First published on @ THE CHALK FACE on October 15, 2014
"To reduce sexual risk behaviors and related health problems among youth, schools and other youth-serving organizations can help young people adopt lifelong attitudes and behaviors that support their health and well-being—including behaviors that reduce their risk for HIV, other STDs, and unintended pregnancy." — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Eli Broad-trained neoliberal operative Marshall Tuck is running for California's Superintendent of Public Instruction seat. The former Wall Street banker Tuck has never taught a day in his life, and has no background in pedagogy or child development, but he is financed by the corporate education plutocracy. Despite being the most profoundly unqualified candidate for the office, this backing by reactionary billionaires has made for the possibility of him being elected. The doting corporate media has recklessly ignored the dismal performance of the schools he managed, the astonishing remediation rates of students he claimed were "college ready," his racist shuttering of Ethnic Studies programs, and his closure of Heritage/Dual Language Programs. All in all, Tuck's record has been one of failure and bigotry.
Around this time of year in 2012, when I was running for school board at Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), a community AIDS group reached out to me and explained an urgent situation with health classes. According to them, The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS) administration, namely Marshall Tuck, wanted to use the funds for health classes on some software project to improve math scores. I can't say for sure if that last part is accurate, but according to a Tuck quote (reproduced below) in the Los Angeles Times, there is some credence to the statement. Regardless of the exact reason, we know for fact that Tuck eliminated all health education classes from PLAS when he was their "CEO." That callous act by Tuck is not in dispute.
It's really unsurprising that business banker Marshall Tuck would deem wringing a few more Average Yearly Progress (AYP) points out of students more important than their very lives. However, I had forgotten about this whole narrative until recently when I happened upon a "California: #2 in Syphilis Cases" sign on a bus bench by my law school. It reminded my of Tuck's vacuous #CAbytheNumbers Twitter campaign where he rails against the state of California schools (not mentioning his were among the absolute worst of course). The Tuck campaign tweets banalities like: "#1 in wine production, #45 in education. CA is a great state. It's time we had great schools." Suddenly I remembered that he had shuttered all health education at PLAS, and I knew I needed to tie the concepts together. The above meme image is the result of that epiphany.
From the May 20, 2012 Los Angeles Times:
Schools also are supposed to teach such topics as nutrition, safety, mental health awareness and about drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse. But generally there's no penalty for skipping these topics, and experts believe many have long done so.
PLAS was one of a number of Los Angeles schools (mostly also privately managed charters) that dropped health classes altogether. John Deasy wanted to follow suit, but the elected LAUSD school board prevented him from doing so. PLAS has an unelected board, and hence no one to protect students and community from unilateral decisions by corporate executives like Tuck. When the Times questioned Tuck on his imprudent decision, he responded:
"Less than 10% of our kids are at grade level in math," said Marshall Tuck, head of the mayor's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. "If you don't get them caught up early, they're going to fall further behind. All of us are forced to make really difficult decisions." [emphasis mine]
Difficult decisions indeed. Note that his vapid statement includes the focus on math scores, just like the organization that contacted me about the PLAS situation said. Bear in mind that PLAS gets millions in extra funding from right-wing billionaires like Richard Riorden, Eli Broad, et al. They could easily budget both health and math, but corporate priorities like Common Core State Standards have made it clear that students aren't the focus, only their scores are. Oddly, Tuck's priorities didn't seem to help. For example, both math and English scores declined at Tuck run Figueroa Elementary School from 2012 to 2013, after health had been jettisoned for math.
Of course, anyone actually involved in the teaching of students knows that health is a far reaching topic, something lost on investment banker Tuck and his supporters:
"Health is probably one of the only classes in the entire curriculum that is about kids," said longtime Birmingham High health teacher Wayne Sink, who's retired but still volunteers at the school. "It is all about their lives and what is going on about diet, nutrition, puberty, sexuality, dating — all those things they were going through. It's vital."
Health classes are vital. I want to conclude using the prose I wrote for the meme itself, I think it sums Marshall Tuck up quite neatly.
At a time with Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) running rampant, business banker MARSHALL TUCK SHUT DOWN ALL HEALTH EDUCATION CLASSES at the schools he managed, putting students' health at serious risk. Tuck says he has a "kids first agenda," but his actions proved otherwise. When bankers run schools, students' lives take a back seat to corporate profits. Stop banker Marshall Tuck's agenda! Vote for the teacher instead.