Wall Street Journal Columnist Praises Vallas, Spanks Teachers Union And Working Families Party

Jason Riley, a member of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, writes in a commentary Bridgeport school chief “Paul Vallas is one of the country’s premier education reformers, with a track record to prove it. So it’s only natural that the teachers unions and their political supporters in Bridgeport, Conn., want to run him out of town.”  The remainder of Riley’s column follows:

Mr. Vallas’s opponents claim he’s unfit for the job, which is ridiculous under any objective measure. He’s run school systems in Philadelphia, Chicago and post-Katrina New Orleans. In each case, he’s left things better than he found them. When he took over as superintendent in Philadelphia in 2002, 29% of students were advanced or proficient in reading and 19.5% in math on the state achievement test. When he left in 2007, 38% of students scored at the proficient level in reading, and 41% did so in math. Test scores also rose in Chicago, where he was brought in to fix a system that the city’s own mayor described as failing.

In New Orleans, where Mr. Vallas was superintendent from 2007 to 2011, he instituted a merit-pay system and recruited teachers and principals from Teach for America and other programs known for producing top talent. He also closed failing schools and replaced them with high-quality charters, which grew to 49 from 17 during his tenure.

Not that any of this matters to defenders of the status quo in Bridgeport, where Mr. Vallas was sued over his credentials. A judge ruled last week that Mr. Vallas, who was brought in as superintendent by a state-appointed board last year, lacks an advanced degree in education, which Connecticut requires. Under the law, the requirement can be waived for up to a year if a candidate completes a “leadership program.” Mr. Vallas completed a program that was approved by the state, but the judge ruled that it did not satisfy the requirement. Mr. Vallas and the city of Bridgeport are appealing, and he can remain in the post during the appeals process, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

The Working Families Party (which controls four seats on the nine-member school board) and the Bridgeport Education Association have been targeting Mr. Vallas since he became superintendent. That effort culminated in the lawsuit challenging his credentials, which was filed by a former judge who wrote in an op-ed earlier this year that she is not a member of the WFP but supports its efforts.

You might wonder if the Vallas critics have considered the track record of his properly credentialed predecessors. After all, he inherited a system in Bridgeport where 10% of tenth graders meet state math and reading standards. Of course, statistics like that only phase you if you care, first and foremost, about whether students are learning. For Mr. Vallas’s opponents, the kids are clearly a secondary concern at best.

“The truth is that Connecticut superintendent certification laws have nothing to do with administrators’ qualifications and everything to do with insulating status quo bureaucracies from outside reform,” wrote Ben Zimmer of the Connecticut Policy Institute in a recent op-ed. “When national leaders in education reform like Vallas have to jump through pointless and time-consuming bureaucratic hoops to obtain leadership roles in Connecticut, they’re likely to simply give up and move elsewhere.”

That would be Bridgeport’s loss.



    1. What would you expect from the WSJ? Support a privatizing traveling “reformer” who views schools as businesses or support a union and the front-line worker?

      This is expected but says nothing of the Vallas outcomes based on evidence … the present state of NOLA, Chicago and Philly.

  1. Compare the viewpoint of the WSJ editorial board members, who will never live in Bridgeport or send their children to BPS schools, to the viewpoint of those who do:
    This community needs a superintendent that will respect all nine Bridgeport Board of Education members, all parents, all staff and all our overburdened taxpayers. In addition, the superintendent we so desperately need will not divide the community, but will bring us together.

    Paul Vallas has proven to be a significant disappointment to us and is unworthy of our support. We would ask that Paul Vallas and his gang of “corporate education reformers” seriously consider packing their bags and leaving Bridgeport. Paul Vallas, Commissioner Stefan Pryor, Mayor Bill Finch and Gov. Dannel Malloy are not the champions of the strong and vibrant public school system that we so desperately need.

    Paul Vallas once compared himself to Michael Jordan. If Michael Jordan would like to apply, he may do so. However, our expectation will be that he must complete every requirement necessary under Connecticut law and hold the proper certification(s) to become our children’s and grandchildren’s next superintendent.
    www .ctpost.com/news/article/Time-to-move-on-from-Vallas-term-4652828.php

  2. WSJ should do their homework and not merely repeat the reformy playbook … not too much journalism these days.

    New Orleans’ Recovery School District: The Lie Unveiled

    The school- and district-level data presented in this post unequivocally demonstrates that the state-run RSD is hardly a miracle. It should be an embarrassment to any reformer insisting otherwise. And it should come as no wonder why RSD doesn’t even mention school letter grades on its website.

    The history of the state-run RSD in New Orleans is one of opportunism and deceit, of information twisting and concealing, in order to promote a slick, corporate-benefiting, financially-motivated agenda. It is certainly not “for the children.”

    To other districts around the nation who are considering adopting “the New Orleans miracle”:

    Reread this post, and truly consider what it is that you would be getting: A lie packaged to only look appealing from afar.

    Paul Vallas launched the nation’s most expansive privatization experiment in Philadelphia. Evaluators at RAND said it failed; the district schools did as well or better than the privatized schools.

    Paul’s program in New Orleans was not to rebuild public education after the hurricane, but to create a privatized system of schools.

    The NOLA miracle that wasn’t:

  3. So let me understand this Mr. WSJ, you’re saying Mr. Paul Vallas never fired a teacher who was not properly credentialed and/or certified.

    So this is what the Finch team calls pissing in your face and calling it rain?

  4. Guess what else is words on paper: student standardized test reports, diplomas, teacher evaluations … following Vallas’ logic, we don’t need those anymore either.

    What’s good for the vulture is good for the prey.

  5. Contrary to most who post, I believe Vallas has provided solid direction in his short time here. Never expected him to be a miracle worker; frankly more of a triage/emergency room scenario and the budget was the most pressing.

    Too many people in this City look upon the BOE as a jobs program and frankly most of the screaming is coming from those employees who liked the status quo. Obviously there are dedicated teachers and I applaud them.

    To jdog’s point that the WSJ, Riley and all the others are out-of-towners who would never live here, I have this to say. The overwhelming majority of BOE employees I have met; teachers and all employees do not live in Bridgeport and do not send their kids to Bpt schools so why are they more noble?

    Education was important in my family and rather than put our kids in Bpt schools or move out like most of the BOE teachers, we paid a very hefty tuition every year for our kids to go to Catholic schools.

    Honestly, given the dismal deterioration of urban public education, why would you not want to try something new and give it some time?

    Public education cannot get any lower than it has been. Too many employees, be they teachers, support, or facilities staff have looked on Bpt as their “Jobs” program and now that the flame is being turned up, can’t stand the heat.

    1. You’ve been fooled. It isn’t something new. READ with your eyes OPEN:
      The Vallas Spinaround has been played and replayed for twenty years now staring in Chicago. Pay attention. Your disgust for teachers is obvious, so there is no point defending a once-noble profession.

      This has nothing to do with the heat being turned up, unless you consider heat to be constant chaos led by an eduvulture who never taught a day in his life and has nothing but disdain for the classroom teacher.

      The “bad” teacher narrative is meant to distract from all of our society’s ills the elected officials have no idea how to remedy. It’s easier to blame one profession and one institution than to develop long-term solutions that would involve many entities working together.

      But remember this … the schools with the most issues are in failing cities, with failing mayors and politicians, led by failing governors in a failing economy led by a failing president controlled by failing corporations and a few protected billionaires.

      Let’s switch the teachers for Darien and Greenwich with BPS and see what difference there is.

      If he’s so great why is he only in poor cities, how come the wealthy suburbs aren’t beating down the doors for the “rock star” CEO?

      Quote from a journalist and author (Sarah Carr) who studied the NOLA “reforms” led by Vallas:
      And I hope that it shows how hard it is to reinvent a city in the long-term if the focus is explicitly on the schools. Schools can do a huge amount to turn around people’s lives, but if you have a city with a broken system and where families don’t have access to living wage jobs, and to affordable health care and to housing and safe communities, the schools can’t fix all of that on their own. I hope it prompts people to think about community reform in a more holistic way.

    2. Pssst … his days are numbered. He only wants to stay long enough to negotiate the teachers’ contract and stick it to them before he leaves. He doesn’t know the BOE is primarily responsible, but since he controls most of them with his “rock star” status that will be his final dagger before he packs up the circus and heads off into the sunset.

      B E W A R E poor cities or countries … you could be next.

    3. Denis OMalley, the question was did Vallas not meet Connecticut superintendent certification laws, which means he does not have the merit by the state. Now do you want to overlook the court decision?

  6. Grilled Calamari Salad

    In a large bowl

    2 smashed cloves of Garlic
    1/4 cup Extra virgin olive oil
    2 cherry peppers cut up
    1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
    Juice of half lemon
    Zest of half orange
    1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives cut in half
    Salt and pepper to taste set aside

    Take clean whole calamari 8 pieces and lightly pierce with knife.
    Grill 3 min each side. Remove from grill and cut into rings and throw into bowl of vinaigrette. Let steep 5 minutes

    On a platter place fresh clean Arugula and cut cherry tomatoes in half. Place calamari and mixture on top of Arugula with olives.

    Serve with a nice pinot grigio

  7. jdog,
    I have the utmost respect for teachers, with three aunts, mother-in-law, sister and three cousins all K-12 teachers, some here in Bridgeport.

    In failing cities with a 1-party machine (usually Democrat), with failing mayors and generations of urban decay with dysfunctional families, it is a very tough and frustrating job. I get it!

    By the same token, education anywhere requires teaching and infrastructure. Forget instruction, let’s look at past “business” practices that apply to any business including K-12 education.

    First-hand I have seen mind-boggling inefficiencies and abuses that would never have been tolerated in Fairfield, Greenwich or Darien. It is the result of poor financial management and poor business practices. That’s before I even discuss teaching!

    For example, has anyone in the BOE, Superintendent’s office or City Hall taken a look at sick-time abuse, chronic absenteeism, workmen’s comp exploding, lack of budgeting or any concern on what’s being spent (“It’s not my tax dollars. I don’t live here” attitude on employee’s part)?

    Why is a retired Bpt athletic director the point man on new school construction at a huge per diem plus an $80K+ pension? Why not bring in somebody who knows construction and building?

    Why are there employees who have been on Workman’s Comp for four and five years, why haven’t they been investigated and either fired or pushed into retirement?

    Why did we have a City Councilwoman’s daughter brought in as HR Director with absolutely no experience who was loathed and ineffective?

    Why were the school bus routes not run more efficiently using routing software, saving $millions in the process before Vallas?

    There are many questions that have nothing to do with educational instruction and teachers that have never been answered before. To be fair, many of these same issue run throughout other City departments as well.

    If Vallas does nothing more than clean up budgets and demand normal business practices on the non-instructional side of the BOE, he will be far better than Ramos, and Sonia who preceded him.

    It took 4-5 generations of dysfunctional families, cynical machine politics, voter apathy and the current miasma to get where we are today.

    I’m willing to give Vallas more time.

  8. I have not decided whether Vallas has been good or bad or of no consequence, but the results of persons who met the qualifications to serve has super of the school system were not stellar either–as written elsewhere sometimes the qualifications required are merely impediments to obtain qualified people.

    Ramos was qualified by CT standards but was he able to maneuver the political Machine–what about Salcedo? Name the last Super who had qualifications that were “outstanding” and could overcome all of the challenges associated with urban elementary and secondary education. Remember, the brightest kid in your class as determined by grades and testing wasn’t always the brightest in all aspects of school. And the first doctors and first lawyers and first other professionals were not licensed–remember blood letting was thought to be beneficial as were the use of leeches. Finally, remember the story of the quartz watch–the Swiss said it wasn’t going to replace mechanized time pieces.

  9. His methods are not sustainable. They never have been. Chicago, Philly and NOLA are being “reformed” again. He thrives where people are desperate. That’s his schtick. You won’t save much on buses in the long run. It will be another clusterfudge and he will be long gone.

    His quote:
    Vallas said he expects to run the district until sometime in the next school, which will require him to negotiate the next collective bargaining agreement. After that?

    “I go in, fix the system, I move on to something.”

    He just needs to line up his next act first. He has to keep moving.

  10. Could someone clarify the policy on certification here in CT? If they do have to replace Vallas and they select someone from out of state, does he/she have to get certified in CT? And what is the process for that, the UCONN course only?

    Also, what’s the end game for the WFP? Try to win enough seats in the next election to gain control? I’ve stated this before, the WFP is so anti-Finch, will they support anyone he and the others support? Part of the reason they do not like Vallas is because he was appointed and Finch likes him. I would like to hear more from them on how they would improve the school system since they do not like any of the current ideas (or at least publicly they do not).

  11. *** Is it possible the Wall St. Journal feels Vallas has not really been given a fair shake to “sink or swim” in his duties as Bpt School Supt. That the combination of the teachers union, BOE politics and outside influences have derailed his educational train towards any real positive change in the city’s educational system? *** DOOMED TO FAIL ***

  12. Bankrupt in Philadelphia: Could This Happen to Your School District?

    The Philadelphia district has been in trouble for 10 years. But such dire financial straits could occur in any U.S. school district as the influence of charter schools mixed with funding cuts for traditional public schools combine for a perfect storm of financial distress.

    “It is no coincidence that the Philadelphia School District is facing a plight similar to that of the Chicago public schools, with mass school closings, teacher layoffs, and budget shortfalls,” she said.

    Perhaps, that’s because Philadelphia’s superintendent, Paul Vallas, was in Chicago prior to Philadelphia. In Chicago, he enacted similar reforms as those in Philadelphia.

    “In Philadelphia, he was known for what is variously called the ‘contracting regime’ and the ‘diverse provider model,’ as he ushered in an era of private companies contracting to run various school services as well as schools,” Conner said.

    The privatization of public education is an increasingly problematic issue for school districts.
    www .takepart.com/article/2013/07/08/philadelphia-school-district-financial-crisis

  13. Why are my taxpayer dollars being used to provide legal counsel to Paul Vallas when, it appears to me, the court decision is an issue specific to him alone and not the BOE or City?


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