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.



Clueless in Atlanta; Not So in Seattle

Maureen Downey is the education blogger at Get Schooled on the Atlanta Journal-Journal (AJC) website, and writes occasional education editorials for the newspaper. In her post today, she wonders why the teachers in Seattle are protesting by refusing to administer a test they are required to give three times per year to all students in their classes. She puts it this way:

What’s odd to me is the test Seattle teachers are choosing to protest, which is the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP). The high performing City of Decatur Schools uses MAP testing as well, giving it three times a year to see where students begin, where they are mid-year and where they are at the end of the year.

My kids attend Decatur schools and are not intimidated by MAP testing as it has been part of their education for a long time. Nor are they overly concerned with the scores, which they get instantly as the test is taken on a computer. I would be interested in what other Decatur parents out there think about MAP.

Downey clearly doesn’t understand the reasons for teachers boycotting the exam.  The MAP, purports to measure student’s academic performance in reading, math, language and science.  It is a product of the Northwest Evaluation Association, a testing company in Portland, Oregon.  MAP is computer generated test that adapts to student responses.  Downey claims that her children have no problem with the test as it is used at Decatur High School, a school located next to Atlanta.  That may be so, but her reasoning is flawed about why the teachers in Seattle refuse to give the test.

Here’s the deal.  Teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle announced their refusal to administer the standardized test, MAP.  The teachers believe it wastes time, money and resources.  According to one report, the test is useless for Algebra I students since the test is about probability and statistics and geometry, which are not in the curriculum.  Because students are told that the results on the test will not affect their grade or graduation, many do not take the test seriously.

But the real reason is that the teachers know that the test results do not offer formative assessment information that benefits them or their students.   In fact, some of the teachers want to replace the MAP standardized test with portfolios and tests that are related to their curriculum.

Seattle Public Schools paid $4 million to the company that its superintendent served as a member of the board of directors.  If the district spends this much on a test that doesn’t impact students, imagine what they pay for the other required standardized high-stakes tests.

What Downey misses here is that teachers in Seattle are not clueless about evaluation.  They know that assessment should be for learning.  The use of a test such as MAP DOES NOT promote student learning.  It has little meaning to specific students needs, and teachers’ expectations.

Downey needs to understand that assessment for learning is formative assessment. Formative assessments are everyday methods that teachers use to help students improve their learning and understanding , and to inform and improve their teaching. Formative assessment methods have been studied by many researchers, and one study, funded by the National Science Foundation found that teachers who use formative methods take the steps to find the gap between a student’s current work and the desired aim, and then together figure out how the gap can be bridged.

Formative assessment is multidimensional, and unlike high-stakes testing, is integrated into the curriculum. The assessments are authentic–that is to say, teachers use a variety of real activities to assess student progress–laboratory activities, writing essays, participating in a debate, classroom questions, and indeed simply observing and interacting with students.

Although banning high-stakes testing needs to done, assessment for learning is not a simple idea, but one that requires a multidimensional approach to assessment in the service of student learning.

The fact that teachers are willing to take the risk and act on their professional knowledge that these tests are not pedagogically valid.  Like their colleagues in Chicago, the Seattle teachers are willing to say no.

What do you think about this issue?  Are the teachers in Seattle acting in the interest of their students?

The Real Meaning of Standards: Rigor, Shock, Stacking Up, Raising the Bar!

There was an article in today’s Atlanta Journal/Constitution newspaper by Maureen Downey, a columnist who writes on education issues entitled “Georgia’s Core Values.”  The article had nothing to say about “core values”, but had a lot to say about the new national math and English/language arts “core” standards.

Surprisingly Downey writes without any criticism or questioning of the standards movement; she simply describes what the State of Georgia has decided to do (adopt the new standards in math and language), tells us that finally parents in Georgia will be able to find out how their school “stacks up” with schools in New York or California, that finally, because of the core national standards, there will be a battery of national tests that we can rely on to to really compare schools, that states that embrace the new standards are in a better position to garner some of the Race to the Top Funds, and that indeed, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank thinks the whole shebang of standards is a great idea!

Downey’s article is in stark contrast to my post yesterday in which I call into question the way in which standards are being developed, and by whom.  Here, in part, is one issue to consider:

As you explore the nature of the standards movement as it is happening in the United States, it appears as if non-profits, and professional organizations are at the heart of the development of these standards.  The Federal government’s role in all of this is rather interesting.  Rather than funding universities, which must be accountable, the organizations that are developing the standards receive funding from non-governmental businesses, organizations, and private philanthropic groups.  The groups doing the development, and the funding sources are accountable in this process to no one.

If Downey were to follow the money, she would discover that there is actually a core group of foundations and businesses that are providing the money for institutes (like the Thomas B. Fordham Institute) and non-profits (like Achieve, Inc.—a group largely responsible for writing the new standards.  If you go to any of these organizations, and click on the link that lists the organization’s financial contributors, you will probably not be surprised to learn that many of same contributors form the financial foundation for the entire standards movement.

For example, the Fordham Institute is funded by these groups:  The Achelis and Bodman Foundations, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, The Broad Foundation, The Brookhill Foundation, The Louis Calder Foundation, The Challenge Foundation, Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, The Joyce Foundation, The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, The Koret Foundation, The Kovner Foundation, Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, The Robertson Foundation, Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, Searle Freedom Trust, The William E. Simon Foundation, The Spencer Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation.

Achieve, Inc., is funded by these groups:  The Battelle Foundation • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation • The Boeing Company • Brookhill Foundation • Carnegie Corp. of New York • The GE Foundation • IBM Corp. • Intel Foundation • JP Morgan Chase Foundation • Lumina • Nationwide • Noyce Foundation • The Prudential Foundation • State Farm Insurance Companies • Washington Mutual Foundation • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Note the overlap.

Diane Ravitch (in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System) refers to some of these organizations as the Billionaire Boys’ Club (she especially recognizes the Walton Family Foundation, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Eli and Edy the Broad Foundation, each founded by billionaire men).  Since the late 1980s (Sam Walton created his foundation in 1987), these three organizations have been behind a host of reform initiatives including school choice, charter schools, for profit schools, funding of advocacy groups (such as Achieve), performance-based teacher pay programs (Gates is investing millions), competition, deregulation, “tight” management, and “investments” in education.  As Ravitch points out, there is very little challenge to the ideas promoted by these men and their foundations.

Downey’s article, and much of the literature on standards is punctuated with language that is based on metaphors implicit in competition and sports.  For example, Downey says: “now comes the hard part, getting students up to speed on the greater rigor embedded in the standards so they can pass the national tests…”  Webster defines rigor as meaning “harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgement; the quality of being unyielding or inflexible; and act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty.  Closely connected with that fact that the new standards will be more rigorous than those in the past, is the notion that the new standards are “raising the bar” that students will have to achieve through the new national tests.  Downey puts it this way:  “It’s not a sure bet that the Core Standards will improve American academic performance because the hard part is ensuring that the curriculum, teachers and tests embrace the raised bar.”

We are on roll right now with respect to the adoption of The Common Core Standards.  Everyone is being asked to “get involved and become a Common Core supporter.”  Nearly all of the states are on board (only Texas and Alaska are holdouts).  The research that is being done on the standards is being conducted by the advocacy groups that have a huge stake in the development and implementation of the Common Standards.  For example, both the Fordham Institute and Achieve have written reports (that rate the Core Standards A+) that state boards of education use to argue the case to adopt the standards.

And here is an amazing aspect of all of this.  None of these groups are accountable to anyone (other than their own board of directors).  Yet, these advocacy groups insist that schools, administrators and teachers should be held accountable.  And indeed, many of these groups is advocating that teacher pay be based on the achievement of students on the tests that these advocacy groups develop.  It is truly amazing.

And finally, when you examine these organizations, or the teams that write the frameworks and standards, you rarely find the name of a teacher as a member.

We have a serious problem here, and to use the language of sports, we need to step up!

Graduation Rates-A dilemma that won’t go away

Maureen Downey, education editorial writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote a piece about graduation rates in yesterday’s edition entitled Can’t throw up our hands as teens quit. According to Downey about 90,000 students will graduate from Georgia’s secondary schools this month, but there are another 49,000 teens who should have part of this year’s graduation class. These 49,000 dropped out since entering 9th grade four years ago. The Georgia Department of Education disputes these figures, and indicates that the graduation rate is 75% compared to 63% just six years ago. Downey indicates that the Department of Education uses a counting methodology that ignores many students who really dropped out (the State indicates that many of these students moved). The State also adds into the equation students who pass the GED at a later time. Downey suggests that the actual graduation rate is closer to 60%.

In data provided by The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, the 2006 graduation rate in Georgia was 55.9. According to their data, there were 131543 enrolled in the 9th grade in 2002. Of these, only 73498 graduated from high school four years later.

The US average graduation rate, according to data by the Center, is 66.6%, and ranges from 86.3% (New Jersey) to 50.5% (Nevada). Here is a map showing the range of rates by state. Click on the map, and it will bring you to the The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems website.

Map of USA showing graduation rates in each of the states.
Map of USA showing graduation rates in each of the states.

And these averages disguise more serious discrepancies that exist when you compare drop out rates amongst African-American, Hispanic and white students. According to some data, less than 40% of African-American and Hispanic students graduate from high school in Georgia. When major cities are compared, the data shows the in the major 50 US cities, many of them report graduation rates is below 50%, and in some cities it approaches 25%.

According to America’s Promise Alliance (which provided the data cited above), more than 1.2 million students drop out of school each year. This is an enormous number of teens dropping out of school, and one that is hard to believe. Follow the link above to the Alliance website to find out who are the leaders of the group, and what they are doing to try and reduce the number of students who drop out of school.

The rate at which students do NOT graduate from our schools is a dilemma that just won’t go away. How can this be turned around? What programs are working that seem to increase the number of students who typically wouldn’t have graduated?