If public education in California is improving, it is doing so at glacial speed. Student performance in this state remains among the nation's poorest and attempts at educational reforms are often retreads of failed past efforts.

We need better progress in the battle to speed the advancement of our schoolchildren.

Voters will cast ballots in the June 3 primary for candidates for California Superintendent of Public Instruction. It is a non-partisan post with very little power since the governor appoints his own education secretary and since policy is set by an appointed state Board of Education.

But a state Superintendent of Public Instruction with energy and ideas can lead, inspire and shout for real reforms from his or her elected pulpit.

Tom Torlakson, 64, the incumbent Democrat seeking a second four-year term, has done none of these things. A seemingly nice man with experience as an educator and as a state lawmaker, Torlakson has been uninspiring in his leadership.

Instead, he has been an instrument of the powerful teachers unions, guiding California's status-quo educational reforms for the past four years.

Torlakson is being challenged by another Democrat, Marshall Tuck, 40, and a Republican, Lydia Gutierrez, 56, a Long Beach Unified School District teacher.

Gutierrez has neither the political nor administrative experience required of the post, but Tuck would bring experience in business and education reform.

From 2007 to 2013, Tuck served as the CEO of Partnership for LA Schools, a nonprofit organization that led the 17 failing public schools that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took over.

The changes realized at these schools were dramatic and included improving the graduation rates from 36 percent to 58 percent. Villaraigosa has endorsed Tuck's election to state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Before joining the Partnership, Tuck served as president of Green Dot Public Schools, a nonprofit charter school operator that took over some of Los Angeles' most-struggling schools. In that role, Tuck earned a reputation as a reformer willing to work with the schools' unionized teaching staff.

But unlike Torlakson, Tuck is willing to take on such sacred cows as teacher tenure, and promotes the concept of basing teacher evaluations partly on student performance.

With campaign contributions pouring in, some are characterizing the campaign for state Superintendent of Public Instruction as a contest between the powerful teachers union and the advocates of private charter schools.

That is a simplistic and incendiary description of a legitimate and important debate over the future of public education in California and the future of our children.

Torlakson, whose push for real reforms has been timid at best, enjoys the support of teachers and labor.

Tuck has been embraced by such people as Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, whose wife, Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public schools, now runs StudentsFirst, an educational reform group.

Some of the state's major newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times and The Sacramento Bee, have abandoned Torlakson for the promise of the more reform-minded Tuck.

We join in supporting Tuck and urge voters on June 3 to cast their ballots for the businessman/school reformer.