California schools deserve a leader with recent, relevant experience in education and a minimum of political obligations. In the race for state superintendent of public instruction, one candidate fits the bill.

We endorse Larry Aceves, a veteran school administrator from the San Jose area, for the top job overseeing our children's education.

Aceves comes to the dance with a great degree of independence from special interests and a range of school experience, from the classroom to the administration office.

Though he doesn't like the idea of merit pay, Aceves favors giving extra pay to certain teachers who work in underperforming schools, as well as bonuses for those who teach math, science and second-language classes -- three subjects in which highly qualified teachers are scarce. And as the former president of the Association of California School Administrators, he knows something about managing other educators.

His opponent, termed-out Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, is a respected and conscientious former educator who would undoubtedly perform well in office. His ties to the California Teachers Association raise red flags, however. If and when issues about teacher performance, tenure and compensation come up, California can't have the tail wagging the dog. We need a neutral perspective.

Aceves has a solid grasp of our schools' current needs. In a race with two well-qualified candidates, he's the best choice for state superintendent of public instruction.

We urge voters to check his name on Nov. 2.