In November, California voters have the best chance to reform their underperforming public schools. Innovator Lance Christensen takes on ossified incumbent Tony Thurmond in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction.
As in the primary, we support Lance Christensen, a longtime political pundit who has worked for years with elected officials including Tom McClintock and John Moorlach.
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Since education is so important and the constitution guarantees 40% of the general state budget, the state superintendent is in a critical position. He is supposed to be the advocate for parents and students. Yet, as Christensen points out, “there hasn’t been a single superintendent who has pushed the governor away in the last 20 years I’ve been in California politics.” I will use the bully pulpit every day to hold the governor, our districts and the unions accountable.
A recent World Population Review survey found that California suffers from the lowest literacy rate of any state. When our editorial board interviewed Thurmond, we asked him about it. He responded by saying that the state was now developing new programs to improve literacy.
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Yet the real problem is not the lack of new programs, but a fundamentally flawed system.
This broken system is a direct consequence of the fact that teachers’ unions are allowed to make decisions on educational policy. School vouchers, supported by most parents in California and more so by black and Latino Californians, have been verboten in education discussions.
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Even modest reforms to teacher tenure, as proposed by then-Assembler Shirley Weber a few years ago, have been strengthened at the behest of the California Teachers Association.
The results were predictable. Most graduates of California’s K-12 system in recent years have not been able to read, write, or do grade-level math.
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On none of these fronts has Thurmond been a leader for California’s children.
In an interview, Christensen said the time had come for a parental revolt. In February, even the liberal city of San Francisco recalled three extremist school board members. “San Francisco showed us that it’s not just parents and conservatives who want a decent, quality education for our kids, it’s most Californians,” Lance said. “I present a stark contrast to the union-backed incumbent’s failure to put children last in our public schools.”
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He also pointed out that Thurmond, despite being the incumbent with strong support from teachers’ unions, only got 46% in primary. Rejecting Thurmond were the remaining 54%.
Christensen said his primary goal was to put parents “back into the education equation and give them freedom over their schools” by advancing charter schools and other school choice reforms.
In contrast, he said, “There is not a single academic achievement that Thurmond can mention in his tenure. He blames the pandemic, but every state had the same problems and opened their schools while Thurmond hid under his desk. All he has now is big government programs and money poured into a fad that probably won’t work to improve students’ literacy or prepare them for college.
California now boasts of spending $24,000 per student. The money is there. The will is there. California just needs to resist obstacles from teachers unions and push forward with parent power reforms. Lance Christenson would. He would put the children first.