LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The future direction of California’s public schools will be decided in the Nov. 4 race for state superintendent of public instruction, which pits incumbent Tom Torlakson against challenger Marshall Tuck.

When the contenders for the post are asked how they describe themselves, they give two very different answers, according to CBS2 reporter Randy Paige.

“I’m the only one in this race who has experience as a classroom teacher,” stated Torlakson, who was first elected to the post in 2010.

“I have a proven track record of turning around failing schools,” said Tuck.

Torlakson began his career as a science teacher in 1972, and was active in the teachers’ union. Six years later he began his career in politics, first as a city councilman in Antioch, in northern California. He also served as an assemblyman and senator in the California State Legislature.

Tuck is a graduate of Harvard Business School, and has spent the past 12 years running Green Dot Charter Schools in the Los Angeles area, and later worked as founding CEO of the Partnership For Los Angeles Schools, which took over 17 struggling public schools from LA Unified.

“Torlakson and Tuck represent very different currents in education,” said Claremont College political science professor Jack Pitney, who added that the candidates’ endorsements represent those two different cultures.

Torlakson has a recent TV ad that was paid for by the California Teachers Association while an ad for Tuck received major funding from billionaire homebuilder and education reform advocate Eli Broad.

“Torlakson is very strongly supported by the teacher unions, he’s very much supported by the Democratic establishment, which makes sense given he’d been a member of the California legislature,” Pitney said. “Marshall Tuck, on the other hand, is more eclectic mix of supporters, people like Eli Broad and people in the corporate community who believe in different kinds of education reform.”

And while Torlakson talks about recent increases in graduation and test scores, stating “We’re in the right positive direction, no time to take a risk, a big step backwards,” challenger Tuck is calling for a change in direction.

“We have 2½ million kids that can’t read and write at grade level … their future is over before it begins, it’s unacceptable, frankly it’s un-American, we’ve got to drive change right now, and that’s our responsibility. and that’s what this campaign is about.”

Pitney said voters will be making a decision between those two visions on Nov. 4.

“What we have here is a choice, not an echo, two very different approaches to education,” he said. “Two very different sets of interests, and it will tell us something about the electorate’s attitudes when we wake up on election morning afterwards to see who’s won the race.”

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