Tag Archives: paul vallas

NYT’s Foul Tip on Paul Vallas

In the NYT, Javier C. Hernandez examines embattled Paul Vallas in Connecticut, opening with:

Paul G. Vallas, a leader in the effort to shake up American education, has wrestled with unions in Chicago, taken on hurricane-ravaged schools in New Orleans and confronted a crumbling educational system in Haiti.

Now he faces what may be his most vexing challenge yet: Fending off a small but spirited crowd of advocates working to unseat him as superintendent of one of Connecticut’s lowest-performing and highest-poverty school districts.

“Leader,” “vexing,” “fending,” “spirited”? Not to worry, folks, the NYT doesn’t exactly strike out, but, at best, this column is a foul tip—nowhere near a solid single, or even a bunt.

The media, once again, falls into the trap of buying hook, line, and sinker the “savior reformer” bait cast by Vallas, Michelle Rhee, and Bill Gates.

You see, only a few brave souls dare to stand up against that pesky public education status quo, kept alive by those evil unions and greedy teachers.

And now poor Vallas is next in line to suffer the wrath of that status quo:

Mr. Vallas, who has moved to impose a standardized curriculum and to reorganize central offices in Bridgeport, said he was dismayed by the vitriol. On blogs, which he calls “electronic graffiti,” his critics have called him a racist and compared him to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The school district’s student population is 49 percent Hispanic and 39 percent black.

“There are some gigantic egos in this town,” Mr. Vallas said in an interview. “No good deed goes unpunished.”

“Gigantic egos”? [One must wonder is Vallas owns a mirror.] “Electronic graffitti”?

Not to worry, however, appointee Arne Duncan to the rescue!:

Arne Duncan, the federal education secretary, said the opposition to Mr. Vallas was “beyond ludicrous.” He said too many school districts were afraid of innovation, clinging to “archaic ideas.”

“This, to me, is just another painfully obvious, crystal-clear example of people caught in an old paradigm,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview. “This is the tip of the iceberg.”

The Duncan/Vallas allegiance is interesting because the two men have something in common—what they lack:

Mr. Vallas had a vulnerability: despite his decades of experience in schools and a master’s degree in political science, he lacked a degree in education, as required by Connecticut law. The state allowed for an exemption, but Mr. Vallas was required to complete a condensed version of the traditional 13-month certification program over the course of several months. “I didn’t view it cynically and I didn’t complain,” Mr. Vallas said.

Never-been-a-teacher appointee rushes to the aid of never-been-a-teacher appointee. Sounds like a great plot for a Lifetime Movie.

And that movie would have a heart-wrenching message about perseverance in the face of failure:

Mr. Vallas, 60, is a onetime politician who came within two percentage points of defeating Rod R. Blagojevich in a primary for the Illinois governor’s office in 2002. He said he did not know what he would do after Bridgeport, though he ruled out a return to politics. He runs an educational consulting business on the side. His clients have included schools in Illinois and Indiana.

That’s right. If you can’t be a politician, be a political appointee—and be sure to seek out education where the public funds are ripe for the picking (Vallas makes $234,000 a year, but that is small potatoes to the span of his “career” in education).

Post-Katrina New Orleans: Disatser Capitalism Feeds on Poverty and Racism

Drawing from her Hope Against Hope, Sarah Carr asks, Can school reform hurt communities?—focusing on New Orleans:

New Orleans may be the extreme test case, but reforms like these are reshaping public education across the country. The movement is rooted in the notion that “fixing” schools is the strongest lever for lifting communities out of poverty. The criminal justice and health care systems may be broken, living-wage jobs in short supply, and families forced to live in unstable or unsafe conditions. But the buck supposedly stops in the classroom. Thus teachers can find themselves charged with remedying an impossibly broad set of challenges that go far beyond reading at grade level.

Post-Katrina New Orleans represents a crucible for both disaster capitalism and the neoliberal (privatization) agenda driving education reform. After the hurricane devastated New Orleans, the city was swept clean of its teacher workforce (overwhelmingly African Americans constituting a significant percentage of the black middle class), its public schools, and its teachers union so that Paul Vallas could rebuild the school system with charter schools and Teach for American recruits, inexperienced and uncertified teachers who are often white, affluent, and transplants to New Orleans from all across the US. Carr highlights the tensions in this human-made flood of the city:

But most explanations have focused on the radical overhaul of the city’s education system: the expansion of independent charter schools (which more than 80 percent of New Orleans public school children now attend); a greater reliance on alternative teacher training programs like Teach for America; and the increased use of test scores to determine whether educators should keep their jobs and schools should stay open….

This mentality has attracted ambitious, talented young teachers from across the country. But it has also risked turning teaching into a missionary pursuit. At a few of the charter schools I have reported on over the last six years, less than 10 percent of the teachers came from New Orleans or were older than 35. “I think a lot of people who come to New Orleans want to change New Orleanians,” said Mary Laurie, a veteran school administrator and principal of O. Perry Walker High School….

This disconnect can manifest itself in ways both small (as when a teacher fails to recognize a popular New Orleans term, like “beaucoup” for “a lot”) and large (as when a teacher can’t grasp what students are going through at home).

Yet, while New Orleans has become a feast for disaster capitalism (see Archer and Bessie’s graphic journalism here, here, and here), political and public concern for the city and for the greater assault on public education, children and families living in poverty, and teachers remains essentially absent.

In her critical analysis of education reform in New Orleans, Kristen Buras concludes: “Critical research and ongoing activism in multiple spaces are crucial. What is currently happening in New Orleans is not socially conscious capitalism. It is simply unconscionable” (p. 324).

That New Orleans, public schools across the US, teachers, teachers unions, and families in poverty remain under assault while political leadership, advocacy representatives, and the public remain focused on baseless calls for Common Core and next generation testing as well as equally baseless attacks of teacher education exposes some harsh realities about the US: profit and the privilege of wealth matter, but workers, children, and the impoverished do not.

There is simply no other lesson one can draw from New Orleans today.