Public Education Champion Diane Ravitch reports on the latest news about Paul Vallas’ New Orleans Miracle

There were countless incredible moments during the recent Bridgeport trial about Paul Vallas’ lack of qualifications to serve as Bridgeport’s superintendent of schools.

First Vallas took the stand, bragging about his “accomplishments.”  Half of them were in the works long before Vallas ever hit town, while the other half explored that fine line between unbelievable hyperbole and outright lying.

Vallas claimed that classrooms now had technologically advanced “white boards,” a statement nearly every teacher in the Bridgeport would find fault with.  Vallas also pronounced that next year, every student would have a lap top computer.  Interestingly, Vallas completely skipped over the disaster related to the no-bid special education tracking software contract that he gave out to Easy IEP, a system that was supposed to come on-line last July but still isn’t working right.

Then, not to be outdone, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor took the stand calling Vallas the “shining light” of the education reform effort and claiming that Vallas’ initiatives in New Orleans were not only having a profoundly positive impact but were being replicated all over the country.

But alas, Pryor must have been referring to that parallel universe called “Vallas in Wonderland,” rather than the reality the surrounds the rest of us.

For example, public education champion Diane Ravitch has a blog post today on her blog the deals with the real impact Paul Vallas’ policies are having in New Orleans.

Ravitch writes, “Robert Mann, a professor of communications at Louisiana State University, recognizes that the point of charters and vouchers is to withdraw into gated communities.

He writes: “Private schools have long flourished in America for reasons legitimate (religious and scholastic), and some not so legitimate (race). But now many parents and taxpayers – manipulated by politicians who argue that the only way to fix public education is to weaken it with privatization – are giving up on the very idea of public schools.

“A strong component of Louisiana’s education “reform” agenda – led by Gov. Bobby Jindal and state education Superintendent John White – is abandoning public schools in favor of private educational enclaves.”

Vouchers do not fulfill their promise. Voucher students fare poorly. Only 40% perform at or above grade level.

And more: “Then there are the 80 schools in Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD), beset with allegations of mismanagement, wasteful spending and millions in lost or stolen property. Last year, New Orleans’ RSD schools – mostly charters – were the worst performing in the city.”

The truth is beginning to break through the myths about the glories of privatization.

You can find the Diane Ravitch’s original post at http://dianeravitch.net/2013/06/27/uh-oh-new-orleans-miracle-crumbles/

Ravitch has reported on the problems with the Vallas Miracle in past, including the following post;

“Lance Hill of the Southern Institute of Education and Research reflects on the evolution of charter schools in New Orleans.

Charter schools that perform better by recruiting and retaining better students don’t exist in a vacuum: skimming the best and most profitable students affects other schools, though it is hard to detect in systems with few charters.  The systemic effects are easier to see in a “closed system” as we have in New Orleans in which 80% of students attend charters.  Every high-performing charter creates a chronically low-performing school somewhere in the system. The students that charters reject, who are high-needs and high-cost, become concentrated in a separate set of schools.  These “dumping schools” concentrate students with enormous skill deficits and disruptive behaviors, making it impossible for educators to teach and also creating an intractable non-compliant student subculture.  Privatization creates good schools by creating even worse schools.

The evidence of this “rob peter to pay paul” phenomenon is not difficult to find.  As charter schools increased in relative performance the first few years in New Orleans, the remaining state-run public schools were locked into chronic failure.  For four years in a row, the direct-run state schools posted an average 80% failure rate on the 8th grade math LEAP progression test.  This, despite the fact that the state had doubled the expenditure per pupil for a period of time and all these schools were directly run by Supt. Paul Vallas who selected the “world class” school administrators, contracted to staff the schools with the “best and brightest” teachers (TFA), and controlled the curriculum and hours of instruction.  It was clear that the every year charters would skim the best students from the remaining schools and dump the low-performing students forced on them by the lottery.

In 2007, the highest ranking official in the state takeover of New Orleans schools said in a meeting that I attended that some charters were systematically dumping challenging and low-performing students into the remaining public system. Six years after the takeover, only 6,000 of the total 42,000 students remain in non-charter dumping schools:  100% of those students are in state-run schools that the state graded as “D” or F” in 2011.  It is a wonder that New Orleanians can’t figure out why we have the highest per-capita murder rate in the nation, and school-age teens are the principal perpetrators of the most reckless of the violence.

Creating excellent schools is not the same as creating excellent school systems.  The free-market has one goal: profit.  It did not come into existence to create innovative and equitable public services.  The New Orleans Model ensures that successful schools are created at the expense of the system as a whole; one student advances at the expense of another.  If other school systems opt for the New Orleans Model, they need to do so knowing that the result will be a separate and unequal system of “college prep” and “prison prep” schools.”

Michelle Rhee’s Husband Fined for Ethics Violations in California, is Connecticut next?

The country’s leading public education advocate, Diane Ravitch, has a post on her blog today with the news that Kevin Johnson, the Mayor of Sacramento California, and husband of education reformer Michelle Rhee, has been fined $37,500 by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, for failing to report donations of at least $3.5 million to a number of his personal initiatives, including his Teach for America education reform effort and his “Think Big Arena Task Force”.

Among the unreported donations was $500,000 from the pro-education, ultra-conservative Walton Foundation, operated by the family that owns Wal-Mart.  The Walton Foundation has also provided funds to education reform groups active in Connecticut.

California may not be the only state investigating alleged illegal activities by Mayor Johnson, Michelle Rhee or their related organizations.

Based upon a complaint I filed, Connecticut’s State Election’s Enforcement Commission has opened an official investigation into the alleged campaign finance violations of Residents for a Better Bridgeport, the political action committee that was created to support Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s unsuccessful effort to eliminate Bridgeport’s democratically elected Board of Education and replace it with one appointed by himself.

The complaint identified a variety of alleged violations perpetrated by Residents for a Better Bridgeport including failure to reveal donations and expenditures, as required by law.

Last week, I filed two additional complaints, one against Excel Bridgeport and the other against the Great New England Public Schools Alliance, the front group set up by Michelle Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst.

According to the complaints, neither Excel Bridgeport nor GNEPSA came close to fulfilling its legal obligation to file reports on time or properly account for donations and expenditures related to their campaign activities for Finch and his referendum.

One of the additional issues raised in the complaints relate to who paid for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s trip to Bridgeport where he campaigned with Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas on behalf of Finch’s anti-democracy referendum.

Neither Citizens for a Better Bridgeport, Excel Bridgeport or GNEPSA reported any expenses related to Mr. Johnson’s campaign swing through Bridgeport.

The complaints allege multiple violations of Connecticut law.  Each of the three groups could face significant fines should they be found guilty.

You can find Diane Ravitch’s blog post here: Rhee’s Husband Fined for Ethics Violation

The nation’s leading voice for public education calls Connecticut’s Carmen Lopez a hero of public education.

Today, one of Diane Ravitch’s blog posts focused on Judge Carmen Lopez and her contribution to fighting for public education in Connecticut.

Ravitch writes,

“She has stood up against the most powerful people in her state to defend the public schools and the basic principles of democracy.

She served as a judge of the Connecticut Superior Court from 1996 until her retirement in 2008.

She played a pivotal role in the legal strategy and lawsuit that stopped the State of Connecticut’s effort to take over the Bridgeport School System. Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled that the state had failed to follow its laws and ordered that the democratically elected board of education be reconstituted and given back the authority to run the City’s schools. An election was held earlier this month and an elected board again controls the schools.

Judge Lopez is now opposing the Mayor’s effort to change the city charter and take control of the school system. The proposed change would eliminate a democratically elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the Mayor and City Council.

Judge Lopez is an advocate for students in need of special education services. She has represented many students at due process hearings on a pro bono basis.

For her strong leadership on behalf of democratic control of public education, Judge Carmen Lopez joins the honor roll as a hero of public education.”

You can find the blog here:  http://dianeravitch.net/2012/10/19/a-hero-of-public-education-in-connecticut/

Vallas Explains His Bridgeport Testing Frenzy on National Blog; Just Fails To Tell the Truth

On May 31, 2012, American education expert Diane Ravitch posted a blog about the decision by Bridgeport’s Interim Superintendent, Paul Vallas, to end the school year with another round of standardized tests.

Yesterday Vallas posted a response on her blog and I, in turn, responded to Mr. Vallas’ comments.

 It is a long read – but I would urge anyone who is impacted or following the developments in Bridgeport to take a look.  Mr. Vallas’ claims are beyond astounding;

Ravitch Blog: Test, Test, Test, Test: Another Day in Bridgeport

Paul Vallas has taken over as superintendent in Bridgeport, Connecticut, while running a consulting business on the side (he just won a $1 million contract to help fix the Illinois schools).

He is concerned that students and teachers slack off after they take the state tests in March, so he has just imposed yet another round of tests for the end of year, which will precede the administration of even more tests.

You see, this is the way corporate reformers think. If students don’t have tests to face, they won’t learn anything. If teachers don’t have a test to prepare students for, they won’t teach anything. They think that no one in school will do anything unless someone at the top is holding out a stick or a carrot.

What they do not understand is the basic idea of intrinsic motivation. By relying so heavily on extrinsic motivation, the corporate reformers will snuff out any outcroppings of intrinsic motivation.

What the Bridgeport approach will do with certainty is to eliminate any time for creative activities and projects; to remove any time for exploration and un-regimented learning. It will substitute testing for teaching. It relies on coercion as the prime motivator for learning.

It is a plan that will prepare students for factory work in the early twentieth century.

Diane

 

Paul Vallas’ Comment To Ravitch’s Post on June 8, 2012

Diane,

As someone who has known you for a long time as a colleague and a friend, I am taken aback by your post about Bridgeport testing. We are up to our ears with a district in crisis and trying to right the ship for the mostly minority, low income children who are our responsibility. Perhaps the hectic pace here in the district accounts for why I missed your phone call expressing concern for the methodology I, in partnership with my Chief Administrator, Dr. Sandra Kase, are employing? Of course, no phone call ever came. Therefore I will respond in this forum.

As I explained to my teachers in school visits and by memo, which I would have been happy to share with you, the Connecticut assessment test is weak. I have always been critical of annual state tests that are high stake, that are too narrow, that are administered too early and that produce data that is dated by the end of any given school year. Connecticut’s assessment system has all of those shortcomings. It is unfair to both teachers and students. Thus, in an effort to support teachers and to give them the baseline data that they need in real time at the end of the year, we are am administering a series of short end-of-the-year tests to give teachers an accurate and up to date picture of their students’ full learning profiles, and in particular the skills and concepts that need to be re-taught or strengthened to ensure student success in the new school year term. Our teachers care deeply about their students’ success, and most of them are delighted to have the opportunity to gain a clear picture of which children need to be in summer school. They welcome the baseline data that will give them the information they need over the summer to plan for the strengths and weaknesses of their incoming classes, to ensure they are equipped with the appropriate interventions and supports. They agree with us that this will help them be confident and ready to instruct in the new and more rigorous curriculum and instructional program we are implementing in 2012-2013.

There is no downside to these baseline assessments. The results do not factor into student promotion or teacher retention. Allow me to reiterate, they will simply provide current, data-guided decisions about summer school interventions to the benefit of students who are struggling, they will inform as to where additional supports should be allocated to individual students next year, and they will provide a baseline that will guide the implementation for next year’s new curriculum and instructional program. It is a responsible, proactive, vigorous measure to ensure teachers have the information they need to be effective in as close to “real time” possible, and that students get the support they need beginning on day one of next school year.

With regard to the comment about running a consulting business on the side, after my previous districts, Bridgeport is a small district by my experience. I was recruited Bridgeport to become interim Superintendent with the full understanding that I would continue to be available to help other school districts as needed. You will recall that I have been doing work in Chile and Haiti. The Illinois contract you speak of, which has yet to be tendered, is actually a request to do turnaround in two historically failing districts. I have assembled a team of top educators, many of whom you know or know of, and all of whom come from the traditional schools community. While the price tag on that contract may sound exotic at $1 million, that actually covers the cost of the team for three years work in two school districts. Let me point out that in New York, that much money is frequently spent annually on interventions targeting a single school only. I hope these are the not the only projects where we can make the type of impact we are making here in Bridgeport. I expect it to be quite a challenge and one I look forward to. Give Dr. Kase and me a call if you wish to discuss further or the next time you want an explanation of any of our programs. Your call is always welcome.

Regards,
Paul Vallas

Jonathan Pelto’s Response to Paul Vallas on June 8, 2012

Paul,

I’d like to take a moment to respond to the comment you recently posted in response to Diane Ravitch’s blog about the testing mania that you have brought to Bridgeport, Connecticut.

My name is Jonathan Pelto and I’m the one who writes the CT Blog called Wait, What?.

I spent nearly a decade as a member of the Connecticut General Assembly, serving as a member of both the Appropriations and Education Committees. During my tenure in the Legislature, I had the honor of helping to develop the Education Enhancement Act and the Education Cost Sharing Formula, the two most important pieces of education legislation in modern Connecticut history. I represented the 54th House District, while my friend and colleague, Nancy Wyman, who presently serves as the state’s Lt. Governor, served in the 53rd District.

In addition to spending nearly four decades working on and monitoring education policy in Connecticut, I’ve managed or worked on numerous political campaigns at the federal, state and local level. Although I’m from far northeastern Connecticut, my first campaign working with Bridgeport politics was thirty years ago. Since then I’ve been a regular observer, and sometime participant, in Bridgeport politics.

Your response to Diane raises a few key issues.

Let me first address your introduction in which you say;

“We are up to our ears with a district in crisis and trying to right the ship for the mostly minority, low income children who are our responsibility. Perhaps the hectic pace here in the district accounts for why I missed your phone call expressing concern for the methodology I, in partnership with my Chief Administrator, Dr. Sandra Kase, are employing? Of course, no phone call ever came.” Therefore I will respond in this forum.”

That paragraph is probably the most insulting, self-centered and sophomoric thing I’ve ever read. Only someone who is obsessively self-centered would start with such an absurd and arrogant introduction. No one, least of all someone of Diane Ravitch’s caliber, would be expected to “check in” with you before articulating an opinion about your public activities. You are a public employee, engaged in the public’s business. If you wanted a life of quiet insignificance you should have chosen to be a hedge fund manager.

Then, to add insult to injury, you go on to say that you;

“Explained” to your “teachers in school visits and by memo that the Connecticut assessment test is weak…”and “thus, in an effort to support teachers and to give them the baseline data that they need in real time at the end of the year, we are am [sic] administering a series of short end-of-the-year tests to give teachers an accurate and up to date picture of their students’ full learning profiles, and in particular the skills and concepts that need to be re-taught or strengthened to ensure student success in the new school year term.”

But of course, Mr. Vallas that is an absolute and total lie.

The memo that you or Sandra Kase wrote to all teachers, of which I’d be happy to give you a copy, speaks of the “lull in learning” that takes place after standardized tests and announces that you have scheduled another round of tests – to be done exactly like the first round – in order to ensure that teachers are focused on their jobs till the end of the semester.

Your memo reminded me of Governor Malloy’s comment that a teacher need only show up for four years to get tenure or his statement that he is okay with teaching to the test as long as the test scores go up. They are statements that are, at best, disingenuous.

As we now know, your testing scheme actually disrupted the finals and end of year projects that would have given teachers and administrators the ability to finalize the lists of who needed summer school. Your tests not only failed to do that but were actually counterproductive to that very task.

You go on to inform Diane Ravitch that “our teachers care deeply about their students’ success, and most of them are delighted to have the opportunity to gain a clear picture of which children need to be in summer school. They welcome the baseline data that will give them the information they need over the summer to plan for the strengths and weaknesses of their incoming classes, to ensure they are equipped with the appropriate interventions and supports. They agree with us that this will help them be confident and ready to instruct in the new and more rigorous curriculum and instructional program we are implementing in 2012-2013.”

Come now, please. Try to maintain some element of the truth. The additional standardized test was an opportunity to know one’s students. And who needs extra help from a test that appeared late in the year and failed to remotely follow the approved curriculum?

 

What about the 11th grade math test that included topics that aren’t taught until 12th grade or the 5th grade questions that were simply wrong?

What about the question that proved the pitfall of standardized testing when it asked urban, minority students to respond to a question about a “deck” when it turns out that not a single student knew what a “deck” was, although all knew that the porch was the thing that is attached to nearly every house in Bridgeport.

And if you are so concerned about preparing for the fall’s high school seniors, how do you rationalize your decision to purchase new textbooks before the group that is assigned to develop the revised curriculum even meets.

That doesn’t even begin to address your unilateral decision to shift next fall’s high school seniors away from reading African American and world literature and, instead, having them read an anthology of British Literature.

I had the opportunity recently to tour a Title 1 school in New York City. Their school wide curriculum development process, which included full utilization of the Rubicon Atlas software program, was a weekly event throughout the year and they are still not completely ready for next year. Under your approach, the curriculum will be developed in a few short sessions and presented to teachers in the days immediately before the start of the school year.

Finally, as a Connecticut resident let me just say that your belief that you are entitled to run “a consulting business on the side” since Bridgeport is such a small district compared to your previous experience” says more about your commitment and dedication than anything you could have possibly said. The $229,000 plus benefits may seem a pittance to you, but Connecticut residents are not out of line to believe that for that amount of money the children, parents and teachers of the City deserve someone’s full-time attention.

Since it was you who introduced the notion that an “expert’s” comments should go unquestioned, let me just say, as an expert on Connecticut politics, that while you will come and go as you please, that last comment of yours implying that setting Bridgeport’s schools is virtually child’s play compared to your previous efforts will live to haunt Mayor Finch and the Bridgeport leaders who recruited you. If one of my employees said something so incredible insulting, I’d tell him he needn’t return in the morning.

I have watched your activities from afar since you arrived in Connecticut and your post on Diane Ravitch’s blog says more about you and your intentions than anything else I’ve read to date.