Paul Vallas's part in the racist attack on public education since Chicago days now under attack in Louisiana... New Orleans charter schools face discrimination charges... Vallas getting criticism for destruction of public schools policies (again)

Four years after Paul Vallas paid undreds of thousands of dollars of New Orleans school money to hire Chicago 'experts' and to import Chicago's charter school operators into the city ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, Paul Vallas is under fire for doing in New Orleans with charter schools what charter schools have done everywhere else: discriminate against the children who face the biggest challenges (English language learners; the very poor; and special needs children). Because of Vallas's sponsorship by corporate America's "school reform" entrepreneurs, the fact that Vallas broke the most powerful African American labor union in Louisiana in the process of bringing corporate school reform to Louisiana is generally ignored in the media coverage.

But hovering in the background of the growing critique of the so-called "charter alternative" is growing evidence of the racism underlying the entire attack on public schools, an attack that got its start in many of its key areas in Chicago, during the years Vallas served as Chief Executive Officer of Chicago's public schools system (1995 - 2001). And beyond that, when history is restated with some accuracy, is the forthcoming critique of the racism that has placed four white guys (Mayor Richard M. Daley, Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan, and Ron Huberman) with no experience in teaching or education in charge of the nation's third largest schools system since the "mayoral control model" was instituted in Chicago in 1995.

A recent article in the New Orleans Times Picayune outlined the growing criticisms of Vallas.

New Orleans parents complain that charter schools are leaving most vulnerable students behind By Cindy Chang, The Times-Picayune, March 29, 2010, 10:55PM

A group of Joseph S. Clark High School graduates expressed concern about the school's possible conversion to a charter.

A crowd openly hostile to Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas used a state board of education meeting to raise concerns about whether charter schools are leaving the most vulnerable children behind.

When Vallas stated at Monday's meeting that charters are doing "a heck of a job" educating public school students, the mostly African-American audience responded with jeers. Many speakers called for the return of neighborhood schools and expressed fears that many charters accept only students with high test scores.

"Charters don't want anything to do with our children. They're sending them away," said Brenda Valteau, who identified herself as a 1961 graduate of George Washington Carver High School. "We're losing our young people to the streets. It sounds like a conspiracy to me."

Most New Orleans public schools were deemed low-performing and in 2005 turned over to the state-run Recovery School District and converted to charters. The Orleans Parish School Board, which once controlled more than 100 schools, retains only 16: 12 of them independently run charters and four traditional public schools.

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's Recovery School District committee usually meets in Baton Rouge, but it held its meeting at McDonogh 35 High School in New Orleans on Monday. More than two dozen parents, teachers and community activists spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, which sometimes took on a raucous air as speakers made provocative statements and the crowd made its approval or disapproval known.

Darryl Kilbert, superintendent of the Orleans Parish School Board, drew cheers when he called for all of the city's public schools to return to local control. Kilbert's reception contrasted with the audience's skepticism toward BESE members from other parts of the state.

"I urge you to hear the voice of the community. I'm saying to you, it's time to bring our schools back home," Orleans Parish School Board member Ira Thomas said, echoing Kilbert's comments.

Vallas said after the meeting that although the RSD still needs to improve its services for special education students, its charter schools have open enrollment policies and do not exclude anyone. The district is improving test scores and building new schools, soliciting plenty of community input in doing so, he said.

"It's basically the same old, same old. It's a group that wants the schools returned to OPSB," Vallas said of Monday night's crowd. "That's it, that's the thrust, that's the theme."

Some speakers at the meeting pleaded to preserve schools with long traditions of educating the city's African-American students. Others called for a new elementary school and high school in the Katrina-devastated Lower 9th Ward.

Jonas Nash led a group of Joseph S. Clark High School graduates concerned about the school's possible conversion to a charter. "How can there continue to be a Joseph S. Clark High School, when it looks like it's being phased out?" Nash asked.

Vallas acknowledged that the school might become a charter because it is not meeting academic performance standards. But he tried to reassure the alumni group that Clark will exist under the same name.

"There is going to be a Clark High School. The question is what kind of high school is it going to be?" Vallas said. "As there will always be a Clark, there will always be a John McDonogh, there will always be a Carver. There will be a new high school in the Lower 9th Ward. There is going to be a high school in the Lower 9th, because we secured federal funding." 


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