By Tom Torlakson
Tom Torlakson is finishing his final term as California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction. As he looks back at the progress made in education during his tenure, he is thankful for educators’ help and optimistic about the future.
We’ve come a long way together. Eight years ago we faced devastating budget cuts, program reductions and the elimination, either through layoffs or attrition, of about 30,000 teaching positions. Morale in our schools was in free fall.
Now, California is in the middle of an educational transformation, with increased funding, more resources to those with the greatest needs, higher academic standards, online testing, and a new accountability system that considers more than a single test.
In addition, the public has trusted our education system enough to vote statewide three times in six years to increase our public investment, and is willing to do more.
Election 2018: Special Report
Follow the links below to continue reading about the election and candidates in this feature.
In It to Win It – CTA locals use their power for purpose Running with Values – CTA members enter political races Meet the Candidates – Leaders aligned with our values A Closer Look – Tony Thurmond vs. Marshall Tuck In Their Own Words – Educators on why Tuck should not be SPI Voter Guide Initiatives to Know – CTA positions on statewide propositions
Teachers working with me and the education team in California have helped make positive change for our students. As a teacher and former coach, I am a firm believer in TEAM — Together Everyone Accomplishes More.
The work by the Superintendent of Public Instruction — and by extension, all of you — can be felt in schools and colleges across California, which is why this November’s election is so critical. It’s vitally important that you elect a champion for all students and support a candidate who will listen to the experts — California educators.
Your voice and expertise have been invaluable to me. In California, we have a strong education team — administrators, classified employees, parents, the governor, legislators, community and business leaders. But perhaps the strongest, most inspiring members of our team are teachers, who work directly with our students, especially the members and leaders of CTA, including my good friend and fellow teacher, CTA President Eric Heins.
During the great recession, teachers endured layoffs, and lived with the constant threat of layoffs. They did without pay raises and endured unfounded criticism and teacher bashing from so-called school “reformers.” But you did not quit. You did not give up. Instead, you worked extra hard to teach your students and to seek political solutions.
“The strongest, most dependable, most inspiring members of our team are educators, especially the members and leaders of CTA.”
Members of CTA were with me on the campaign trail, knocking on doors, making calls, and telling voters to invest in our students and our future. Voters listened, passing Proposition 30 in 2012, and again in 2016 by passing Proposition 55, which extended the tax increase on higher-income earners, and will raise between $4 billion and $9 billion a year. In 2016, voters also approved Proposition 51, which sets aside $9 billion to renovate and upgrade California’s schools. Teachers welcomed changes that help students, such as:
• the history/social science framework that celebrates California’s diversity and the contributions and challenges faced by the disabled, the LGBT community and other groups and individuals who might have been overlooked in the past; • Next Generation Science Standards that integrate science with engineering and teach students how to act like a scientist; • Common Core, which emphasizes critical thinking, communications skills, and group work in English Language Arts and Mathematics.
Support from teachers has helped California avoid the distracting divisions, conflicts, and bickering occurring in other states over Common Core. Our extraordinary collaboration for positive change in education is now an example for our nation, known as the California Way.
Our collaboration is a key reason why polls show that Californians generally support the direction public education is heading in California. The Public Policy Institute of California showed that 70 percent of adults favored our new funding system, the Local Control Funding Formula, which provides more local control over funding and extra resources for students from low-income backgrounds, English learners and foster youth.
“I thank CTA leaders for participating in our Labor Management Initiative, an effort to bring together labor and management to learn best practices and strengthen bonds between school administrators and teachers and classified employees’ unions.”
Positive views about California’s education system contrast with the opposition many Californians feel toward the divisive immigration policies of President Trump. To calm those fears, teachers are working with me to promote the “Safe Haven” designation for our schools, which reassures students, parents and educators that everyone is welcome on campus, regardless of immigration status. So far 118 districts that serve 2.7 million students have declared themselves as Safe Havens. Polls show that the designation is supported by 72 percent of parents.
Teachers also worked very closely with me to oppose Trump’s call for arming teachers after the tragic school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on February 14, 2018, which took the lives of 14 students and three teachers. More than 61 California Teachers of the Year signed our letter advocating for tighter gun control and more mental health services, while rejecting arming teachers.
Progress has happened in many areas. Career Technical Education programs have been expanded and updated and so have afters-school programs, which help students stay engaged in school. As a state legislator, I was proud to author bills that created the nation’s largest after-school program, an effort we have expanded.
I also fondly remember my work with CTA in passing the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) of 2006, which helped schools serving a higher percentage of low income, minority and English learners receive $3 billion to help close the achievement gap.
Our efforts are paying off. High school graduation rates have reached an all-time high, going from 74 percent for the class of 2010 to 83 percent for the class of 2017. Suspensions and expulsions have declined; and eligibility for University of California and California State University enrollment has increased, particularly for Latino and African-American students.
CTA leadership and members strongly support my Global California 2030 initiative to vastly expand the teaching and learning of world languages. We aim to certify more bilingual teachers, produce more students proficient in a second language so they can earn the State Seal of Biliteracy, and quadruple the number of dual language immersion programs. We are also spreading the word that proficiency in another language helps a student excel in all subjects.
I want to thank CTA leaders for participating in our Labor Management Initiative, an effort to bring together labor and management to learn best practices and strengthen bonds between school administrators and teachers and classified employees’ unions.
When I was Acting Governor two summers ago, I helped spread the word about the teacher shortage by declaring a “Change Lives, Be a Teacher” Day. As teachers, you have already changed lives for the better, while creating bright futures for our students.
I thank CTA and all teachers for your partnership. We have much more to do, including increasing school funding and further reducing the achievement gap. But we will continue to make progress, and you will continue to inspire me with your idealism, creativity, energy and dedication. Every day you come to work helping our students aim high and dream big, you strengthen our communities, and ensure California remains an economic and cultural powerhouse that celebrates the diversity of its residents.