torlakson is a pro-union Democrat, an individual representing the symbiotic relationship between Democrats and organized labor that has existed since before the World War II. A former science teacher, Torlakson spent years in California’s State Assembly and Senate, where he helped boost funding for after-school programs and low-performing schools by billions of dollars. As the state’s top education official, he has helped lead the legal battle against the Vergara v. California decision that gutted California’s tenure law and other generous job security protections that have made it excruciatingly difficult and costly for teachers in the state to be fired. He opposes using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, is skeptical of charter schooling, and favors traditional union goals such as reducing class sizes.

Tuck, on the other hand, represents every trend in the Democratic Party that teachers fear. Unlike Torlakson, Tuck has never been a public school teacher, and his primary experience is as an administrator for various charter school efforts. He supports the Vergara court ruling, wants to tie teacher pay to performance and has pledged to shake up California schools that he says have grown too comfortable with poor performances on standardized tests. More broadly, he embodies a new movement in the Democratic Party, one willing to question whether the interests of teacher unions and students perfectly coincide. A win by Tuck would be an electoral vindication for Democrats who take up the mantle of aggressive school reform rather than the pro-union status quo.

Tuck also represents the growing role of business leaders in influencing educational policy. His campaign has been substantially helped by the generosity of a few big donors from the business world. Billionaire Eli Broad, the founder of SunAmerica and a major proponent of education reform, has given him at least a million dollars. Other big donors include former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Silicon Valley investor Arthur Rock, and Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. Among teachers, distrust for the intentions of these current and former moguls runs high, with many arguing the money comes not from altruism but rather from a desire to expand the operations of for-profit standardized testing companies, charter schools, and technology firms.

Tuck’s business ties have been furiously attacked, with one ad from the American Federation of Teachers labeling him a “Wall Street banker” (he worked in finance for a short period after college) and saying he would “turn our schools over to for-profit corporations.”

Tuck may have Wall Street on his side, but teachers have ensured he has no money advantage. The 325,000-member California Teachers Association and several other labor groups groups backing Torlakson have spent nearly $14 million to support his candidacy directly, along with another $7 million on issue ads that reflect positively on him. They’ve also spent close to $3 million on ads attacking Tuck. Altogether, spending in the race has surpassed $30 million, more than any other race in the state and among the most expensive non-gubernatorial state elections in the country’s history.

In this deep blue state, the final outcome of the race will be a critical bellwether about the state of education reform in the United States. For decades, teachers unions have provided Democratic candidates with money and volunteer muscle, helping them to win office and in return being rewarded with the strong pensions, benefits and job protections that offset relatively low salaries. Should Torlakson hang on, it will show that the public education establishment, despite all the attacks upon it from reformers, remain a tremendous force to be reckoned with and a potential kingmaker in Democratic politics. Should Tuck triumph, however, it will represent an overthrow of the old order, a changing of the guard that could last for years.

This piece was originally published at The Daily Caller News Foundation

Editorial: As state superintendent race tightens, Tuck the best choice

In this editorial, the Orange County Register reaffirms it’s endorsement of Marshall Tuck for state superintendent of schools:

Let’s not bury the lede: California’s school superintendent race has drawn nearly three times the campaign spending as the race for governor. It has generated more than double the spending of the last three superintendent races combined. It has featured a clash of union interests, billionaires, charter schools and Hollywood stars.

And yet, according to an Oct. 30 Field Poll, challenger Marshall Tuck and incumbent Tom Torlakson are tied at 28 percent – with 44 percent of voters undecided.

The campaign resembles something of political trench warfare: Each side lobbing shells, but gaining little ground. Field Poll’s Late August/Early September results found a 3 point split in favor of Mr. Tuck, 31-28, with 41 percent undecided.

In other words, after $30 million dollars of combined campaign spending – a number compiled by Oakland-based education think tank EdSource, roughly 80 percent of it independent expenditures – California voters are in about the same place they were two months ago.

The Register has previously endorsed Mr. Tuck for the office, calling him a “mission-driven education reformer.” We reaffirm that endorsement, and the results of the recent Field Poll give us even more confidence in his candidacy.

Read the full editorial here

Tuck outraising incumbent, but union looms large in State Superintendent race

Education reformer Marshall Tuck has accomplished a rare feat for a political challenger: He’s raised more money than the incumbent.

According to the most recent campaign finance disclosure reports released Monday, Tuck has raised nearly $1.6 million since he launched his campaign to fix California’s failing schools. That’s roughly $200,000 more than incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. Both are Democrats.

In addition to raising more money, Tuck has more cash on hand heading into the final month of the campaign. Tuck’s $699,037 in available funds puts him with a nearly six-figure advantage over Torlakson, who reported $608,609 in cash on hand, as of Sept. 30.

Tuck’s strong fundraising shows donors are responding to his reform message. He’s the only statewide challenger to outraise an incumbent this year. In some cases, challengers are at a significant disadvantage.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, Republican Ronald Gold, who is challenging Attorney General Kamala Harris, had $17,601 in available funds, with $80,000 in outstanding debts. Meanwhile, Harris reported $3.6 million in cash on hand for the most recent period.

Teachers union’s $1.9 million ‘issue’ campaign just beginning

But Tuck’s financial advantage is largely illusory. That’s because the California Teachers Association, the most powerful special interest group in Sacramento, has declared war on Tuck. The teachers union is the biggest player in the superintendent’s race, even dwarfing the candidates.

On Oct. 1, the state’s richest union launched its latest “issue” advocacy praising their loyal ally Torlakson. According to state campaign finance disclosure reports, the CTA reported spending $1.94 million in issue ads benefiting Torlakson. To put that number in perspective, it’s more than either of the candidates has raised for his entire campaign.

And the union is likely just getting started with its outside campaign spending. According to the Los Angeles Times, the CTA spent $2.5 million in independent expenditures during the June primary on Torlakson’s behalf. Despite the union spending, Torlakson received the fewest votes of any statewide incumbent, an anemic 46.5 percent of the vote.

Vergara decision alters the race

Since the primary, things have only gotten worse for Torlakson as more voters are becoming aware of a landmark court case, Vergara v. California, which has fundamentally changed the dynamics of the superintendent’s race.

In June, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu found California’s teacher tenure and dismissal process violates students’ rights by leaving low-income and minority students with the worst teachers. Immediately, the teachers union adopted a “you’re either with us or against us” policy, attacking anyone in their way, even the judge.

“The Vergara ruling makes clear that Judge Treu failed to engage the evidence presented in court by education experts and school superintendents who testified that teacher rights are not impediments to well-run schools and districts,” California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt said in a press release condemning the ruling. “Instead he issued a blanket decision to scuttle these important statutes, absent the kind of compelling evidence that should be the standard for changing state law.” The CFT is the state’s second teachers union.

In August, Torlakson, a staunch union defender, announced he would appeal the decision. “The people who dedicate their lives to the teaching profession deserve our admiration and support,” he said in a statement. “Instead, this ruling lays the failings of our education system at their feet.”

In contrast, Tuck has praised the ruling and vows to drop the state’s appeal if elected.

“When I win … I’m immediately submitting to the appellate court our request to no longer be a defendant and will side with the plaintiffs in the case,” Tuck told the UT San Diego.

Tuck’s reform message resonating with all Californians

The teachers unions’ campaign onslaught could backfire. But, much like Republican Meg Whitman proved in 2010 with her run for governor, money sometimes can backfire. Every major newspaper in the state has endorsed Tuck — all citing Torlakson’s cozy relationship with the union as part of their reason.

“As for Torlakson, he seems too busy defending public schools to think about fixing them,” wrote San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders. “Torlakson actually has attacked Tuck for working on Wall Street during his first two years out of college. That’s the sort of nasty salvo that made it easy for every major newspaper in California, including The Chronicle, to endorse Tuck.”

On Monday, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune became the latest newspaper to back Tuck.

“Torlakson has joined in a legal appeal of the Vergara ruling, and mouths the union line that people want to streamline the hiring and firing rules are ‘blaming teachers,’” the paper wrote. “Tuck applauds the Vergara decision and has called on the state Board of Education not to wait through an appeal before developing alternative rules, including longer evaluation periods before tenure is granted.”

This piece was originally published on CalWatchdog.com.