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California Superintendent of Public Instruction: More Than Just a Job

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On Tuesday, June 8th, California voters will be faced with a heavy ballot of daunting propositions, a slew of governor wanna-be's, candidates for state representation and the perhaps the most crucial, a new California Superintendent of Public Instruction, a non-partisan position responsible in overseeing the states department of education.

With an average of one in five students dropping out of high schools across the state in 2009, the race to be the next Superintendent of Public Instruction is about more than just a candidate; it's about recognizing the need for real progressive education reform for California.

It is no surprise that a recent email sent from a Ventura chapter president of the California Teachers Association (CTA), that alleges that an internal CTA poll finds that CTA endorsed candidate, Assemblymember Tom Torlakson is loosing to Senator Gloria Romero, amongst teachers, is more than just a little embarrassing, it's a political disaster.

The poll indicates that teachers understand that unions no longer work for them, the school system, or much less the students. Bureaucracy, red tape, and seniority have led to an increase of pink slips for many new, qualified, and exceptionally gifted teachers - in their place, the often jaded, over worked and tech-challenged teachers remain.

You know, the kind that don't know how to send emails, text messages, much less understand how to work an iPhone or how to log on to Facebook - the kind who have no connections to the life of a 16-year-old.

It seems as if teachers themselves want state representation that supports their desires to succeed in the classroom while actually teaching their pupils - what a concept.

If the CTA backed candidate were to loose to Romero, it would be a cataclysmic game changer, indicating that the state's most powerful union is no longer able to strong arm education reform legislation.

Indicative of this challenge is understanding when reform is good. As Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Romero's most interesting (and controversial) position has been her support for charter schools, along with eliminating bureaucratic red tape, increasing local parent involvement and implementing a system that tracks students success.

As it stands, a FedEx package is better tracked than a student lost in the state's department of education files. The California Office of Education currently does not produce graduation dropout rates for middle school or elementary schools and has only begun to track high schools.

Grim 2007-2008 track records for high schools students indicate that of the state's 20% drop out rate, 34.7% are African American, 25.5% are Latino, 12.2% are White and 8.4% are Asian. These numbers don't include at-risk students in county, recovery or alternative schools.

The California Dropout Research Project also indicates that African American students have a graduation success rate of 59.4% and Latinos students 60.3%, compared to a 91.7% success rate for Asians, and 79.7% for Whites.

As a state, California is amongst the highest in dropout rates and ranks 44th in national math scores, 45th in language and arts, and 47th in sciences.

The questions voters need to ask is how much more of the same mediocrity is tolerable? What can California do to improve and educate its future workforce? Lastly, do California voters care enough to know the difference?