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The Bridgeport model is going national

Ohanian Comment: Vallas is paid $229,000 plus benefits as Bridgeport's Turnaround King. But it's fine and dandy for him to regard this as a parttime job and pursue other money pots.

In 2006 the Manhattan Institute awarded then-Philadelphia schools chief Vallas its Urban Innovator Award, the first educator [sic] so honored. This was for his success in Chicago and for replicating it in Philadelphia.

That's what it says on the Vallas Turnaround System website: Proven and lauded success in Philadelphia, Chicago, Post-Katrina New Orlean.

Take a look at those districts.

Paul Vallas leaves devastation in his wake.

by Hugh Bailey

It would be nice to think the well-being of Bridgeport students is the top priority here. It's becoming apparent there are much bigger stakes.

The city knew what it was getting when it hired Paul Vallas as superintendent. Vallas is a superstar, a nationally renowned school reformer.

The city was also aware that Bridgeport was merely a stop-over. This was not a long-term commitment, not when there are schools that need saving around the country -- around the world, really. Bridgeport would be lucky to reap the benefits it could in the short window of opportunity.

And there's been plenty of opportunity available -- for Vallas, at least. Last month came word that his company, The Vallas Group, has signed a three-year, $1 million contract to help low-performing schools in his home state of Illinois.

Outside deals were part of the package when he signed on. No one can credibly claim he's shirking his local duties.

Then came news of a partnership with Cambium Learning Group, a national company that produces online educational material for schools with serious needs. The deal will allow the Vallas plan to go national. No more hopping around from one district to the next; this is big-picture thinking. There's even a name -- the Vallas Turnaround System, of course.

Vallas has been candid in saying he has no long-term plans in Bridgeport. He is here to implement his changes -- radical changes -- and make sure they're kept in place after he's gone.

He wants to show that a severely challenged school system can be turned around -- not in a decade, but in a year. Bridgeport is the model for his business plan.

He justifies his actions with his long history at other, even-more-troubled districts. But that history is still unfolding, and it's far from the sparkling success story it's made out to be.

It comes down to test scores, but it's never as simple as comparing one year to the next. In each of his previous stops, the overhauls have been dramatic enough that it becomes difficult to make straightforward comparisons. By some accounts, test scores in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans have shown marked improvement. Other interpretations show little or no gain. And this leaves aside the question of whether standardized test scores tell you much of anything about how a student is learning.

What is known is that Chicago public schools have been deemed in need of saving since long before Vallas took over, and are still considered to be in desperate shape. Philadelphia is undergoing massive changes that will close dozens of schools. The New Orleans model is hugely controversial.

Whatever the odds of success in Bridgeport, officials are determined to keep the choice out of voters' hands. It started with the self-overthrow of the school board last summer, which led to the board that hired Vallas. Last week came a provision that will not let a local board hire a new superintendent without state approval. And under a revised city charter expected to pass this year, there won't even be an elected school board.

With so many problems in school systems like Bridgeport, it's tempting to want to try anything. Certainly the Vallas plan means major changes in a system that needs a shake-up. That alone is enough to get many parents and advocates on board. But the evidence that it will have a lasting impact is scant.

And it's not even clear that's the goal. The goal is to set up a turnaround model that can be emulated around the country. And if the students of Bridgeport happen to benefit, well, that will be nice, too.

— Hugh Bailey
Connecticut Post





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