Meet CA’s new state superintendent

Tom Torlakson, California Superintendent of Public Instruction. AP file photoTom Torlakson was sworn in as California’s superintendent of public instruction yesterday at Mt. Diablo High School, where he once taught and coached track. It sounds like it was quite a pep rally.

Torlakson will likely have more authority than his predecessor, Jack O’Connell. KQED reports that Gov. Jerry Brown will not appoint a secretary of education, as previous governors have.

What do you hope Torlakson will accomplish during these difficult times? Are there any policies embraced by O’Connell, such as the high school exit exam requirement, that you think he should support — or try to reverse?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Catherine

    I sincerely hope that Mr. Torlakson can help with the problem of our Oakland children having children. I do not have the solution. I am not even sure how to go about the problem, but what I see is to use an analogy we were using this morning –

    We are working hard – and even smart in Oakland to help the students at the lowest levels achieve basic and proficient levels in ELA and Math. We are improving. But if this were the gulf oil spill it would be the equivalent of doing an excellent job of cleaning up the gushing oil without sealing the well.

    We need to find a way to add more achieving students to the mix and reduce the teen pregnancy and birth rates in Oakland. We simply cannot afford thousands and thousands more children born of parents who do not have at least a high school education – and making it to 12th grade with a fifth grade functional education is not the same as a high school education. We need to stop the flow of proficient and advanced students from leaving, and all students from having children before they are educationally, emotionally, and financially in committed relationships who have had parent training if they have come from homes where parenting was minimal at best.

    That’s what I feel Oakland needs more than anything else to improve the education of all our children.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Catherine, who was the “we” in your post who joined you in comparing children born in Oakland to the pollution caused by the Gulf oil spill? Certainly you were not using that analogy with your students.

  • Catherine

    “We” was not referring to the students.”We” was referring to the adults. We, the adults, in Oakland have been working hard. We, the adults, have not found a way to help our students have something in life to be so compelling that they will put of childbirth. We, the adults have not found a way to make it so desirable that in our schools – so creative, such a sense of accomplishment – that our students want to delay early birth to become educated and have an independent life where they choose to live alone or choose to date a few people as they explore college and career.

    Why haven’t we found a solution. The gulf oil spill referred to our belief that we are doing a great job because we can point to increasing test scores in the district, programs targeted at black males staying in school, after school programs for sports and on, and on. We, the collective adults in the district, myself included, point to everything we are doing to try to help. Yet, when we look deep and we look hard here is what we know:
    – Students who are born to teen parents are the most likely to live in poverty.
    – Students who live in poverty are more likely to need services that are often cut when budgets are tightened – medical care, dental care, eye care, school breakfast and lunch, after school programs, preschool programs, childcare programs, tutoring and sports,
    – Children born to teen parents are the least likely to grow up in a household with two parents involved in their lives.
    – When the infant born to a teen mom is a girl, there is an even less likely chance the father will remain involved in the child’s life.
    – Sons and daughters born to teen moms are three times likely to end up in prison or dead than those born of moms who are 24 years or older.
    – Children born to teen parents are more likely to be abused and / or neglected that those born to older parents.
    – The infants born to teen parents are 50% more likely to be born at five and a half pounds or less resulting in cognitive delays and less ability to focus that babies born at an average weight of approximately seven pounds.
    – About one-third of teen moms earn a high school diploma and nearly 80% of teen moms rely on social welfare programs for support of their children.
    – 22% of teen moms will have a second child within two years of the birth of the first child.
    – Children born of teen parents are three times more likely to be teen parents themselves.

    We, adults, need to find a way to stop the vicious cycle of children having children. Teen pregnancy does not serve the teens themselves, our Oakland schools, society at large, or the babies themselves.

    Sources: Moore, K.A., Morrison, D.R., & Greene, A.D. (1997). Effects on the children born to adolescent mothers. In R. Maynard (Ed.), Kids having kids (pp.145-180). Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press.
    Brooks-Gunn, J., & Furstenberg, F.F. (1986). The children of adolescent mothers: Physical, academic and psychological outcomes. Developmental Review 6, 224-251.
    Whitman, T.L., Borkowski, J.G., Schellenbach, C.J., & Nath, P.S. (1997). Predicting and understanding developmental delay of children of adolescent mothers: A multidimensional approach. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 92(1), 40-56.
    Wolfe, B., & Peroze, M. (1997). Teen children’s health care and health use. In R. Maynard (Ed.), Kids having kids (pp.181-204). Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press.
    George, R. M., & Lee, B.J. (1997). Abuse and neglect of the children. In R. Maynard (Ed.), Kids having kids (pp. 205-230). Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press.
    Flanagan, P., Coll, C., Andreozzi, L., & Riggs, S. (1995). Predicting maltreatment of children of teen mothers. Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 149, 451-455.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Catherine, I was referring to the “we” in the first paragraph, the “we” using the analogy.
    Regardless of the insensitivity of the comparison of teenage births to an oil spill, your post #3 shows that you have done quite a bit of research on the issue of teen pregnancy, and you are correct that it is both a cause and result of problems in schools. The middle school I worked at used state and federal funds to pay for programs that have shown success in reducing teen pregnancy and sexual abuse, but it is becoming harder and harder to pay for these programs with cuts in school site funds. Perhaps the district can interest philanthropic organizations in supporting such programs. I hope it is part of the Kaiser grant that was just publicized.

  • Kim Shipp


    I see your point and agree with most of your assessments. Just yesterday I was expressing my dismay to some of my colleagues about the number of girls I see pregnant struggling to go to school or trying to care for a baby at the same time. People are talking about what is needed to help students to succeed in life; how about teaching authentic sex education to middle and high school students? Many people may or may not realize that the number one killer among African-Americans is not homicide, heart disease, or cancer, but rather its abortions. These stories do not make the local news. Oh, by the way I not blaming just the schools, we all share in the responsibility on this, the home, the church, everybody. May God help us all.

  • Catherine

    Steven and Kim: The “we” that I was talking to about teen pregnancy was a colleague who believes that we cannot exert influence over childbirth to families whose culture supports young mothers. I would make this comparison to, in front of or about students. They did not create this environment – we, the adults created or supported it in our policies.

    The one piece I cannot believe I left out is the research linking children of teen parents and the students in the far below basic and below basic categories in CST scores in ELA, Writing, Math and Science. Depending on the study, the year of the study and the length of the longitudinal study, a minimum of 75% and as many as 92% of students were born to mothers who bore their first child before the age of 18. While the current student may be the second or third child born after the mother was 18 – the teen first became a mother before 18. (This is for students who do not autism, brain injury, Down syndrome or other organic disorders.)

  • Catherine

    The first paragraph should say I would NOT, NEVER, EVER, EVER make this comparison to, in front of or about students.

  • http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/ Sharon

    Elijah Anderson, a sociologist/ethnographer now at Yale, has written about how some girls establish their status by becoming members of what he calls the “baby club.” A section from his book can be read here:

  • livegreen

    How sad. I think I experienced the young male version of this, of all places, this past weekend at Jean Quan’s celebration at Chabot Space Center.

    Some young men from the Westlake Middle School band were sitting behind us during the movie “To Be an Astronaut” that guests were encouraged to attend. During the entire movie the young men were making obnoxious comments. But the worst were for the only African American male astronaut in the movie, who they repeatedly derided. When this potential role model and his crew members were experiencing a simulated aborted mission which had to be landed in Africa, the kids got really into it. “[derogatory name] is going back home” and other comments.

    And this was from kids who are in a successful school band invited to part of the Mayor’s incoming celebration (something they otherwise are to be commended for).

    Why are some inner city kids so self-defacing about successful members of their own ethnicity? The only thing I could think of was maybe it’s an easier out for their own experiences/challenges? Any insights?

    A successful way of dealing with this cynicism, and the self-confidence issues associated with it, would have a positive affect. Any solutions will be a challenge to formulate, as they must also get kids away from immediate gratification through materialism (which society reinforces, and we all more or less engage in).

    Maybe some life-basics courses are in order. (Wouldn’t hurt middle class or wealthy kids either).

  • Harold

    How sad. An adult who should know that children, from any group, can be mean and restless. Why make this about race? Why come on this blog and disparage these young men?

  • livegreen

    I’m not responsible for their actions. You act in public, you are responsible for those actions. Not the witness. And they made it about race, not me. My only comment was about how they derided a successful member of the African American community.

  • Harold

    Then you felt compelled to publicly ridicule them. nice.

  • livegreen

    Harold, I didn’t ridicule anybody. Don’t invent things I didn’t do or say.

  • livegreen

    It’s amazing to me how quickly discussions of substance deteriorate into throwing names and accusations around. Katy posts topics, there’s some good back and forth, and then as soon as one person starts throwing either accusations or insults (about another poster or the comments in the blog).

    This deterioration and lack of politeness (saying things that would rarely be said in civil person-to-person discourse) is much more prevalent on even the best blogs. And it really takes away from the practicality of online meetings/forums/blogs.

    Wish there were a standard to help make things both more civil and more productive.

  • Harold

    This thread is supposed to be about our new State Superintendent. There was no reason to bring students performing (on Sunday!) into this discussion.

    Try to stay on topic.

  • livegreen

    Harold, I had a point, which I made as an add-on to Sharon’s comment & link.
    My example was both a lead-up to and reason for that point.

    Since you’ve repeatedly said things that I’ve not, or done things that I’ve not, I can tell you will not let this go (or will let this go on indefinitely). I will chose to be the bigger person and let this go.

    Apologies to all who’ve had to read this irrelevant, strange, and for some reason quite personal, exchange.

  • livegreen

    Harold, I had a point, which I made as an add-on to Sharon’s comment & link.
    My example was both a lead-up to and reason for that point.

    Since you’ve repeatedly said things that I’ve not, or done things that I’ve not, I can tell you will not let this go. Or will let this go on indefinitely). On topic indeed! I will chose to be the bigger person and let this go.

    Apologies to all who’ve had to read this irrelevant, strange, and for some reason quite personal, exchange.

  • Mary F. L.

    I hope that the new Superintendent will reconsider placing Adult Education in the Tier 3 categorical programs. Districts are being allowed to undo years of program creation and service to communities, including the parents of K-12 students. It’s a tragedy.

  • J.R.

    Tom Torlakson declares “state of emergency” says budget cuts are taking toll on education calls on voters to support tax measures.

    WOW! Tom you are sharp, what would we do if you weren’t watching out for education? Way to earn your overblown salary bud.

    Jerry needs to cut more of these ceremonial “make work” positions and boards that have no real necessary power or function.

  • Jo-shmoe

    Scores and schools will go from bad to worse. Those in Mt. Diablo know this guy thinks that the world is white and middle class- achievement gaps will grow to the size of the grand canyon. He will assuredly fight charters and school reform as he is a union crony!

    I will look forward to how he and Gov. eyebrows go back and forth with charters considering that the old guard of anti school reform is back in CA.

  • http://None Kathi Booth

    For those of yu who think that there are times that posters on this blog become somewhat discourteous to others, I suggest you read the HayWord. We have a gentleman there who consistantly attacks others when they disagree with his opinions or point out that his statements are in error. It is a painful experience and one that I have born the brunt of many times. He even goes so far as to reveal where people live and discusses their personal lives on his postings. There is no filter on the HayWord.