State Superintendent Candidate Marshall Tuck Says Parents Can Be Strong 'Counterforce To The Status Quo'

Speak UP recently sat down with Marshall Tuck, a candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, to discuss the state of education in CA, teacher tenure laws, ways to improve low-performing schools and the role parents play in education policy. This is part two of our two-part interview. Part one can be read here. Speak UP has also reached out to Tuck's main opponent but has not yet been able to schedule an interview. The primary election is June 5.

Speak UP: Are you the only qualified candidate who's really deeply familiar with LAUSD?

Marshall: Definitely. I've been working in public schools in L.A since 2002, and so both as someone who's worked in charter schools and in L.A. Unified, who's led the Partnership, who's been very active with the leaders of L.A. Unified, with our school board members, and then who's also a parent in L.A Unified. As far as understanding public schools in Los Angeles, I think I have a very strong resume for that job. I worked in schools for a long time, but now having a lens as the father of Mason Tuck, it’s definitely broadened and expanded my perspective and understanding of public schools. There's so much love there, you want so much for your son to have a strong experience in school, and so it gives you a different lens.

Speak UP: Your son attends Beethoven, which is a traditional neighborhood LAUSD school. How did you choose this school for your son?  

Marshall: We're lucky where we live. I live in Mar Vista, and there are three schools that are all within a mile of our house. I knew L.A. Unified very well, but the process to be able to choose to go to one of those three was not easy. This was a little over two years ago when we started digging in, to figure out how to actually permit into [Beethoven]. It was very hard to actually find out the process to permit him to another school in L.A Unified. And this is from somebody who knows the district well. So I'm thrilled about the direction that the district is going in terms of a unified enrollment system.   

Beethoven is a smaller school. It's a really good school. We did what a lot of parents do. We went to greatschools.org, and we went to the California [Dashboard] website, which had not as much information as we’d have liked, to see how it was doing academically, talked to friends in the neighborhood. I talked to some educators I know in the neighborhood and just felt like it was the right fit for our son. It still was a lot of work for us to find out: What were the schools within our general neighborhood? What's the process to get into them, and what's different about the schools? It was a more time-intensive and rigorous process than I think it can be, and I'm excited and optimistic that there is some movement towards making that a better process for parents. And I'm very grateful for Speak UP for pushing hard to make that happen.

Speak UP:  Thank you. I am wondering how much you dug into the data when you were looking at schools, and did you look at growth, not just raw test scores, the demographics of the kids and whether or not they were increasing the scores of kids that might come in with challenges?  

Marshall: You can be sure that I was digging into data pretty intensely for my son. We looked at data across the board in terms of academic results.  Looking at the growth, looking at disaggregated data, especially on how they deal with special needs, how they deal with high poverty issues. Mason's school, it’s majority high-poverty kids. We talked to people, and then looked at the school size and the instructional program. Beethoven had a coding program for kids. My son loves Legos. He's pretty visual, and we liked that program. We used all that information to make our decision and did most of that digging ourselves, and that's where I think making that as accessible as possible to all parents [would help]. I'm on the board of the group called Parent Revolution, which really is focused, a lot like Speak UP, on how do you help get parents more information about their public school options, so they can make the right decisions for their kids?

Speak UP:  It’s a big conversation happening right now at the LAUSD Board level because we're not seeing at the state level good information in a format that it is easy for parents to grasp.

Marshall: In Sacramento, they've launched what was called their data Dashboard, and I think intentions are good, moving toward multiple measures where they’re not just looking at test scores. They're looking at test scores by different sub-groups. They're looking at attendance, they’re looking at graduation rates for high schools, and so they actually have more metrics, which is a good thing. But the challenging part is that this system is just not user-friendly for parents.

And when you think about a data system of the state level, it really should be used for three purposes. One is, to give parents good information about how schools are doing in their community and how their kids' schools are doing so they can actually help find a better fit for their child. This is what folks miss. It's not about trying to say one school's bad or good, it’s what's the right fit for my kid? Secondly, you want data to help educators learn. To help your teachers and your principals and your counselors, your superintendents find out, are we doing well or not? And then third, you do want to use data for an accountability system to say, "Hey, if there are some unique challenges, what are we going to do about that? And if there's also unique success, how do we grow and scale that?"

The challenge with the Dashboard right now, for parents, it's not really user-friendly. [Also] It doesn’t have relative data. When I go on to my son Mason's dashboard for Beethoven, you don’t see how that school compares to other schools. And it also doesn’t really give any qualitative information. There's not a whole lot of tips for parents that are really digestible and easy.

At the Partnership, one of the first things we did back in 2008, was we said, "Hey, our parents would have a [school] report card like kids have a report card in the school," and we brought parents together and actually did tons of focus groups to make it user-friendly. And then we also continually improved it. So there's real work to be done on that to make it much more user-friendly for parents. I think it should have some summative roll-up scores to get a better sense of what’s the bottom line. If the state doesn’t do that, then others will. So like a lot of parents that are more engaged, they will go to greatschools.org, and parents who are less engaged or aren’t as connected, they don’t necessarily know that exists. The state's got real work to do a better job of serving parents and kids.    
 
Speak UP:  Absolutely. And is that something that would fall under your jurisdiction if you’re elected?

Marshall: The large-scale changes likely will require engagement from the State Board and Legislature, but things like adding little tips -- what does this mean for your child and school?  I can do that. And that's something we plan to do out of the gate. Let’s make sure this thing is much more user-friendly in its current form, and then let's work with the State Board and if need be, the Legislature to adjust some of the fundamentals of it.

I want to get a lot more flexibility from education code. That's going to require the Legislature to make changes. That's hard. But the state Board of Education can give waivers to the education code. And so my plan is in the first year, let's get a number of superintendents from up and down the state to come together and say, hey, here is why we want all these waivers, it will help us serve kids better.  

Speak UP: Waivers to what, and what would be the real-world impact that parents might see in their schools?

Marshall: The California Education Code is this large book full of regulations and rules around schools. Charter schools actually have flexibility from a significant portion of the education code. That's really one of the biggest differences [between] a charter public school and a district public school.  The idea was, let's give them more room to innovate. Let's let the creativity and entrepreneurialism of our educators soar. Let’s learn from that and see what's working really well, and then let's share that across districts throughout the state.

You want Sacramento to flip from a place that works for a status quo to a place that works for parents and kids.  

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Speak UP: Are you also talking about giving district schools similar flexibilities over staffing for instance?
 
Marshall: The staffing part you need to work with labor to get there. You can give significant waivers on the curriculum side, some creativity on the staffing side, but there's deeper labor rules we have to work on through the Legislature with labor to get there. You’ve got to have your teachers feeling good about these decisions.

Speak UP: Can we talk for a second about under-performing schools? Our state has a lot. LAUSD has quite a few schools where kids are not meeting standards in either math or English. What is it going to take to turn around schools persistently underperforming?

Marshall: It has to be one of the top priorities for a school district. Those schools require more dollars. The good news is, with the Local Control Funding Formula, that gives an opportunity. We’ve got to make sure that money gets to those kids. What you do with those resources is [get] the very, very best principals to work in the toughest schools. That's the biggest challenge for why schools have been stuck for so long. Our highest poverty schools have younger, less experienced teachers and principals with much higher turnover than higher income schools. That's the crux. That's your starting point for moving those schools forward. In a Partnership school, we paid our principals about $25,000 more to work in East LA and South LA than they make in the Palisades, and they also got more support.

Secondly, you have to have really strong teachers. You have to figure out how do you get teachers to come and stay in those areas? And you have to take a look at both additional dollars to work in the highest poverty schools, as well as more supports.  

Then you have to have much better ratios of counselors and other support staff around those teachers. California has among the worst ratio of counselors to students in the country. It's like 800 to one. There's no counseling going on for all kids.  And you’ve got to make sure your curriculum is one that makes sense for your students. [At the Partnership] we made sure our kids actually had college prep, a lot more intervention courses for kids that were left far behind. Extended time. A lot more work getting families involved in the schools. You’ve got to do a lot of outreach and put the time in. You also want to have a lot of additional supports. We are able to bring mental health clinics onto our campuses to really help a lot of the social and emotional support. A lot of kids had real health issues. We test all of our kids for their vision, and we got eyeglasses for a bunch of our kids who couldn’t see the board.

It’s got to be a comprehensive collective effort around principals, teachers, curriculum, program, partnerships and parents. You want to build a culture in a school district where people want to go work in the most challenging schools and want to stay there. It's possible. There is no question that a school alone can’t solve all of society's problems, but man we can make a lot more progress. That’s what we did in our Partnership schools, and that's what we plan to do for the state.

Speak UP: Can you talk about the role of parents in education policy. There is a lot of talk about parent engagement. There is not a lot of talk about parent power. What do you see as the parent role in education policy, and how can parents get involved?

Marshall: Well, I'm going to start with a shout out for Speak UP because I think that what Speak UP is trying to do is just phenomenal. It’s about how you engage parents, not just in their kid’s classroom or at their school, but in the education policy arena. Parents are the natural people to get more involved. We should all care, and everyone's got to realize it's not so much about our own kids. All kids are our kids. It’s just healthy for our society to think that way. So it’s not just the parents’ responsibilities, but given parents have kids in schools right now, they are the most likely to be the most active right away. And so groups like Speak UP that are able to communicate to parents -- even though they are busy and they have their kids as their focus -- to understand how big these critical decisions are. How important it is to elect leaders who are going to put kids first and drive change for kids and then find ways for parents in their busy lives to still engage on the politics of education.

Because if we don’t engage in the politics of education, we will never educate all kids. That is a fact that I can tell you with certainty. So having parents much more involved, not just at the school level but at the school board level, at the state level, is essential to be a counterforce to the status quo. Parents have a good sense of how the world should be. They can imagine every day like, "Wow, it would be great if my kid had this," and they can be a uniquely good voice to educate and push elected leaders and an establishment and a status quo that can’t see what’s possible. And so we have to have parents much more engaged.

Speak UP:  And if they want to get involved in your campaign or help what you're doing at all, what can they do?

Marshall:  So we have a primary election June 5, and a general election in November. We need people to be involved. Marshalltuck.com is our website. You can sign up to engage. We have a lot of different ways that people can get involved. We have some really strong software tools that allow you to tell everybody in your network to get behind our campaign in less than five minutes. To folks that want to come and volunteer in person, we have events up and down the state all the time. We have certainly to raise money to get our message out, too. So we need people to get behind this campaign. Our kids need us to step up and drive change, and that's what this is all about. We cannot just keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them. We have 6.2 million kids in our state, and over three million can’t read and write at grade level. This is unacceptable. We can do so much better, and that’s why we need parents to get involved in this campaign so we can win this race, and then be involved with us for a really long time as we drive the changes that our kids deserve.

To read part one of this interview, click here. Speak UP has also reached out to Tuck's main opponent but has not yet been able to schedule an interview.