State schools chief Delaine Eastin and Gloria Matta Tuchman, the woman who wants her job, faced off in their first post-primary election debate Thursday before a crowd of Silicon Valley high-tech executives and educators.

In a passionate exchange that touched on topics ranging from creationism to standards and highlighted philosophical differences between the two, Tuchman offered a critical assessment of California public schools.

We have completely lost sight of why we have public schools, Tuchman said in her opening statement. For too many years our children have been used as guinea pigs. We have produced a generation of kids who can’t add, subtract or multiply — who can’t think critically.

For her part, Eastin painted a slightly more optimistic picture of public schools. While there has been significant progress, there is still much work to be done, she said.

Right now in California we still have a lot to do, she told the audience, noting that state still lags behind others in the amount it spends per student, ranks 45th in the number of computers and is dead last in the number of library books its schools have on their shelves.

Eastin, 51, ticked off a long list of accomplishments: bringing smaller classes to the primary grades, working to establish learning standards in reading, writing and mathematics, and restoring balance to the state’s reading program. She emphasized her ties with Silicon Valley, noting that many members of the high-tech community have served on the various task forces and committees she has convened.

Tuchman, 56, a first-grade teacher from Southern California, vowed to emphasize the basics and foster more competition in the public system by offering students opportunity scholarships to escape poor-quality schools. She said she would fully carry out the provisions of Proposition 227. Tuchman was a co-sponsor of the measure approved by voters in June, which ends most bilingual programs in the state.

In the end, her message was plain: It’s time for a change. In four years, she said, Eastin has done little to make education better for the state’s 5.6 million students.

The debate, sponsored by TechNet and the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, was billed as an opportunity for the high-tech community to see where the two candidates stand on a variety of education issues.

A member of the audience asked Eastin whether the public could trust her to implement the provisions of Proposition 227, given her outspoken opposition to the measure during the spring campaign. While acknowledging she didn’t support the initiative, Eastin said she would abide by the law and enforce it fully.

Tuchman was asked whether her acceptance of a large campaign contribution from a donor who supports teaching creationism in the schools, meant that she, too, felt it should be made part of the school curriculum. Her answer? An emphatic “no.”

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