This article by three scholars—Pauline Lipman, Camika Royal, and Adrienne Dixson—closes the book on Paul Vallas’ record in education. It was published in Truthout.

Vallas’s solution for struggling schools was a corporate-style, top-down accountability system of high-stakes tests, test-prep teaching and punishment for failure — an experiment on Chicago’s Black and Brown children that set the stage for national education policy under George W. Bush. Schools that failed to meet test score targets were put on a warning list, on probation, or reconstituted by Vallas’s central office.

Counter to research consensus, based on their scores on a single test, tens of thousands of students were sent to summer school, held back a grade for as long as three years, prevented from 8th grade graduation, or assigned to remedial transition high schools where a pared-down curriculum of math, English and world studies revolved around intensive test preparation.

It was typical for schools, particularly in Black communities, to spend up to one quarter of the school year drilling for tests in reading and math. Music and art were cancelled and social studies began in May — after testing. Engaging, culturally relevant classes were turned into test prep. In some schools, Test Best and Test Ready booklets were the curriculum for weeks. CPS Office of Accountability staff told me that when Vallas left in 2001, 59 schools — mostly Black — were using mandated Direct Instruction, in which teachers read scripts and students respond with scripted answers. Not surprisingly, under this regime test scores went up. However, a 1999 National Research Council assessment expert “concluded that Chicago’s regular year and summer school curricula were so closely geared to the [standardized test] that it was impossible to distinguish real subject mastery from mastery of skills and knowledge useful for passing this particular test.”

Turning schools into test prep factories — and punishing and publicly shaming “failing” schools, students, teachers and parents in Black communities — took a toll. Some of the most dedicated and revered teachers left the system. For example, in one Black elementary school Lipman worked with, from 1997-2000, 26 of 37 teachers left, to be replaced by a succession of inexperienced teachers and interns. An award-winning teacher at the school explained that they couldn’t live with the ethical crisis of Vallas’s policies; for both teachers and students “it’s like a hammer just knocking them down.” A 2000 University of Chicago study reported nearly one-third of eighth graders retained in 1997 dropped out by fall 1999. In 2000, Parents United for Responsible Education won a civil rights complaint against CPS under Vallas for adverse discriminatory impact of the retention policy on Black and Latinx students. Expulsions, particularly of Black students, also surged, as documented in a 2001 Chicago Reporter article titled “Alternative education: Segregation or solution?”

When test scores flattened in 2001, Vallas left. But the system he set up of ranking and sorting schools based on an inappropriate use of standardized tests, and disregarding the historical disinvestment and racism schools had suffered, laid the foundation for almost 200 school closings and turn-arounds and the education market that followed. These school closings, 90 percent predominantly Black, devastated Black communities in particular. Vallas’s electoral campaign focuses on fighting crime, but the disruptions from the school closings that were a major factor in the destabilization of Black communities can be traced back to Vallas’s reign at CPS.

Please open the link and read the full article.

If Vallas should win, the students and teachers of Chicago will endure the failed policies of the past two decades.