MEDIA WATCH: Poor Paul Vallas is always being picked on by opponents of 'true reform' and heroic 'change agents'... New York Times continues corporate 'reform' propaganda with hagiographic tale about the travails of poor Paul Vallas in Connecticut

To hear The New York Times tell the story, Poor Paul Vallas has proved himself a true leader of school reform -- a "change agent" of the highest order -- and his critics, the most recent of whom are in Connecticut, are lilluputians sniping at a modern Gulliver. The latest piece of New York Times propaganda for Vallas and corporate "school reform" -- and the "great man" theory of school governance -- came on line in the Times's July 21, 2013 edition, and was in print by the July 22 print edition (where it appeared on the front page!).

The photograph used by The New York Times to illustrate its front page story about Paul Vallas's travails on July 22, 2013.By the end of the day on July 22, hundreds had criticized the tone, approach, and fundamental dishonest of the Times piece, from the headline ("change agent") to the use of facts to allow Vallas to slander his critics while giving him the last word. Arne Duncan was quoted praising Vallas. Vallas was quoted showing disrespect for bloggers, including historian Diane Ravitch, whose blog has been central to reporting on the Vallas situation in Connecticut.

But the story is also one about how American journalism is working as the 21st Century continues. The New York Times, "America's Newspaper of Record," has been promiting corporate "reform" for decades, and most recently since the Times places Chicago's Arne Duncan on its front page in a staged photograph the day Barack Obama announced Duncan was his choice to become the nation's top educator.

One of the worst things about contemporary “journalism” is that the paradigm is “he said, but she said…” -- not reporting, not checking out facts behind words, and never making accuracy more important than telling two-sided story. Every story is supposed to have a mindless kind of "two sides," with questions of accuracy irrelevant to the telling of the story. The July 22 New York Times Vallas story shows this problem in detail. The Times makes no effort to describe the legal issues, instead, quoting Vallas (and his supporters, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan) and Vallas's critics (while belittling them).

Because of this style of "news" reporting, a reporter for The New York Times can write about Vallas (and quote Arne Duncan) as if this were a debate between the old fashioned “defenders of the status quo” (anyone who criticizes Paul Vallas and Arne Dunca, or corporate school reform) and those innovative entrepreneurial pioneering heroes and heroines (like Vallas, Duncan, and, probably, Michelle Rhee and a host of others).

Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan (who was originally hired out of nowhere by Vallas and then anointed to Vallas’s job after Mayor Daley fired Vallas) and Michelle Rhee can play this “he said, but she said” game very well, so the story always ignores the facts (or downplays them) while focusing on the melodrama of the event, almost as if it were a spectacle.

From the beginning of his time in Chicago (which I covered along with other Substance staff until Vallas left town in late 2002), Vallas was defrauding the people. His abuse of standardized testing became legendary by the third year he was in office. Using what amounted to a "bait and switch" accounting game with tests, he began his career in 1995 by telling teachers that he was not going to utilize the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) or its high school version (the TAP) as the "accountability" measure for Chicago schools, focusing, he said, on the state test, then the IGAP. As a result, teachers and principals didn't emphasize the ITBS and TAP and focused on the IGAP.

As soon as the test results were in (and the ITBS scores were the lowest in years because they were not a focus of the schools), Vallas announced that the ITBS and TAP scores were the "accountability" tests. This gave him the lowest possible base line from which he would be able to measure his "progress." Sure enough, scores went "up" for a few years, even as the ITBS and TAP people warned that those tests were not to be utilized for "accountability." (They stopped complaining about how the tests were being misused after the lucrative nature of the Chicago contracts were clear).

Once standardized tests were in place for "accountability", the racism and racist results were inevitable. As long as the professors who had developed the ITBS and TAP were silent about their misuse by Vallas, what happened next was inevitable. As scholars and psychometricians had said for years, standardized tests such as the ITBS and TAP reflect socio-economic status of the children in the schools -- not the effectiveness of teaching or school administration. And in Chicago, where the majority of black children were concentrated in massively segregated all-black schools, the poverty was as intense as the segregation.

Enter: "Probation."

By his second year in office, Paul Vallas announced a massive list of more than 200 schools places on "academic probation" because of "low" achievement (as measured exclusive by low test scores). Critics joked that Vallas didn't need to have administered the expensive ITBS and TAP tests to know which schools were on probation: The correlation between poverty and scores would yield the same result.

The "paradigm" for corporate school reform was established, and the racist results of the "Vallas method" were inevitable.

The history of Vallas’s racism runs like a white hooded line through Chicago to Philadelphia to New Orleans and now into Bridgeport. Vallas’s victims beginning with the 1996 “reconstitution” of a couple of high schools were virtually all black. As Grady Jordan reported for us in Substance (now available again at that Paul Vallas attacked and removed a large number of black principals while he was in power here. When Vallas reconstituted black schools, it was black teachers, other workers and principals who were fired — in Chicago and elsewhere.

Those are facts, for any reporter who wants to go back and actually check the facts rather than settling for inane sound bites from Arne Duncan and Paul Vallas.

By the time the Philadelphia controller investigated the financial corruption under Vallas there, Vallas’s privatization (especially giving all those real public schools to Edison Schools) was in collapse and the financial corruption the facts were really in your face. Our favorite was Cozette Buckney getting lots of dollars (and some other perks) going to Philadelphia part-time for Vallas. (She was also one of those black cronies who was always ready to “counter” the facts when people pointed out that Vallas’s policies were racist). Vallas’s departure from Philadelphia was never summarized with the detail we provided about his career in Chicago (see the stories we just reprinted at from “The Paul Vallas Hoax” which we originally published in March 2002), but apparently unless those facts are published they don’t exist.

Then there was New Orleans. Vallas came in after the United Teachers of New Orleans had been busted. That was a significant historical event, since UTNO was the most powerful black (largely black) union in Louisiana. Vallas’s racist deployment of resources away from the real public schools and the government’s support of the charter schools expansion there is a matter of record. But the objections, which grew months after month, to Vallas’s dictatorial nonsense from black people has largely been undocumented.

It 2013 in Bridgeport, the world was back to Paul Vallas getting help from The New York Times to present himself as victim. The facts of the “Vallas record” and the “Vallas method” have been clear for years — if anyone actually paid attention to what happened, rather than what Vallas (and Duncan) said about what happened. Instead, the Times reporter gets the front page to present a lurid morality play, in which Vallas -- with the support of careflly crafted quotes, including one from the U.S, Secretary of Education -- is cast as a hero being brought down by miscreants.

Part of the sound bites Vallas launches in the Times story is his one liner about blogs being the "graffiti" of the media. One of the reasons many people enjoy writing to a blog run like Diane Ravitch's is that the blog is run by a historian. That means that eventually the facts of history have a chance, even if the Vallas distortions, lies, half truths, and slanders are front page "news" for a time in America's "newspaper of record." The Times has a history that is less than noble, especially when confronting the racist myths of U.S. history. It make take some time from “Birth of a Nation” through “Gone with the Wind” to break out of the racist propaganda and break through the rants of the racist propagandists, but it does happen, as we know today.

The Paul Vallas hoax has been profitably (for Vallas and his cronies, currently at large as “The Paul Vallas Group”) around now for a total of 18 years. The year 1995 was when it began in Chicago with mayor control in 1995 (when Mayor Daley appointed Vallas the first CEO of Chicago Public Schools). One of the underlying lies about it is that school districts where the majority of children are poor (and black and/or other minorities) need a Great White Hope (the CEO myth) to save them.

At this point in history, Chicago critics and the Chicago Teachers Union could fill a medium sized public school stadium with the black teachers and other school workers who have had their careers destroyed by the “Paul Vallas method.” And since the "Paul Vallas Method" and the corporate "Paul Vallas Group" have recently gotten contracts from Illinois (one million dollars) and Indiana ($18 million dollars!) for "turnaround," the problem is growing.

If the facts of history mattered, part of it would begin with the Chicago teachers (including this reporter), principals and administrators who wouldn’t bend to Vallas nonsense in the 1990s and were forced out, often with Vallas and his publicists slandering them through carefully groomed media hacks (like Ray Coffey of the Chicago Sun-Times, who became one of Vallas's personal publicists, much as J. Edgar Hoover had reporters to carry his libels against Martin Luther King Jr. as "news").

But the gathering of Vallas's casualties would not end in Chicago. It would include the union teachers (most of them black) from Philadelphia and New Orleans who were “reformed” out of their jobs through “reconstitution” and various other scams — all of which have failed, as Substance and a few others have already reported over more than a decade.

Not all of those fired or driven out of teaching by Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan, and their corporate ilk have been black (I’m white and was fired by the Chicago Board of Education — and subsequently blacklisted from teaching — on Vallas’ motion in August 1980). But the majority of those who have been destroyed by the “Paul Vallas method” have been minorities. And the victims beyond them have been minority children. A careful study of the schools that Vallas subjected to "reconstitution" in 1976 - 77 will show that the slanders against the teachers (and at times the principals) of those schools didn't do anything more than poison the public debate over the validity of the "reconstitution" itself. But long before The New York Times was repeating Vallas's fictionalizations as fact and proclaiming him a proven "change agent" the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune were generally promoting the Vallas myths out of Chicago.

Accuracy will eventually tell a far different story about Paul Vallas than the one that appeared on the front page of the July 22, 2013 New York Times (and about Arne Duncan at several points since he became Secretary of Education in January 2009). Paul Vallas was con man and a fraud in Chicago in the late 1990s; in Phiadelphia on the early 2000s; and in New Orleans later. All a reporter has to do is dig a little into the facts, as we did in Chicago, as the Philadelphia controller (and Notes) did in Philadelphia did in 2005, etc.

But as long as today’s “journalistic” paradigm is to play these silly “He said, but she said…” games with reality -- and history -- many will continue to get guys like Vallas talking trash and getting away with their ripoffs and schemes like the "turnaround" contracts Vallas has gotten from Indiana and Illinois the past year, We will continue to face nonsense like the July 22, 2013 New York Times story about Vallas, and many will continue to pay a high price, just as America did during the era of former segregationists and racists. The Times certainly has the resources to investigate the wreckage Vallas has left behind him in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. The Times might also note that Vallas (through the “Vallas group”) has just gotten a million dollars from Illinois (which is supposedly broke) and $18 million from Indiana to do “turnaround,” which is "reconstitution" by another name -- a program which has been failing at everything except slandering teachers since the 1990s when Vallas first utilized it in Chicago.


Change Agent in Education Collects Critics in Connecticut Town, By JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ. Published: July 21, 2013 (online), July 22, 2013 Front Page of the national edition.

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Paul G. Vallas, a leader in the effort to shake up American education, has wrestled with unions in Chicago, taken on hurricane-ravaged schools in New Orleans and confronted a crumbling educational system in Haiti.

Now he faces what may be his most vexing challenge yet: Fending off a small but spirited crowd of advocates working to unseat him as superintendent of one of Connecticut’s lowest-performing and highest-poverty school districts.

Bridgeport, a relatively small urban school district with just 21,000 students, is at the center of one of the most contentious educational disputes in the country as Mr. Vallas seeks to salvage his hard-charging agenda amid complaints that he is unqualified for the job.

Parents are upset over his plans to increase the use of student testing. Union officials have denounced his insistence that administrators frequently visit classrooms to evaluate teachers, as well as his history of enthusiastic support for charter schools. And community activists argue that he consistently shuts out dissenting voices.

“We thought we had a good guy,” said Tammy Boyle, a parent leader and mother of two children. “But at each and every turn, he has ignored the wishes and the voices of the people of Bridgeport.”

But Mr. Vallas has his admirers. Leon Woods, 51, an unemployed carpenter, credited a program for struggling students started by Mr. Vallas with helping put his son on track to graduation. “I’ve seen the difference,” Mr. Woods said. “I’ve seen the change.”

Mr. Vallas, who has moved to impose a standardized curriculum and to reorganize central offices in Bridgeport, said he was dismayed by the vitriol. On blogs, which he calls “electronic graffiti,” his critics have called him a racist and compared him to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The school district’s student population is 49 percent Hispanic and 39 percent black.

“There are some gigantic egos in this town,” Mr. Vallas said in an interview. “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Mr. Vallas, who makes $234,000 a year, arrived in Bridgeport less than two years ago with a mandate to rattle the status quo in one of Connecticut’s poorest cities. He was appointed by a state-controlled panel, but a court ruling early in his tenure left him reporting to a locally elected school board, with several of its members calling for his ouster.

Now Mr. Vallas, a veteran of big-city education battles, faces the once-unimaginable prospect that he will be driven out of town by summer’s end. A retired judge filed a lawsuit arguing that his lack of an education degree makes him unfit for the office, despite his years of experience running other school districts. Last month, a superior court judge agreed, and now Mr. Vallas has appealed the case to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

The battle in Bridgeport highlights the divisiveness of change in American education. Critics of the existing system are pushing centralized control, weaker teacher tenure protections and expanded charter schools, and some have made installing superintendents with backgrounds outside of education a priority, causing rifts in many districts.

Arne Duncan, the federal education secretary, said the opposition to Mr. Vallas was “beyond ludicrous.” He said too many school districts were afraid of innovation, clinging to “archaic ideas.”

“This, to me, is just another painfully obvious, crystal-clear example of people caught in an old paradigm,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview. “This is the tip of the iceberg.”

Mr. Vallas was hired in late 2011 to much fanfare: a nationally known advocate of change in education, with stints in Philadelphia, Chicago and New Orleans on his résumé, coming to the aid of a modest school district mired in budget cuts.

But almost immediately, his support began to erode. The state of Connecticut had been overseeing the Bridgeport district, responding to a dire fiscal situation, but two months into Mr. Vallas’s tenure, the Connecticut Supreme Court ordered the return of an elected school board.

Parents and community advocates who had long opposed the state’s intervention rejoiced. And the Working Families Party, a liberal coalition based in New York City with outposts in Connecticut, made removing Mr. Vallas its mission.

A memo circulated recently by the Working Families Party criticized Mr. Vallas’s hiring of outside consultants, suggesting he was working to privatize the system. “He abuses local school districts to create profits for his business allies, and implements extreme policies that exacerbate racial and economic inequality in the schools,” the memo stated. Mr. Vallas’s opponents said they worried he would move, as he had in other cities, to demand concessions from teachers in contract negotiations, and to expand charter schools, which the opponents believe would drain money from other public schools.

Mr. Vallas had a vulnerability: despite his decades of experience in schools and a master’s degree in political science, he lacked a degree in education, as required by Connecticut law. The state allowed for an exemption, but Mr. Vallas was required to complete a condensed version of the traditional 13-month certification program over the course of several months. “I didn’t view it cynically and I didn’t complain,” Mr. Vallas said.

But in public, he seemed skeptical of the requirement, at one point arguing, “That is like saying Michael Jordan can’t coach basketball because he doesn’t have teacher certification.” His detractors were outraged by the remark, saying it illustrated his arrogant approach to leadership.

Mr. Vallas completed the course, which involved speaking with a professor a few times and writing six papers. But Carmen L. Lopez, a retired judge and education activist, filed a challenge in April contending that Mr. Vallas’s course work was a sham.

“Bridgeport was viewed as so second-class that it could have an unqualified school superintendent,” Ms. Lopez said in an interview. “They don’t do this in the suburbs.”

The legal case has reignited tensions in Bridgeport. Three Working Families Party members have joined a Democrat on the school board in calling for the city to stop paying Mr. Vallas’s legal fees; a five-member majority, led by the board’s chairman, Kenneth H. Moales Jr., has resisted those demands. “I don’t participate in coups,” said Mr. Moales, a defender of Mr. Vallas.

Last week, parents gathered before a school board meeting to hang posters denouncing Mr. Vallas; as the meeting got under way, board members shouted at and interrupted one another.

“Are you finished with your circus?” Mr. Moales asked a critic of the superintendent, shortly before abruptly adjourning the session.

Mr. Vallas, 60, is a onetime politician who came within two percentage points of defeating Rod R. Blagojevich in a primary for the Illinois governor’s office in 2001. He said he did not know what he would do after Bridgeport, though he ruled out a return to politics. He runs an educational consulting business on the side. His clients have included schools in Illinois and Indiana.

But Mr. Vallas said he was determined to serve as superintendent in Bridgeport for at least one more year, so that he could help the district find a leader who would maintain the changes he has set in motion.

“If I left tomorrow, it’s going to be hard to break those things,” he said, seeming hopeful. But he added, “I never underestimate the capacity of a hostile board to destroy a good thing.”

[Editor's Note: Later in the day on July 22, as if the prove our point about accuracy, the Times ran the following "correction" on its website. This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: July 23, 2013. An article on Monday about efforts by a small number of advocates to unseat Paul G. Vallas, the school superintendent of Bridgeport, Conn., misstated the year that he lost the Illinois Democratic primary for governor to Rod R. Blagojevich. It was 2002, not 2001].


July 24, 2013 at 9:00 AM

By: Ken Derstine

Vallas a current -- not 'former' -- segregationist!

I disagree with your characterization of "former segregationists". Vallas and the corporate reform crowd are every bit as segregationist as "former segregationists". When you have a charter school system being created alongside a public school system which is systematically starved of funding and resources, you are returning to "separate and unequal" this time based on family income.

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