By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
"If you don't educate, you incarcerate," Romero says. "We have to make changes here, or we're just going to keep feeding the prisons." As for her pugnaciousness, she says, "If you get elected to be afraid and to only do what powerful interests want you to do, then you're wasting your time."
Torlakson doesn't talk like that. His campaign Web site shows him standing in a make-believe classroom where a cartoon student asks him what kids can do to get better exercise and not eat junk food — not exactly pressing issues in a state with a devastatingly high 23 percent to 39 percent high school dropout rate, depending on whose study you believe. Asked by L.A. Weekly about the criticism that he is the "status quo" candidate, Torlakson sent an e-mail that hit upon such bland and widely agreed goals as ensuring school safety and helping parents support teaching that promotes "good citizenship."
"I'll make the health and fitness of students a top priority," pledges Torlakson.
But epic troubles face the classrooms. Although they deny blame, the colleges of education — such powerhouses as USC, UCLA and Cal State Northridge — have for two decades produced teachers who do not know how to teach English, math or science — even how to control rowdy classrooms. Yet with few exceptions statewide, teachers work just two years before winning lifelong tenure, often without a serious evaluation. Incompetent teachers cannot be fired (See L.A. Weekly's cover story "Dance of the Lemons," Feb. 11, 2010, by Beth Barrett). Fed-up parents are increasingly embracing charter schools that eschew many of these CTA-backed rules.
Says Hodson: "The [public] perception is growing that the teachers' unions are interested in growing their benefits and salaries, even at the detriment to other teachers and kids."
Dan Schnur, a Republican strategist and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, says the race is the "classic face-off between the CTA on one side and the reformers on the other," and "perfectly encapsulates the debate going on in education in this state." Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California says his nonpartisan group's polls show that voters are paying attention to education issues and that they share a "strong desire for reform and change."
"Once upon a time," Hodson says, "if you got the endorsement of the CTA, that was magic. That isn't the case anymore. There's some frustration felt among voters against teachers' unions."
But anything could happen next week. California voters are notorious for going to the polls and selecting candidates using guesswork. They could want reform, but still pick anyone but a reformer. Says Democratic strategist Darry Sragow, "Sometimes they just vote for someone with a good-sounding name." In a state where Latino voters can be a deciding factor, a woman named Romero may beat a man named Torlakson.
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