Eastin begins re-elect attempt

State schools chief could face hard fight

State schools chief Delaine Eastin launched her re-election campaign Wednesday, touting the success of the state’s shift to smaller elementary classes and urging higher academic standards for California students.

Eastin’s announcement sets up the possibility of a high-profile political fight with teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, one of the architects of a campaign to eliminate most bilingual education in the state.

Tuchman is co-chair of Proposition 227, a June ballot measure that would require that nearly all classroom instruction take place in English.

Tuchman announced her candidacy last week, and appears to be Eastin’s top challenger so far.

Eastin, who is seeking a second four-year term as state superintendent of public instruction, kicked off her campaign in a replica of a one-room schoolhouse in Sacramento’s historic district.

Among her achievements, she listed the state’s massive program to reduce class sizes in primary grades to 20 students apiece, a program Gov. Pete Wilson embraced and made a key part of his last two budgets.

Eastin said 84 percent of students in kindergarten through third grade have moved into the smaller classes over the last two years. Although a thorough study of the program’s effectiveness has not been completed, Eastin said many districts already are reporting improved academic achievement.

“The reading scores at urban districts like Long Beach and San Francisco are up 18 percent,” Eastin said during a conference call with reporters.

Looking ahead, the 51-year-old former Democratic assemblywoman from Fremont said she wants to stiffen high-school graduation requirements, lengthen the school year and end “social promotion,” a practice in which students are passed from grade to grade based on age, not academic achievement.

Eastin said she also will continue to push for a statewide preschool program, an increased investment in arts education and an expansion of the pool of qualified teachers.

Although it is nowhere on Eastin’s education agenda, Tuchman’s challenge means bilingual education probably will become a top issue in the race.

Eastin reiterated her opposition to Proposition 227, saying it would “simply cause chaos in the classroom.” She stopped short of defending the current bilingual system, acknowledging it doesn’t always work.

She said she prefers a system where school districts are allowed to use what they believe best suits the needs of their non-English-speaking children, so long as it produces results.

Eastin served four terms in the state Assembly before winning election as state schools chief in 1994. She is a former community college professor and city councilwoman in Union City.

Politically, Eastin has had a rocky tenure as head of the state’s public schools system, clashing often with Wilson and the conservative state Board of Education over academic standards and testing issues.

Tuchman is the Santa Ana first-grade teacher who co-wrote Proposition 227 with Palo Alto businessman Ron Unz.

The secretary of state’s office said five other people have indicated an interest in becoming candidates: Miles Everett, Mark Isler, Dorothy Robbins, Barbara Carpenter and Mark Wyland. None could be reached for comment. The deadline for filing is March 6.

Tuchman, a Republican, ran against Eastin in 1994, placing fifth in a field of 12. Because of her association with the ballot initiative, her name recognition has grown steadily in recent months.

Tuchman has been a teacher since 1964. She served on the Tustin Unified School District board from 1985 to 1994.

The initiative will figure prominently in her campaign, said campaign manager Jon Fleischman.

Tuchman will also advocate placing a stronger emphasis on basic academic skills, such as phonics-based reading and “traditional math,” Fleischman said. Like Eastin, she wants to do away with social promotion. Unlike Eastin, she is a proponent of Wilson’s proposal to give “opportunity scholarships,” or vouchers, to students who want to transfer to another public or private school.

“These are all things that have not been addressed for the last four years,” Fleischman said.

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