Lee Cites Progress Under Vallas-Led School Districts

Government watchdog John Marshall Lee shares his latest commentary about the job performance of Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas in districts he led prior to Bridgeport. General Lee gives Vallas passing grades.

Paul Vallas … Educational Leadership in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. (IL: 1995-01; PA: 2002-07; LA: 2007-11; CT January 2012-current)

Americans are familiar with statistics used to record performance of athletic teams, investments and levels of government. Over time the efforts of baseball teams, S&P 500 companies as well as political administrations, are compared and evaluated based on the numbers, whether they be recorded in dollars expended, numbers of people participating, or percentage gains relative to young people succeeding.

Much public discussion about Paul Vallas’ qualifications to successfully run a poor urban school district or his success in past assignments has occurred. Some commentators have talked about superintendents as either ‘sprinters’ or ‘marathoners.’ What is the average stay in poor urban districts in recent years? Do his terms above differ mightily from his contemporaries? More importantly, do reforms of school districts hold much beyond the term of a schools chief executive officer? I have attempted to research the duration of the Vallas experience and some basic data about improvements during and shortly beyond his tenure.

Chicago showed steady improvement in student graduation rates during the six-year period Vallas was present and for at least several years following with an Age 18 dropout statistic decreasing in half to 20.8% by the fourth year after Vallas’ departure. Evidence of steady improvement in math and especially reading scores during those years is seen. More than 400,000 youth were enrolled in public schools.

In Philadelphia on-time and 6-year graduation rates increased significantly through the Vallas years and reading and math scores almost doubled in both areas for all grades combined when looking at advanced and proficient student results. Vallas left the system with a surplus educational budget that was decimated by large deficits during the two-year tenure of his replacement.

The New Orleans story post Katrina is unusual in that there were actually two operating school districts that came into being after the storm:

• 19 schools with 11 charters and 10,500 students with 72% African American students and 66% free- or reduced-lunch students;

• 66 schools with 50 charters serving 28,148 youth with 95% African American and 90% free- or reduced-lunch students.

During Vallas’ tenure the statistics for both districts showed increases for ‘Basic’ and ‘Above’ scoring students on State assessments from 35% to 56%. School Performance Scores (K-12) below 65 dropped from 69% of the schools and 69% of students to 29% of the schools with fewer than 24% of the students. Drop ut rates in New Orleans dropped from about 11% in 2005 to about 4.1% in 2011, a number identical to the LA average for grades 9-12. The gap for at-risk students was narrowed and then reversed for African American students by 2011 and continues to narrow for economically disadvantaged and special education students.

The eye opener for me are the results of the Vallas-directed Recovery School District gains in students performing at or above grade level where unprecedented growth in gains compared most favorably with LA state results. Graduation rates and decrease in dropouts each made steady positive progress. There are many ways to compare statistics, but changes in these three communities are compelling in dispelling the steady display of only negative results.

What are Bridgeport stakeholders looking for? How will it be measured? And where will it be available to the public in an accountable and open manner? Who will ask good questions and listen to the answers? Isn’t that what members of a Board of Education are elected to do? What questions are being asked about our system of candidates for BOE, and even City Council candidates this year? Will Council candidates support “minimum budget requirement” funding for the schools this year if elected? Are candidate arguments and statistics put forward genuinely about the school age youth? Time will tell.




  2. JML tends to spew back data derived from what he has merely read. Did you, JML, confirm these alleged facts by personal contact with officials from Philadelphia, Chicago and New Orleans? Spin management is an effective tool when employed by the skilled. Try to rebut with 200 words or less.

    1. yahooy,
      I suggest I do not “spew back data derived from what he has merely read.” as you state. Ad hominem attacks by the uninformed, as you seem to be in this case, are a tool of “spin management” with which you are certainly skilled. These comments exceed 470 words, so break it down into two reading sessions, and have a nap in between if you need to.

      Spin management also attempts to eliminate or limit communication, like BOE candidate debates, or City Council public hearings. Last night at the Council meeting Mayor Finch sitting in the Chair responded to a mild-mannered attorney for a Bridgeport property owner (whose taxes are current in contrast to an abutting owner in the South End whose property taxes are not fully paid). Finch was promoting the use of eminent domain in the South End and identifying the firm as a Top 10 Brownfield site in the City. Sue Brannelly took the Mayor to task for his use of the Chair to promote the administration position in a Council public hearing. Very interesting? Of course where there is no public information available on a subject to persons who attend a hearing from current Committee sessions on the subject, can the public be fairly accused of being silent, yahooy? No one spoke up about the Black Rock School eminent domain issue. Was elimination of the street necessary for school expansion? Why is there not more info available to the public so Council members across the City and the public have background for the hearings?

      yahooy, back to the subject … actually, I do not “merely read.” I do read about subjects more than hear about them. But then I do a fair amount of THINKING about a subject, from different viewpoints and times. And I like to REFLECT UPON motivation in this City since we have such a well-traveled reputation for “conflicts of interest” and low public ethical standards. Then I look for CONNECTIONS and then I write, although in the case of the article, for the past nine months at least I have talked to friends and business acquaintances in each of the cities about Paul Vallas. These include parents of kids who went through the schools during the Vallas terms, taxpayers, educators and in one case a former District Attorney. Paul Vallas has a good reputation among most of these folks. He changed things mostly for the good in the memory of these folks. And there was some momentum beyond his term of service.

      So yahooy, I am concerned about what I write, in contrast to what others who do not care to share their real identities “spew” when they serve up their opinions and “facts.” Try to connect your mind and memory to new data and avoid using “spin management” tools. It does not benefit OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT. Time will tell.

        1. yahooy,
          You cannot play ignorant to the gallery multiple times. The reason is the folks in the gallery start believing you are truly ignorant. No spin. Just the facts! Comprehend? Time will tell.

          1. JML,
            Simply stated, you are full of … yourself. I have condemned your recent brain fart because that is what it is, a collection of whatever you want things to be while claiming to be the result of an exhaustive intellectual pregnancy. We catch a lot of bullshit from the administration. We don’t need you adding your spin on the current state of affairs. Yours is a disservice to so blatantly pontificate your profundus and expect blanket acceptance. Citings, professor, citings.


Leave a Reply