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.



Ed Johnson: Atlanta Needs to Reconsider Its Choice for New Superintendent


Photo credit:
Photo credit:

Ed Johnson, an advocate for quality education in Atlanta, provides commentary and data questioning Atlanta’s decision to hire Austin’s current superintendent for Atlanta’s superintendency. According to Mr. Johnson, there is great controversy in the process, as well as the choice for superintendent.

According an email I received from Ed Johnson, on April 7th, members of the clergy and community, including parents and educators, held a press conference to voice concerns about the undemocratic process that the Atlanta Board of Education is using to hire Atlanta Public Schools next superintendent.

According to the press release, the district paid thousands of dollars to consultants and engaged a search committee for several months to present several finalists to the public. But in a surprising move, the district presented a “sole” finalist after stating that over 400 names were submitted for consideration. The district is moving rapidly to hire the “sole” finalist without respecting a more democratic and open process that would engage and allow citizens more choices along with a more publicized and inclusive vetting process. Sadly, the board’s actions have taken the “public” out of public education.

Using his unique understanding of systems theory, he provides comparative data on these two school systems in the context of reading and mathematics performance over the past ten years.   This is an analysis you will not see performed by the Atlanta Public School Board, but whose members know him, and should take note of his thinking and caring for the students in the APS.

His analysis,  Austin Independent School District and Atlanta Public Schools Viewed through NAEP TUDA 2005-2013, can be viewed at this link, and augments his comments, which follow.

He writes:

Every two years NAEP, commonly known as “The Nation’s Report Card” and respected for being untainted by political ideologies and agenda, administers the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) to voluntarily participating urban school districts.  TUDA Reading was first administrated in 2002 in Grades 4 and 8 to six urban school districts, including Atlanta Public Schools (APS or “Atlanta”).  TUDA Math was first administered in 2003 in Grades 4 and 8 to ten urban school districts, again including Atlanta. By 2013, TUDA had twenty-one urban school districts participating.  The next TUDA administration will be in 2015.  Austin Independent School District (AISD or “Austin”) participated for the first time in 2005.

TUDA results are reported as average scale scores that range from zero (0) to 500, as with NAEP results.  Looked at over time, TUDA results may be put to simple elementary level arithmetic to extract powerful, holistic insight into the performance of all the participating urban school districts taken as a system.  The same can be done to extract such insight into the performance of any one urban school district taken as a system of Reading, Math, or other subject as assessed by TUDA.  The attachment does both; just be aware that its use of the requisite arithmetic is atypical of simplistically ranking data and of computing percentage change from two data points in time as done in business-style financial reports.  Such reports inherently fail to preserve context and give no rational basis for predicting future outcome.

The USS Urban School Reform Ship

Pages 4 and 5 in the attachment look at all TUDA participating urban school districts as a system and represents, by way of analogy, that since the first TUDA administration in 2002, all the districts, save possibly a few, have been on the same ship carrying them all in the same direction no matter the disricts’ ever changing relative positions aboard ship.  Insight, here, is that virtually no urban school district has improved or declined that would amount to having “jumped ship” for the better or for the worse.  Since the ship first set sail in 2002, the outcome has been status quo maintained; no improvement of urban school districts all taken as a system.

Similarly, pages 6 through 9 in the attachment look at Austin and Atlanta TUDA Reading and Math results put side-by-side for 2005 through 2013 and represent that Atlanta stands relatively more capable to experience systemic improvement in both Reading and Math than does Austin, although Austin would “rank” higher than Atlanta.  Any ranking, however, would be only from the standpoint of Austin and Atlanta being passengers aboard the ship, thus pointless.  So stay mindful that the ship has all passengers going in the same direction.  It should matter least, or even not at all, that one urban school district may be more port-side and another may be more starboard; they all fall within natural limits at the widest point of the ship, at its beam.

Figure 1. It should matter least, or even not at all, that one urban school district may be more port-side and another may be more starboard; they all fall within natural limits at the widest point of the ship, at its beam.
Figure 1. It should matter least, or even not at all, that one urban school district may be more port-side and another may be more starboard; they all fall within natural limits at the widest point of the ship, at its beam.

Interestingly, during 2005-2013, Atlanta TUDA Reading and Math results continuously increased, but Austin TUDA Reading and Math results continually increased.  And during 2009-2013, Austin TUDA Reading and Math results began to appear suppressed and flattened, even stalled.  Consequently, Atlanta is now port-side and has become much closer to Austin.  (Caution: Three more continuous increases in any TUDA subject and grade results by Atlanta will be a total of eight continuous increases since 2005. Eight continuous increases should prompt conducting a study to learn the root cause(s) of the increases, lest another Atlanta test cheating crisis be in the making.  The reason is simple to illustrate: Getting eight heads in row or eight snake eyes in a row is possible but improbable with a fair coin or dice.)

By the way, if the ship were to be given a name then “The USS Urban School Reform” seems reasonable.

Kindly consider the attachment.  Consider, too, that Atlanta school board members seem unanimously committed to vote the affirmative come April 14, 2014, to hire the sole superintendent finalist they selected to present to the public, a behavior that bespeaks disregard for effective public engagement.  The sole superintendent finalist is Austin’s current superintendent, Dr. Meria Carstarphen.  Dr. Carstarphen has been Austin’s superintendent since 2009, since the time Austin’s TUDA results began to appear suppressed and flattened, even stalled.

Having considered the attachment, now kindly consider a few questions: Why does the ideology of “urban superintendent” persists when NAEP TUDA results make clear that the ideology’s transporter, the USS Urban School Reform, has provided and will in the future provide for its passengers, the urban school districts, to move around onboard ship but not improve?  Austin seems a case in point.  Will Atlanta become a case in point with Dr. Carstarphen as yet another “urban superintendent,” however well-trained by Harvard?

It will be my pleasure to have conversation about anything presented here that in any way interests you.

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education

Atlanta GA
(404) 505-8176 |

No Paradigm Shift in Cobb County, Georgia

In Cobb County, Georgia’s second largest school district (just outside Atlanta), the district superintendent and school board have initiated the Power to Learn Project. Power to Learn will put an i-book in the hands of every student grades 6-12, as well as every K-12 teacher. The total cost of the project will be $100 million. The first phase is underway; each teacher has received a computer, and each student in four high schools will get computers this fall for a year of experimentation. However, the project is in serious jeapody. On Friday, a citizen (represented by former Governor Roy Barnes) from Cobb County took the school district to court. At the hearing, it was recorded into testimony that the final evaluation scores of the competing computer companies (Dell, IBM, Apple) were altered. The alteration resulted in Apple getting the contract when, according to the testimony of Cobb official, they were rated lowest. Now the school district is considering having the Cobb district attorney summon a Grand Jury to look into these allegations.

Why is this happening? Firstly, putting computers in the hands of every student requires a paradigm shift in thinking regarding the nature of school curriculum and how students learn. There has been very little ground work in preparing citizens or educators for such a change. Paradigm shifts require new ways of thinking. Most change in education uses the integration model, in which a new idea is integrated into the present paradigm. A paradigm shift means the new idea supplants a previously held view, like moving from the Ptolemaic to the Copernican view of the universe.

My guess is that the Cobb officials in charge of the Power to Learn project had not realized the “power” and subsequent reaction of the citizen’s of Cobb, a very conservative power center. The local newspaper, The Marietta Daily Journal, has been the forum for the discussion surrounding the project, and most of the letters and opinion essays have been against the project. More will be discussed at this site on this project in the days to come.