In Their Own Words: Educators on Why Tuck Should Not Be SPI
Marshall Tuck is running for Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) in California. We asked several public school educators who have worked under and with Tuck to reflect on his record and leadership through the years. (For more on the SPI race and CTA’s endorsed candidate Tony Thurmond, see cta.org/spi.)
A decade ago, then-Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa created the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS), a nonprofit targeting 10 low-income schools for intervention, and appointed Tuck CEO. It was part of Villaraigosa’s failed attempt to have the City of Los Angeles take over Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). To join PLAS, school staff must vote to “opt in”; PLAS now manages 18 schools.
Tuck’s actions as CEO sparked anger, controversy and deep divisions at the schools he oversaw – culminating in eight out of 10 PLAS schools issuing a vote of “no confidence” in his leadership.
Tuck and ethnic studies
PLAS infuriated students, parents and educators at the culturally diverse Santee Education Complex High School by eliminating ethnic studies in 2012. (A state law passed in 2016 encourages high schools to offer an elective course in ethnic studies and requires the state to create a model curriculum for the class by 2020. The state Legislature has created a pilot program covering 10-15 school districts that will have ethnic studies as a graduation requirement.)
“We had a robust ethnic studies program before Marshall Tuck came to Santee,” recalls Jose Lara, a former social studies teacher at the school and winner of NEA’s Social Justice Activist Award in 2015. “Once Tuck was in charge, he canceled the program without any teacher, student or parent input. Outraged, the community came together and held multiple protests in front of the school. Meanwhile, Tuck refused to meet with parents.”
“It’s terrible that Marshall Tuck takes credit for the turnaround success of Santee. The truth is that Santee only became a success once Tuck left PLAS as CEO.” – Jose Lara
Ethnic studies returned once Tuck left PLAS, says Lara, now an assistant principal at Dale Jr. High School in Anaheim. “But it’s terrible that Marshall Tuck takes credit for the turnaround success of Santee. The truth is that Santee only became a success once Tuck left PLAS as CEO. It was the hard work of staff at the school site who made the difference. With Tuck’s departure, Santee’s gains in school culture, test scores and graduation rates began to soar. Santee is now a proud community school with the best reputation in South Los Angeles. Tuck cannot take credit for that.”
Election 2018: Special Report
Follow the links below to continue reading about the election and candidates in this feature.
In It to Win It – CTA locals use their power for purpose
Running with Values – CTA members enter political races
Meet the Candidates – Leaders aligned with our values
A Closer Look – Tony Thurmond vs. Marshall Tuck
Initiatives to Know – CTA positions on statewide propositions
Tom Torlakson – The outgoing schools chief on his legacy
Tuck and bilingual education/dual language immersion
Tuck eliminated the heritage language programs at Roosevelt High School, which meant Spanish-speaking students could not take academic classes in their own language. This also led to efforts to stamp out dual language immersion programs at PLAS schools.
Cheryl Ortega, director of bilingual education for the UTLA Board of Directors, says Tuck’s actions created divisiveness at Ritter Elementary School.
“In 2008, Tuck approached the school in Watts soliciting its admission to PLAS,” says Ortega. “Parents of that school – in a community that is 75 percent Latino and 25 percent African American – agreed to join PLAS on the condition that the nationally renowned dual language program be kept intact. In an underserved community and longtime low-performing school, the language program offered high hopes for improved student achievement following its excellent track record all over the country. With promises made, Ritter signed on to PLAS.”
Within a month, Tuck reneged on his promise and canceled the program. “Parents were outraged,” says Ortega. “They complained to the principal, the superintendent and Tuck, to no avail. Parents organized two peaceful public demonstrations in front of the school. Mothers pushing baby strollers carried signs that said ‘Resueten los derechos de las familia en Ritter,’ or ‘Bring back the rights of families at Ritter.’ But Tuck was unmoved, and the police were called on the mothers pushing their babies in strollers. It was a terrible.”
PLAS even went so far – under Tuck’s leadership – to remove dual language signage on the Ritter campus. Bilingual signs for restrooms, parent center and nurse’s office signs were all replaced with English-only signs.
“Marshall Tuck failed and betrayed children in his charge. He not only deprived them of the most highly acclaimed program in the nation, but he did it by deceit, fraud, manipulation and abuse of his office.” – Cheryl Ortega
Parents at Ritter sought legal counsel from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Public Counsel Law Center, which filed legal complaints. Numerous parents reported to their attorneys that they were never notified about changes to their children’s language program, which is required under state law and the Education Code.
“Tuck told African American parents that dual language programs were not for their children,” which created hostilities between the two groups, says Ortega. “This happened in spite of studies nationally, statewide and locally concluding that children who have been educated in dual language programs outscore and outperform their peers in all programs, including those for native English speakers.”
The program that Tuck dismantled never returned.
“Marshall Tuck failed and betrayed children in his charge,” says Ortega. “He not only deprived them of the most highly acclaimed program in the nation, but he did it by deceit, fraud, manipulation and abuse of his office.”
Tuck and the “small schools” experiment
It was Tuck’s decision for PLAS to divide Roosevelt High School into seven schools in 2010-11. That decision was costly, adding seven principals on site and another to oversee them.
“When I started teaching at Roosevelt, it was one of the biggest schools in the nation,”
recalls Gillian Russom, a board member of UTLA. “The Gates Foundation was really pushing small schools at the time, and PLAS took it further and said Roosevelt had to be split into seven separate schools. It was really disruptive. No ‘passporting’ between schools was allowed. It created a sense of competition on campus between the small schools. The climate on campus deteriorated.”
Russom taught at the Environmental and Social Policy (ESP) school, which was moved off site. The students were thriving and parents loved it.
In 2013, after Bill Gates changed his mind about small schools being an effective means to raise test scores, Tuck decided it was time to “recombine” the seven schools into one. Parents of the ESP school where Russom taught protested to keep the mini-school from closing. It survived, but is no longer part of Roosevelt.
“It was very disruptive to have these top-down decisions about restructuring schools with no regard for what was actually helping kids in the classroom.” – Gillian Russom
“It was very disruptive to have these top-down decisions about restructuring schools with no regard for what was actually helping kids in the classroom,” says Russom. “It happened without any democratic discussion among stakeholders whatsoever.”
Tuck and his leadership style
Educators who have worked with Tuck describe him as top-down, uncollaborative, condescending and someone who only pretended to listen to their concerns, often using school visits for photo ops.
Liz Maldonado, a former history teacher and instructional coach at Santee High School, was unimpressed with Tuck’s leadership style at PLAS.
“It was like he was trying to build his political career on the backs of kids, and it was really not OK with us.” – Liz Maldonado
“He wasn’t invested in our community the way teachers were and he wasn’t present,” says Maldonado, now a school administrator in Orange County. “The people who worked at Santee felt like we were not getting any support. It was like he was trying to build his political career on the backs of kids, and it was really not OK with us. We had a very contentious relationship with Tuck, [and] with PLAS taking credit for the good work of teachers. We built that school from the ground up. There were a lot of long nights and late hours. The reform was teacher-driven. When Santee voted ‘no confidence’ in Marshall Tuck, I cast my vote for that.”
Maldonado recalls that when Tuck visited Santee, it felt like a “PR play,” and that Tuck talked to teachers in a condescending manner.
“The ‘missionary mindset’ he displayed hurt us as a school and as a community.”
Kirti Baranwal, now a bilingual teacher at UCLA Community School, was at Gompers Middle School during Tuck’s time at PLAS.
Tuck, she recalls, hired good people, but his uncollaborative leadership style drove them away, and he was unable to accomplish team-building.
“He was not genuine,” says the UTLA member in retrospect. “Initially, when he wanted our vote, he said PLAS would support teachers and parents and give us autonomy and input. Instead, he was top down and disrespectful of democratic processes and community voices.”
Tuck got rid of successful programs at Gompers because the success wasn’t happening fast enough. Over three years, all the English teachers at Gompers chose to use a constructivist Balanced Literacy curriculum that meets students at their instructional level and scaffolds their growth. Struggling students, four to six years below grade level academically, on average made over two years of growth in reading comprehension in 2011, but they did not meet ELA proficiency levels under NCLB. Other academic areas had similar results. Tuck took punitive measures by firing administrators and refusing funding for teacher training, coaches, and classroom libraries, which devastated staff.
“He was top-down and disrespectful of democratic processes and community voices.” – Kirti Baranwal
“He talked down to us and blamed teachers and administrators – even though students were making huge gains,” says Baranwal.
Ortega recalls a meeting years ago where teachers sat a table with Tuck, who was not listening to them.
“His attitude was, ‘You people think you know what you’re talking about, but you really don’t and I do.’”
Tuck and educational lawsuits, legislation
Tuck supported the unsuccessful Vergara v. California lawsuit, brought about by wealthy corporate special interests seeking to eradicate educators’ professional and due-process rights, as part of their agenda to privatize public schools and destroy teachers’ unions.
Tuck also “strongly supports” the Parent Trigger law, which opened the door for charter schools to take over public schools as part of the conservative agenda.
Tuck does not support teachers’ unions. In fact, he says, “Their seat at the table is too big and they have too much influence over education policy.”
“Tuck’s greatest liability is his contempt for public education. With him at the helm, public school students would have no advocate in Sacramento. But the oligarchs would.” – Diane Ravitch
Tuck was MIA when it came to support for Prop. 30, a CTA-sponsored tax measure approved by voters in 2012 that directed billions of dollars to California public schools. In 2014 Tuck said he did not endorse an extension of Prop. 30, unless it was “tied” to so-called reforms sought by conservatives.
“Tuck’s greatest liability is his contempt for public education,” says former Deputy U.S. Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch. “With him at the helm, public school students would have no advocate in Sacramento. But the oligarchs would.”
Tuck and the bottom line
“Marshall Tuck is not qualified to lead California’s public schools,” says CTA President Eric Heins. “He failed as the leader of Green Dot. He failed at running PLAS schools. He failed at bringing stakeholders together in a collaborative manner so they could work together on behalf of students. He failed at keeping his promises to teachers, parents and communities. And he has failed to put the interests of students ahead of the interests of billionaires.
“These failures do not in any way make him an expert on school reform. Instead, they make him a threat to the future of our children. And that is why CTA is working to defeat Tuck – and elect Tony Thurmond – in the upcoming November election.”
See cta.org/spi for more about the educational issues at stake in this year’s race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. And go to cta.org/campaign for voter information, ballot recommendations and much more.
Top photo courtesy marshalltuck.com.