State schools superintendent Delaine Eastin characterizes challenger Gloria Matta Tuchman as a political neophyte backed by a right-wing Christian who wants to privatize the public schools. Tuchman calls Eastin an entrenched politician who has promoted an unsound curriculum, mismanaged the state Department of Education and taken campaign contributions from Playboy magazine.
So much for subtlety.
The Nov. 3 runoff for state schools chief is on between two women with vastly different takes on how to educate students in California’s 999 school districts.
Eastin, 51, is a savvy former Democratic assemblywoman who has put forth bold reform ideas and often taken the rap for public school shortcomings.
Tuchman, 57, is a first-grade teacher in Santa Ana who gained public attention co-sponsoring the successful Proposition 227, the initiative that curtailed bilingual education programs across the state.
At a time of great expectations for public schools, this race is nothing to ignore.
California has just started a controversial standardized testing program,
agreed on a new approach to teaching limited-English-speaking children,
established statewide academic standards and reduced class sizes.
State voters are poised to vote on the biggest facilities bond measure in California history and a hodgepodge of other education-related reforms known as Proposition 8.
Meanwhile, more students are crowding the state’s public schools — some of which are crumbling in disrepair. About 250,000 new teachers are needed over the next decade because of class-size reduction, teacher retirement and turnover. And corporate America expects high school graduates to be technologically proficient in the digital age.
The nonpartisan superintendent is charged with implementing state policies and managing the multibillion-dollar Department of Education. But as Eastin knows, the job also entails a symbiotic relationship with the state Board of Education, members of which are appointed by the governor. In 1993 the board was given the ultimate power to direct education policy.
During Eastin’s four-year tenure, she often has clashed with the conservative board appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson. At one point the board, which meets about three days a month, wanted the power to review and approve all of Eastin’s memos before they were sent to schools or the news media.
Although polls show Eastin is clearly the November favorite, experts say Tuchman could give the incumbent a run if she amasses enough campaign money to get her face and message across to the public.
Terry Moe, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and Stanford political science professor, said Tuchman will need more than just a little bit of cash.
“It’s hard to see Eastin losing,” Moe said. “And it has nothing to do with the issues — it has to do with incumbency and money.”
Eastin earned 43 percent of the vote to Tuchman’s 26 percent among a slate of several candidates in the June 2 primary. In 1994, Tuchman garnered just 8 percent of the vote. An August Field poll showed Eastin leading with 37 percent of the vote to Tuchman’s 18 percent.
They’re both campaigning hard.
Delaine Eastin was surrounded by Silicon Valley tech types at an “education summit” in San Jose sponsored by Wired magazine. She extended her hand to likely supporters and said, “It’s good to see you.”
As a proponent of the state’s Digital High School program, which has brought hundreds of California high schools into the digital age, Eastin is firmly in the pro-computer camp.
Tuchman, on the other hand, maintains that students need better textbooks and other basic tools much more than they need technology.
Eastin delivered her brief speech against the backdrop of a projected Wired magazine cover dedicated to education that features the headline:
“Schools that suck less than others.”
“I’m kind of old to be talking to a tech crowd,” she said,
opening the short speech full of one-liners.
Eastin emphasized that California was 50th out of 50 states in terms of technology when she took over as superintendent from Bill Honig in 1994.
The outlook has improved, she said, but not quickly enough.
“We’ve got Apple IIes,” said Eastin. “But there’s less technology in an Apple IIe than in a Minolta camera.”
Eastin is a native Californian, who lives in Fremont with her husband,
Jack Saunders. She has worked as a political science teacher, corporate planner for Pacific Telesis Group and a four-term Democratic assemblywoman representing parts of Alameda and Santa Clara counties. Although she taught at the community college level, she has not been in the trenches of kindergarten through 12th-grade education. When Eastin tried to lay claim to the mantle of educator, Tuchman in August won a court order barring Eastin from calling herself a teacher on her candidate’s statement.
Eastin handily defeated Wilson’s education secretary Maureen DiMarco,
for the superintendent’s job four years ago.
A hallmark of her first term has been the behemoth effort to establish statewide curriculum standards — the first such standards in California history. She also pushed plans to reduce class sizes long before that reform was seized by Wilson. And she has urged the state to spend more on education since California ranks near the bottom nationally on per pupil spending.
“Overall, Delaine doesn’t get a lot of credit for a lot of the things she’s doing,” said Bruce Fuller, co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education. “The governor has tried to use her as a lightning rod for everything wrong with public schools.”
Fuller said Eastin was out front on class-size reduction, as well as early childhood education and universal preschooling, well before the ideas were taken up by Wilson or the Legislature. Eastin has tended to straddle some of the most controversial state education issues. During fights over phonics vs. whole language and traditional vs. new math, she urged a balanced and mixed curriculum.
Eastin criticized Tuchman for being overly focused on a back-to-basics theme. “After she gets through with the basics, she doesn’t know what to say,” Eastin said, stressing that Tuchman doesn’t understand the
“new economy.” “I’m all for basics, but basics plus.”
In a banquet room at Spenger’s Fish Grotto in Berkeley, just weeks before the historic establishment’s recent closure, about 30 Republicans milled about. Tuchman, politely chatted with the party faithful, Berkeley-area Republicans.
The guests, who were there for the monthly chapter meeting of the California Congress of Republicans, feasted on greens bathed in thousand island dressing.
After the master of ceremonies figured out that Tuchman is pronounced Tuck-man and not Tush-man, the first-grade teacher took the podium.
“Nobody wanted to say the system is broken,” she bellowed.
“I know it’s broken. You know it’s broken. And it’s in need of repair.”
Tuchman’s campaign centers on a back-to-basics theme that raises the popular question: “Are we better off than we were four years ago?”
She wants to return to the old-fashioned grammar books and spelling lists and throw out what she calls “fuzzy math” that she says emphasizes self-esteem and theory over basic arithmetic. “If a child says 2 +
2 = 5, should we say, ‘Johnny that’s not bad, that’s close,’ ? ” Tuchman asked. “In my book, that’s not close.”
She is upset over the flexible implementation of the voter-approved Prop.
227 and vows to ensure that schools follow the letter of the law. The Prop.
227 model of English immersion, which is mandated by the law, is based on her first-grade classroom at Taft Elementary school in Santa Ana.
Tuchman, who was born in Texas, is the daughter of Mexican-Americans who own Matta’s Restaurant in Mesa, Arizona. She served two terms on the Tustin Unified school board, losing a third bid in 1994. She and her husband,
Terry, have two grown children, one of whom is expecting a baby this fall.
Unlike Eastin, Tuchman supports the governor’s fall education initiative Prop. 8. The initiative would provide permanent funding for class-size reduction,
establish parent-led site councils and a zero tolerance for drugs. She especially likes the initiative’s component that would create an inspector general post to monitor education spending.
Who supports whom?
Tuchman’s chief financial sponsor is Howard Ahmanson Jr., owner of Fieldstead Corp., who has bankrolled ultra-conservative causes as well as efforts to privatize public school education. He was a chief contributor to Proposition 174, the effort to create a voucher system for schools in California.
According to reports in the Los Angeles Times and In These Times magazine,
Ahmanson gave $739,000 to an organization founded by the Rev. R.J. Rushdoony,
a Calvinist minister who has claimed that the Holocaust was overstated and that the death penalty is proper punishment for anyone who is promiscuous,
gay or adulterous. Ahmanson also served in 1982 with Rushdoony on the founding board of the conservative Rutherford Institute, the organization bankrolling the Paula Jones lawsuit.
“I’ve never met him,” Tuchman said, annoyed by the constant probing about Ahmanson. “These views are his views. He agrees with my views. That’s the difference.”
Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley millionaire who led the fight for Prop. 227 with Tuchman, said criticisms of Ahmanson are inflated. “His main eccentricity is that he gives away lots of money to causes he believes in,” said Unz, who calls Ahmanson a “sincere” man. “I guess I’m guilty of that too.”
But Tuchman shares views with other Christian conservatives.
A flier, sent to the news media by Eastin’s re-election office, shows Tuchman stumping for David Wiebe, who is running for Riverside County superintendent of schools.
According to an article in the Press Enterprise in Riverside, Wiebe was lambasted for sending a mailing to 250 Christian church leaders to highlight his qualifications as a “Christian” and “solid Republican.”
To counter these criticisms, Tuchman mentions that Eastin accepted a
$200 contribution from Playboy magazine during the primary campaign. Tuchman mused, “I wonder if Delaine plans to put Playboy on the state’s required reading list.”
Eastin’s campaign staff said the superintendent would gladly return the small donation if Tuchman would return Ahmanson’s $175,000.
Although Eastin is backed by the powerful California Teachers Association,
the union support might be shallow. The CTA chose not to endorse anyone for schools chief during the primary.
Tommye Hutto, spokeswoman for the 285,000-member California Teachers Association, said the union has not agreed with all of Eastin’s positions and projects but will contribute time and money to ensure that she wins.
“This race is important,” Hutto said. “This is the person who speaks for education on the state level.”