Those pesky public schools! They get reformed, and they don’t stay reformed!
They get saved, and they don’t stay saved! What gives?
Take Chicago: First, Chicago was saved by Paul Vallas in the 1990s; President Clinton congratulated Vallas for raising test scores and all sorts of innovative reforms. Then came Arne Duncan to lead the Chicago school system, and he developed a new plan to save the schools, called Renaissance 2010. Under this plan, 100 or more schools were closed and 100 or more charters and other privately run schools were created. Schools closed, schools opened. By the time 2010 rolled around, Duncan was U.S. Secretary of Education and he took the lessons of Renaissance 2010 and applied them to the nation.
Sadly, even with 2010 having come and gone, Chicago did not stay saved, so Mayor Rahm Emanuel imported a new Superintendent, J.C. Brizard, from Rochester, to save Chicago public schools yet again. Brizard had a pretty awful record in Rochester (proficiency rates on state tests were only in the 25% range and graduation rates fell). But no matter, Mayor Emanuel decided he was the very one to save Chicago this time. So it goes.
The original saviour of the Chicago public schools meanwhile went off to the Philadelphia public schools, where he saved them as he had saved the Chicago schools. Once again the media hailed a turnaround. The state-controlled School Reform Commission got annoyed when Vallas ran up an unexpected deficit, so he exited and went to save New Orleans. In New Orleans, Vallas won national media acclaim because he encouraged privately-run charters to open and basically put the public school system out of business (Hurricane Katrina had cleared the way). Millions on millions of private and public dollars poured into New Orleans to open charter schools. Now about 80% of the Recovery School District are enrolled in charters. No one thought it worthwhile to revive the moribund public schools. Why bother when so many eager reformers were eager to run their own schools. (Please ignore the fact that most of the New Orleans charters were rated D or F by the state and found to be one of the lowest-performing districts in the state–but that was before Governor Bobby Jindal took change of the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education).
Vallas left New Orleans to try to do for Haiti what he had done for New Orleans, but I don’t know where that stands. He also made an appearance in Chile, but students turned out by the thousands to protest any new measures to privatize that nation’ s schools and universities. Apparently they are fed up with the University of Chicago privatization reforms. http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=2439
Now Vallas has been hired to save the public schools in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and he has been given a free hand, as is his way. Jonathan Pelto, a political blogger in Connecticut, has been raising questions about Vallas’ deal with Bridgeport. http://jonathanpelto.com/2012/05/16/vallas-says-no-prob-1m-deal-wont-affect-his-work-in-bridgeport/ and http://jonathanpelto.com/2012/04/22/i-wouldve-sworn-you-used-the-word-transparency-the-art-of-moving-public-funds-off-line/
The most interesting part of Vallas’ deal is that he is not only superintendent of schools but runs a consulting company on the side. The Vallas Group just won a contract for $1 million to advise Illinois on saving its schools. It’s one of those “look, Ma, no hands,” moment, when Vallas says that he can handle both jobs. I don’t know of any other superintendents who run a private business on the side, do you?
But see how things go in circles when it comes to saving schools: Vallas is back to save the Chicago schools that he saved more than a decade ago. Maybe he could pick up a contract to save the Philadelphia schools again, since the School Reform Commission wants to hand a large portion of them over to private management.
Whatever else you might say about school reform, two things are clear:
One, the schools don’t stay saved for long;
And, two, it’s a very rewarding business for those who make a profession of saving them.