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Election 2010: Candidates in California, Other States Make Their Pitch

As you would expect in a state hosting two slugfest political campaigns with national implications (Jerry Brown vs. Meg Whitman and Barbara Boxer vs. Carly Fiorina) the race for California schools chief is receiving limited airplay east of the Sierra Nevadas. But the contest between assemblyman Tom Torlakson and former school administrator Larry Aceves holds big implications for the nation's most populous state.

California has been limping through one budget crisis after another in recent years, and from the looks of things, schools in the state—and around the country—could be making do with less for years to come. The winner will be under pressure to raise student performance despite the state's financial woes, and possibly consider new ways for judging teacher and school performance.

In a recent debate between the candidates, Torlakson pointed to his record getting things done as a state lawmaker, supporting construction funding for schools, resources for struggling schools and even working to rid campuses of junk food, the Contra Costa Times noted. Torlakson said he will work within a coalition of stateholders to determine refine the way that the state measures schools' academic progress.

Aceves, for his part, describes himself as a "no excuses"-oriented former teacher, principal and superintendent. He promises to focus on closing the achievement gap, arguing that not enough progress has been made on that front under current superintendent Jack O'Connell.

"The issue is not about talking about great things, it's about getting them done," Aceves said. "The system gets in the way. Fire bad teachers."

While Aceves said that test scores should be one factor in judging teachers' success, Torlakson voiced doubt about whether California's current menu of state tests offers the best measuring stick.

"We need a robust evaluation system that's personal and not just based on statistics," he said.

Perhaps most notably, Aceves said he would sit down with California's next governor and identify five issues on which they could work together. That might seem like an alternate universe from the current environment, judging from the recent acrimony on display between O'Connell and outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In other state election news:

  • Georgia gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes is calling for a longer school year a longer school day for students who need it, and for strengthening the state's pre-K system, according to The Augusta Chronicle. His education plans would cost money—more than $1 billion—but Barnes, a Democrat who occupied the governor's office previously, has outlined a plan for raising that money, by closing tax loopholes, changing the state's sales tax system, and rolling back tax credits for private schools, the paper reports.

  • One state superintendent who's not up for election, but who might be intently interested in the results, is Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett. Bennett is vowing to make a push for policy changes on on several fronts, though his success could hinge on the makeup of the state legislature, according to the Evanville Courier & Press. Bennett says he wants to promote school choice, pay-for-peformance for teachers, and giving schools A-F grades, an idea also being touted by Meg Whitman in her campaign for California governor.

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