We often listen to people on television or radio pontificate about the need for America to close the gap in income disparity. Many argue that it’s unhealthy for the country to have so many left behind: poverty increasing, wages stagnating and net worth flat lining. I agree. It’s politically incorrect to suggest that it’s our urban public schools, rather than the tax code, which are primarily to blame for this disparity. That such a fact is socially disparaged is another indication of how we live in denial. The truth is that many of our urban school systems are responsible for the unwelcome income gap. With high school drop-out rates exceeding 50%, some of the largest systems contribute to the cycle of poverty. To be clear, parents are to blame here too; it’s not just teachers and labor leaders. We need to see more accountability and an acknowledgement that responsibility lies with parents, educators, school administrators, civic leaders and political figures.
Recently, the City of New York began a surprising but welcome public awareness campaign aimed at educating young people about how to stay out of poverty. Ads in subways make the point that a young person can almost guarantee that they will avoid poverty if they do three things: get married before they have children, get a job, and finish high school. If we hope to have a nation where fairness and opportunity are more than political slogans, we must be willing to shout much louder in protest of the abysmal educational outcomes for so many young people. And we need to be willing to confront the entrenched, self interested political forces that keep demonstrably bad systems from being overhauled and improved. We should be embarrassed that so many of our kids are dropping out, turned off, falling behind and fundamentally foregoing their opportunity to have the basic skills to earn a decent income. As The Wall Street Journal editorial below indicates, it’s well past time to go to bat for the reformers who reject the same tired excuses for educational failure. It’s a moral matter. Our kids, and our nation, deserve a lot better.
Connecticut Schools Setback
by Jason L. Riley (The Wall Street Journal, 7/8/13)
Paul Vallas is one of the country’s premier education reformers, with a track record to prove it. So it’s only natural that the teachers unions and their political supporters in Bridgeport, Conn., want to run him out of town.
Mr. Vallas’s opponents claim he’s unfit for the job, which is ridiculous under any objective measure. He’s run school systems in Philadelphia, Chicago and post-Katrina New Orleans. In each case, he’s left things better than he found them. When he took over as superintendent in Philadelphia in 2002, 29% of students were advanced or proficient in reading and 19.5% in math on the state achievement test. When he left in 2007, 38% of students scored at the proficient level in reading, and 41% did so in math. Test scores also rose in Chicago, where he was brought in to fix a system that the city’s own mayor described as failing.
In New Orleans, where Mr. Vallas was superintendent from 2007 to 2011, he instituted a merit-pay system and recruited teachers and principals from Teach for America and other programs known for producing top talent. He also closed failing schools and replaced them with high-quality charters, which grew to 49 from 17 during his tenure.
Not that any of this matters to defenders of the status quo in Bridgeport, where Mr. Vallas was sued over his credentials. A judge ruled last week that Mr. Vallas, who was brought in as superintendent by a state-appointed board last year, lacks an advanced degree in education, which Connecticut requires. Under the law, the requirement can be waived for up to a year if a candidate completes a “leadership program.” Mr. Vallas completed a program that was approved by the state, but the judge ruled that it did not satisfy the requirement. Mr. Vallas and the city of Bridgeport are appealing, and he can remain in the post during the appeals process, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.
The Working Families Party (which controls four seats on the nine-member school board) and the Bridgeport Education Association have been targeting Mr. Vallas since he became superintendent. That effort culminated in the lawsuit challenging his credentials, which was filed by a former judge who wrote in an op-ed earlier this year that she is not a member of the WFP but supports its efforts.
You might wonder if the Vallas critics have considered the track record of his properly credentialed predecessors. After all, he inherited a system in Bridgeport where 10% of tenth graders meet state math and reading standards. Of course, statistics like that only faze you if you care, first and foremost, about whether students are learning. For Mr. Vallas’s opponents, the kids are clearly a secondary concern at best.
“The truth is that Connecticut superintendent certification laws have nothing to do with administrators’ qualifications and everything to do with insulating status quo bureaucracies from outside reform,” wrote Ben Zimmer of the Connecticut Policy Institute in a recent op-ed. “When national leaders in education reform like Vallas have to jump through pointless and time-consuming bureaucratic hoops to obtain leadership roles in Connecticut, they’re likely to simply give up and move elsewhere.”
That would be Bridgeport’s loss.
Reprinted from wsj.com