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Aceves as schools chief

The pragmatic former superintendent would balance a commitment to reform with a grasp of the difficult task facing teachers.

October 04, 2010

At a time of shrinking classroom budgets, demands for quick improvements at low-performing schools and a divisive debate about the role of students' test scores in evaluating teachers, California needs a steady, practical hand to lead its public schools. Larry Aceves is a pragmatic former schools superintendent who balances commitment to reform with a grasp of the difficult task facing teachers. He is the stronger candidate for state superintendent of public instruction.

Aceves was the surprise candidate in the June primary, winning more votes than the two longtime politicians who, with their broader name recognition, were considered the frontrunners. He carved out a niche for himself as a centrist between state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), known for her avid support of the federal Race to the Top reform initiative, and Assemblyman Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch), who consistently has voted in line with the teachers unions and who has their support. It probably was the California Teachers Assn.'s ad campaign against Romero that sank her chances, leaving Torlakson in a runoff against Aceves.

Aceves initiated a program in the small Central California school district he led to provide training for parents to become more involved both in their children's earliest development and in their schooling. We agree that more aware and involved families are crucial to academic success. He also rightly points to the need for improvement and more accountability at teachers colleges. He is supportive of high-quality charter schools while realizing that they are not the answer to all that ails public education. He has no patience for a system that has made it nearly impossible to fire low-performing teachers and rightly criticizes the state for failing to take over badly run schools.

We also would rather have an experienced schools administrator than a legislator running the state Department of Education. In fact, it's odd that the nonpartisan position is an elected one — the skills required are more managerial than political. At the same time, as a former president of the Assn. of California School Administrators, Aceves has the necessary experience working with state officials and organizations to push for needed legislation.

Too many politicians and school leaders are engaged in simplistic rhetoric about education, whether, for example, they argue that standardized test scores are the key to evaluating teachers or that the tests are meaningless. Aceves' thoughtful, nuanced approach to running the schools is rare — and welcome.

The Times' endorsements in the Nov. 2 election are collected upon publication at latimes.com/opinion.

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