“The Vallas Manifesto”—Peddling Fear, and Weather-Beaten Ideas

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“The Vallas Manifesto”–Peddling Fear, and Weather-Beaten Ideas

In an earlier post, I wrote about the discontent brought on by Paul Vallas’ article published in the AJC telling Georgians that  Governor Nathan Deal did the right thing in proposing his Opportunity School District (OSD). I wondered out loud if Vallas is looking for a job in Atlanta as the new superintendent of the Georgia OSD.

But in this post, I want to look at ideas that he posted on Maureen Downey’s blog, Get Schooled which was a response to many comments received about his first article.  So, two posts in a row, Downey gave Vallas the pulpit to voice his ideas,  which are nothing more than talking points of the neoliberal “reformists, and frankly nothing new.

Vallas makes the claim that if five suggestions (which he outlines and I’ve listed below) are implemented then improvement will happen in failing schools, regardless of poverty and other social problems. He used these ideas in New Orleans and Bridgeport in separate failing school turn around projects. Educators are reeling in New Orleans and Bridgeport from his superintendency.

And to be sure, if he comes to Georgia, he will bring with him the debris of these failed attempts to reform schools, and in so doing, ignore educators in local districts as if they didn’t know how to do their jobs.  For more information on Vallas and his work as superintendent in Bridgeport, you should follow this link to Jonathan Pelto on Twitter or at his blog.  You should also link to Hanna Hurley on Twitter who is a voracious supporter of public education, and a voice in Georgia from whom I learn.

Vallas’ ideas are nothing more than talking points for corporate and philanthropic privateers such as himself, and a handful of others, most notable, Michelle Rhee, the former superintendent of the D.C. School District.  Their ideas are built upon the “manufactured crisis” that they have concocted about American schools.  To these peddlers, our schools are in crisis, failing, and sure to cause calamity and economic depression if they don’t come to the rescue.  That’s right, we are waiting for the arrival of superman.  These ideas represent a kind of manifesto that is carried around from one district to another, and in the end not much happens in terms of improving the lives of students and their teachers.

Lets take a look at these ideas.

Idea 1. The Proven Curriculum: A comprehensive K-12 curriculum and instructional plan that is aligned to standards and provides continuity of instruction. Critical is the selection of proven curriculum and instructional models, sufficient quality instructional time-on-task and classroom modernization.

Vallas is a standards’ supporter and believes there is such a thing as a proven curriculum. This is nonsense. Curriculum is not proven, any more than ideas in science are proven. We have curriculum theory, not a proven curriculum. If anything is true about curriculum, it is that it hasn’t changed very much in more than 100 years. Indeed, Vallas is simply telling us that we should stick with the standards and curriculum that have been around for decades.

People like Vallas actually believe that teachers should use the same standards, even though they never had a hand in designing them. Rigid standards are impediments to innovative teaching and learning. Then, when combined with aligned high-stakes tests, a perfect storm is set motion that reduces teaching and learning to mere mechanics.

Idea 2. “Effective” use of data: Simple, time-efficient formative assessments give teachers almost instant data needed to measure student progress. Such data also gives the school’s instructional leadership team information to measure teacher effectiveness, which is critical to instructional improvement. “High stakes” testing, with results delayed for months, as well as “over-testing” is an impediment to students’ educational experience and school improvement.

Collecting data on kids is another idea that privateers like. In this case Vallas relishes collecting formative data, but tells us that high-stakes testing and over testing is an impediment to learning. Formative assessments have been shown to improve student learning and here we agree. But be careful. These formative assessments will be used as part of massive data collection efforts which will be used to measure teacher effectiveness.

Furthermore, the bottom line for these reformists is student scores on summative assessments in mathematics and reading. Schools around the country are being graded on an A-F scale based on student performance on these tests. And teachers are being rated based on the value they add to student learning using a complex algorithm (Value-Added Model) that has been shown to unreliable and invalid.

3. Intervention and support. Selection and early-in-the-school year implementation of the most effective interventions based on student academic and behavioral needs. Additional teacher supports should be provided, based on teacher effectiveness.

Don’t be fooled here. Notice the terms used here. Interventions. Academic. Behavioral needs. Teacher effectiveness. The idea of intervention is linked to data collection as outlined in Idea 2. Instead of relying on professional teacher’s decision-making, Vallas tells us that student test scores (academic needs) can be used to select interventions, and also be used evaluate teachers.

4. Training: There is no substitute for ongoing teacher and support-staff training and mentoring. It must be task oriented, site-based, designed to meet the individual teacher’s needs and it must not cut into the instructional day.

I guess this means after school training. But it will be based on Vallas’ conception of a proven curriculum. This means that teachers will be on the short end the stick, and in most cases no stick at all.  Teachers are required to follow a standards-based curriculum, and are given little to no flexibility to deviate to meet the specific needs of their students.  In such a context, ongoing training and support means little, and does not promote professional leadership that is the hallmark of being an educator.  As long as we continue to hold teachers and students hostage to state mandated tests tied to an inflexible curriculum, we will see very little in the way of innovation, problem-solving and creative relationships.

5. Leadership: Local school-based instructional leadership teams to drive instruction. Led by the principal and comprised of the school’s most effective teachers the leadership teams not only provide instructional benefits, they also provide opportunities for teacher recognition, promotion, additional responsibilities and additional pay for performance.

There is little doubt that leadership is important. But the problem here in any of these reforms is context. If there is a “leadership” team as described by Vallas, it will have little impact on school improvement because it will be hamstrung by a bottom line or test score mentality. Unless targets (established as percentage increases from one year to the next) are met, the leadership team will have to disregard innovative, creative, collaborative, and interpersonal goals.

If Vallas, or another reformer of the same brand are brought to Atlanta as superintendent of the Opportunity School District, it will not be an opportunity for school improvement, but rather an opportunity for privateers and neoliberal reformers.

It will be more than one step backwards for Georgia students and their parents if the Governor goes forward with the Opportunity School District.

The General Assembly of Georgia has approved a law that is based on fear and weather-beaten ideas. It’s time they realize this.

If they don’t, we would arrange a series of seminars designed to improve legisla knowledge of teaching and learning.  It would also provide tools to help them understand the falicy of the manufactured crisis in American education.

What do you think?

Sent from my iPhone

Paul Vallas Writes on AJC Blog Praising the Georgia Opportunity School District. Is He Looking for a Job?

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Paul Vallas Writes on AJC Blog Praising the Georgia Opportunity School District. Is He Looking for a Job?

Update:  I received a tweet from Lindamarie via Twitter that linked to an article about Paul Villas and the Bridgeport School District in which he was superintendent.  It’s a stinging indictment of Villas and the reform movement he headed.  It’s a must read.

Last week, Maureen Downey ran an article entitled Former NOLA School Leader: Georgia Did the Right Thing) on her AJC blog, Get Schooled, written by one of the key architects of Louisiana’s recovery school district. Now a consultant with the Chicago-based DSI Civic (a financial restructuring company) , Paul Vallas served as Superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District from 2007-2011. He was also Superintendent in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Downey explained that Vallas received a few question about his article lauding Governor Nathan Deal’s plan to privatize Georgia’s failing schools by turning them into charter schools–the go-to solution for whatever politicians think will solve the fabricated crisis in our schools.

I find Downey’s uncritical portrayal of Villas’ ideas surprising and disappointing.  On one day she will publish articles written by Georgia researchers pointing out the untruths and problems about the Opportunity School District, and how it will harm public education in Georgia, but then on the day that the House approved the Governors’ Opportunity plan,  she published the Vallas article praising the plan.  Why not ask people in Georgia to write about the OSD, such as Professor Stephanie Jones of Policy Studies at UGA,  an activist scholar specializing in school reform, or Professor Kristen Buras, professor of Policy studies at UGA., who done extensive research on NO Recovery School District, and articulates research based finding contrary to reports about the New Orleans experiment.

But, no.  She asks Paul Vallas, a Chicago consultant who left his job as superintendent of the Bridgeport, Connecticut school district, to write an article about the Georgia Opportunity School District.

Larry Cuban, Emeritus Professor at Stanford, sees Paul Vallas as a “sprinter” type of superintendent.  Sprinters come in fast, take swift actions, and exit quickly.  Vallas, instead of being the marathon type of superintendent who takes time to think through problems of school change, and is deliberate and not confrontational, was in and out of four different school districts, including New Orleans.

His latest stint was superintendent of the Bridgeport, Connecticut school district.  What Downey doesn’t tell us is that Vallas was challenged and sued by Connecticut officials because he did not have certification to be superintendent of a public school system.  He signed up for an online course, and supposedly passed, but was still sued.  His case went to the Connecticut Supreme court, which ruled in Vallas’ favor only because of a procedural mistake.  Some  complainants charged that Vallas was given preferential treatment by having certification requirements waived by the state.

And the case get even messier.   Vallas was not hired by the local school district, but by a state appointed board.  This is exactly what will happen in Georgia.  The Georgia superintendent of the Opportunity School District, much like the Vallas’ of the neoliberal reform world, will not be selected by elected local officials, but by a state group of appointees.  Appointees of the Governor.  Former Connecticut judge Carmen Lopez, who filed the case against Vallas, did so because Vallas was imposed on the Bridgeport School District.  Ms. Lopez put it this way:

“Paul Vallas was imposed on the city,” she said. “Then we find out that he lacks something as basic as having certification.
“There is a movement in this country to change education as we know it, and you start that where people are vulnerable,” she said. “There’s never any discussion with the people, who are looked on as incompetent. … The only recourse we have is the court.”

Sprinter type superintendents such as Paul Vallas, or Michelle Rhee act in similar and predictable ways by eroding the integrity of the “turnaround”  school district, and later deposit mud when they exit the school district as quickly as possible.

I wonder.  Is Vallas jockeying for the job of Superintendent of the Opportunity School district?

He certainly has the experience, and Governor Deal recently visited Vallas’ former school district, the New Orleans Recovery School District.


In the next post, I will analyze the “great ideas” that Vallas wrote as a reply to readers about the pat on the back for the bad deal that Georgia’s “chronically failing schools were dealt.



We Should Be Mad as Hell, and Not Take It Anymore from the Governor & His Opportunity School District Plan

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We Should Be Mad as Hell, and Not Take It Anymore from the Governor & His Opportunity School District Proposal.


The Governor’s Hypocrisy: Charter Lobbyist Pays for Travel to New Orleans Recovery School District.  The Governor claims it is his moral duty to rescue Georgia’s struggling schools by taking them over.  I think he has an ethical problem, and needs to come forward to explain himself.

When the Governor flew his hand-picked team to New Orleans to find out about the cities’ Recovery School District, he forgot to mention that a special interest group paid for the trip.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 9.06.32 PM
Click on the image to go to Empowered Georgia to learn more about how special interest groups will use its funds to support the Governor and his supporters who wish to dismantle public education in Georgia.

The AJC reported that an out-of-state special interest group paid to fly state officials out to New Orleans and Tennessee to sell the Opportunity School District idea. This special interest group spent over $10,000 on luxury hotels, first-class airfare, and fine dining on just one trip.  That’s $10,000.  Many of the parents who send their students to charter schools in the Recovery School District work to try to earn $20,000 to $30,000 per year, and our Governor enables a pro-charter company to spend 1/3 of a families’ budget on their junket to New Orleans.

I don’t know about you, but I’m mad as hell.

What was the Governor thinking?

Or, I’m sorry, he wasn’t thinking.  He was following orders from corporate special interest groups who are bent on dismantling public education in favor of the corporatist model that is plaguing U.S. education.

And that Special Interest Group, StudentsFirst, was formed by Michelle Rhee.  When she resigned as superintendent of D.C. Schools, she formed StudentsFirst which is a political lobbying group that works with legislators to change the laws governing schools and teachers. In particular, it fosters choice and vouchers, and is a steadfast supporter of charter schools.   StudentsFirst pushes doctrines of student choice, charter schools, and the dismissal of teacher tenure.

So, this group sent the Governor packing to New Orleans to find out about charter schools in the Recovery School District and how they improved student’s academic learning in struggling schools in the post-Katrina era.


The Governor’s advance team never talked with people in New Orleans who have done research and shown that the New Orleans experiment has not been a raving success.  He doesn’t want to hear this.  All he want to do now is make sure he gets the votes in the House to pass Senate Bill 133 and Senate Resolution 287.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still mad as hell.

[Georgia’s] Governor, Nathan Deal, and most of the members of the General Assembly fail to understand that the corporatist agenda they are pushing will do great harm to the education of children and youth. I just don’t know what will move them to realize that education is in the public sphere, much like our state and national parks, forests and wildlife preserves, and should be protected from the corporate privateers.

But don’t expect any protection from Governor Deal and those who accompanied him to New Orleans to “learn” about the Recovery School District.

The 1976 movie, Network, from which I borrowed the lines “mad as hell, and not take it any more,” is extremely relevant today, especially when we think what has happened to American education since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002.  Screen writer Sidney Aaron “Paddy” Chayefsky‘s (three academy awards for screen writing, including Network), words make so much sense in the context of the Opportunity School District.

The Governor, instead of using research from scholars in the University System of Georgia, bends his ears to corporatists who use tabloid journalism to spread lies about teachers, and American schools.  The only crisis in education is the ongoing invasion by the locusts of corporate reform and their heap of followers.

And finally, as Chayefsky wrote in Network:

I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!…You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’

Governor Deal Exchanges Letters with Ed Johnson–Ships Passing in the Night

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Governor Deal exchanges Letters with Ed Johnson–Ships Passing in the Night.

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, only a signal shown, and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Ed Johnson had a “ships passing in the night” experience sending a letter to Governor Nathan Deal.  Ed wrote a brief letter clearly stating that there is a better way to help Georgia’s struggling schools than imposing a state take over of “chronically failing” schools with the Governor’s Opportunity School District.  He even included examples of community-based programs that are working and could be implemented in Georgia.  Johnson’s letter was personal, and based on years of research on how organizations work.

The Governor’s reply came the same day.  Isn’t  that amazing.  A citizen can write a letter and get an immediate response from the governor?

Even though Ed was waving his hands, jumping up and down, and shining a spotlight on the Governor’s ship, his words were ignored.  He received nothing more than the talking points that the Governor and his office use to brainwash citizens of Georgia that a Louisiana Recovery School District type plan is just what the government ordered.

We simply do not agree with the Governor.  His plan is an overreach of government, and ignores the research on the New Orleans Recovery School District.

I’ve included each letter in this post for you to read and make your own decision.

What do you think?

Ed Johnson’s Letter to the Governor

Dear Governor Deal,

With all due respect, sir, you don’t have to do this. You really don’t. There is a better way.

Cincinnati Public Schools demonstrates a better way. Jack Hassard, Professor Emeritus, Science Education, Georgia State University, writes about the CPS better way on this blog [1].

Iredell-Statesville Schools [2], Statesville, NC, demonstrates a better way. It is important for you to know that Iredell-Statesville holds the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, having earned that privilege in 2008. You do know about Baldrige for Education [3], don’t you?

Iredell-Statesville eagerly shares with others their district’s ongoing journey with continual quality improvement. I am aware, and it is important for you to know, that AdvancED/SACS visited Iredell-Statesville to learn about that district’s journey with continual quality improvement. And you know what? AdvancED/SACS subsequently based much of its new AdvancED Standards for Quality [4] on what was learned from Iredell-Statesville. Imagine that.

Leander Independent School District [5], Leander, TX, very near Austin, demonstrates a better way. Leander has been on their ongoing journey with continual quality improvement for more than a decade. People there talk of the “Leander Way” and of being in “Happyville.” That’s because of their practice in the principles and teachings of the late, world-renowned Dr. W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) [6]. “The Deming Way” remains the basis of “The Leander Way” and that district’s ongoing journey with continual quality improvement. Like Iredell-Statesville, Leader eagerly shares with visitors what they do and why they do it.

I once offered our Atlanta Superintendent and Board of Education a fee-paid initial consultation with a leading, internationally practiced educator in helping schools and school districts onto a journey of continual quality improvement. Well, the APS superintendent and board rejected the offer. Dare guess why? I was informed they rejected the offer because – now get this – because “Deming is not applicable to the ‘Black culture’.”

Gov. Deal, sir, there is but one rational reason you will persist with your intention to impose upon the State of Georgia your “Opportunity School District” designs. And that reason is the same reason Atlanta superintendent and school board rejected being willing to learn about and from Dr. Deming’s principles and teachings. And that, sir, is unforgivable.

It was my pleasure for six years to serve as President, Atlanta Area Deming Study. During that time, the study group’s programming centered on introducing educators throughout Georgia and elsewhere and especially Atlanta Public School educators to the “Deming Way.” Only once did we have APS participation. Though no longer active, the study group met monthly or quarterly on the Georgia Tech Campus. Our Deming Study Group was honored to have as guest presenters such persons that ranged from Dr. Stephen Porch, then-Chancellor, University System of Georgia, and two Atlanta Therrell High School students who had stood to teach that Atlanta Superintendent’s and Board of Education’s decision to “reconstitute” their school would come to naught. The students were right, reconstituting Therrell High School did indeed come to naught.

Sir, your “Opportunity School District” will also come to naught. If you would genuinely and honestly care to learn why your OSD will come to naught, it will be my pleasure to meet to talk about it.


Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
(404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

[1] http://www.artofteachingscience.org/dear-governor-deal-here-is-an-ahttpwww-cps-k12-orgcommunityclclternative-to-your-opportunity-school-district/
[2] http://www.iss.k12.nc.us/
[3] http://www.baldrigeforeducation.org/
[4] http://www.advanc-ed.org/services/advanced-standards-quality
[5] http://www.leanderisd.org/
[6] https://deming.org/theman/overview

The Governor’s Letter to Mr. Johnson

ATLANTA 30334-0900
Nathan Deal

Dear Mr. Johnson:

Thank you for taking the time to write my office and share your thoughts about the Opportunity School District with me. I appreciate the chance to hear your opinion and consider your point of view.

As the governor of Georgia, I am committed to giving our students access to a world-class education that will train them for the jobs of tomorrow. The education of Georgia’s children is my top priority, and I take very seriously the need to improve education opportunities for all students. The Opportunity School District that I am proposing will provide a safety-net for Georgia’s children who are assigned to attend chronically failing schools. The economic health of these schools and communities suffers when the students and parents have limited or no choice in their education.

My proposal defines chronically failing schools as those earning an “F” on the Georgia Department of Education’s College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI) for three consecutive years. There will be no more than 20 schools added to the Opportunity School District (OSD) per year and no more than 100 schools in the OSD at any given time. This will allow the district to be effective in providing support to the students for their success. Unless their performance improves significantly for three consecutive years, the selected schools will remain in the state-wide district for a minimum of five years and a maximum of ten years before returning to the authority of the local school district or continuing to operate as an independent public charter school. I will appoint the Opportunity School District superintendent, who will report directly to me.

In every potential OSD school, parents, teachers, education leaders, business leaders, faith leaders, and other school community stakeholders will have opportunities to provide feedback and suggestions during the decision-making processes to select schools to include in the OSD and to select the intervention model that will provide the greatest improvement and success for that school. The interventions to be considered when meeting with stakeholders in each school will include direct management by the OSD, management by contract between the OSD and the local school board that requires certain changes and improvements, becoming an OSD charter school with a non-profit governing board of community members, and school closure, which would be a last resort likely used only in a select few situations. The final decision, after receiving and carefully considering all stakeholder input, will be made by the OSD superintendent.

Currently, 96 percent of the districts that have Opportunity School District-eligible schools spend at or above the state average of $8,400 per student each year. While all of the schools currently identified as potentially eligible for the Opportunity School District have high rates of poverty among the student bodies, this level of per pupil funding directed to the school is expected to provide adequate funding for effective operation.  Schools in the Opportunity School District would receive a per student share of all local, state, and federal funds coming into the school districts in which the OSD schools are located. It is also important for you to know that there are quite a number of schools in Georgia that consist of 80% or more students of poverty and 80% or more minority students that have earned a CCRPI score of 80 or more for the last three years, and there are even more schools with the same demographics that earned a CCRPI score greater than or equal to the state average of 74 for the last three years. 74% of these schools are located in school districts that spent less than the state average per pupil amount in 2014 – a telling statistic.

A few more important facts about the schools in the Opportunity School District are below.

OSD schools will have the same attendance zones and student populations as they had under the local board of education.
OSD schools will be operated in the existing school buildings, with arrangements made between the OSD and the local board of education for facilities use and other services such as transportation, food service, and broadband capability.
Student records for OSD school students will be transferred from the local board of education to the OSD school so that student education is not interrupted.
OSD schools that choose to become charter schools will operate with non-profit governing boards made up of community members with specific skills and abilities needed to support a successful charter.

In preparing for this initiative, I have studied similar efforts in Louisiana and Tennessee. In Louisiana, the Recovery School District (RSD) was implemented first in New Orleans in 2005. The percentage of students performing at or above grade level increased by 34 percentage points between 2005 and 2013, while the state average increase was only nine percentage points during that same time period. During that same time period, the graduation rate increased by 19 percentage points for students in the New Orleans RSD. The percentage of failing schools in the Recovery School District has decreased by 45 percent from 2008 to 2013. Student and parent surveys also yielded positive ratings for school culture and effectiveness after implementation.

Schools that are successful in preparing students for postsecondary opportunities and the work force are critical to the future of Georgia’s children and the communities in which they live. I view the Opportunity School District as a strategy to fulfill the obligation of the state to provide hope for the families, students, and communities where schools have historically struggled.

The educational success of every child is important to me. Thank you again for writing. If my office can be of any further assistance to you, please let me know.


New Orleans Recovery School District Test Scores: A Closer Look Doesn’t Look Pretty

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New Orleans Recovery School District Test Scores: A Closer Look Doesn’t Look Pretty

Governor Nathan Deal is pushing hard on his Opportunity School District (OSD) proposal which is modeled after the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD).  In a reply to a letter sent by Mr. Ed Johnson, Deal claimed that the New Orleans RSD was a success pointing to percentages of students who performed above the state average.  He failed to give real data that is available on the Louisiana Department of Education website about ACT scores for every school district in the state.

Seventy school district ACT scores are available for you to see here. The average score for the 70 districts in the state on the Act in 2013 was 19.5 and in 2014 it was 19.2.  The Recovery School District is one of the 70 districts.  It’s averages were 16.3 and 15.5 in 2013 and 2014 respectively.  The RSD ranked 66 out of the 70 districts, with only 4 districts scoring lower.

According to Mercedes Schneider, a teacher and researcher in New Orleans, “the RSD Class of 2014 was in third grade when Katrina hit. The state has been in charge of their education since then, and this is what they have to show for their test-score-driven, charter-friendly, Teach-for-America-friendly, so-called “education.”

Governor Deal can tell you over and over that the RSD has been a successful attempt, but the facts show otherwise, especially when we use test scores, which is what the Opportunity School District will use to check the progress of “chronically failing” schools.