Former NOLA school leader: Georgia did right thing

UPDATE Friday: This blog generated a lot of reader questions, which Paul Vallas answers today in a new blog entry.

Back to original blog:

Paul Vallas served as superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District from 2007-2011. He is now a consultant with DSI Education, headquartered in Chicago.

The Louisiana district is the model for the Opportunity School District proposed by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. Deal’s plan won the approval of the Georgia House today.

Thanks to Mr. Vallas for agreeing to write this piece for the AJC and then turning it around in less than 24 hours after the House moved up the debate and vote by two days.

Paul Vallas

Paul Vallas

By Paul Vallas

Leading a state takeover school district is an exciting challenge. It is literally working to transform a system that, if left to the status quo, would continue to harm children. I can think of few greater services to society.

With today’s passage of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District initiative by the Georgia House, the conversation naturally turns to the state’s role in public education going forward, and why a state takeover district is needed.

As a threshold issue, state education agencies or departments of education have historically been organized around compliance functions. They ensure school districts are meeting federal mandates, such as the provision of special education programs and other spending requirements.

They manage funding streams, aggregate data, set standards and publish performance reports. State education agencies are not school improvement organizations or innovators, nor do they generally have unilateral authority to intervene in schools that are chronically failing their communities.

However, state education agencies are now being tasked with assuming more responsibility for driving education improvement. Creating a state takeover district led by a strong public education administrator is a natural and appropriate vehicle to execute these new responsibilities.

As the superintendent of the Recovery School District of Louisiana in the tumultuous post-Katrina years, I approached the RSD as a model for transformation. We built the RSD’s capacity to support both traditional and charter schools by structuring it as a “school improvement organization.” Our underlying school improvement strategy was based on three premises.

•First, if schools cannot be permitted to fail our children indefinitely, and morally they cannot, then developing a competent intervention process to transform failing schools is paramount.

•Second, we accepted as fact that certain essential practices are present in all high performing schools whether traditional, private or charter schools. When those essential practices are faithfully implemented, high-performing schools begin to emerge, regardless of socio-economic demographics or management model.

•And, third, once best practice education models and model schools are identified, do not reinvent the wheel. Tailor the successful models to the local culture and replicate the proven core educational and operational principles. The RSD strategy works like any strategy, occasionally needing tweaks and adjustments as it strives for constantly improved performance.

Anti-reform naysayers “cherry pick” statistics in stubborn refusal to acknowledge that the RSD has dramatically changed the education landscape in Louisiana, and in New Orleans in particular.

Yet, the RSD is better serving the education needs of underprivileged, minority children there than perhaps at anytime in history. Parents now have unprecedented choices for their children’s education. Any child in New Orleans can apply to any RSD school and the schools must accept all students until all seats are filled.

Of course, it shouldn’t take a natural disaster like the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina to rectify manmade failures.

Gov. Deal recognizes this, in proposing the Opportunity School District as a “last resort” option for Georgia’s school students who are subjected to school boards and administrators who cannot overcome the challenges that result in persistently substandard schools.

Wealthy families vote with their feet, moving their children to private schools. Lower and even many middle-income families do not have this luxury. Thus, the Opportunity School District should be viewed through the lens of halting grave inequities rather than “usurping control.” The state must also do its part to build trust in that mission.

Georgia is now presented with an opportunity to stop the dogged failure of its lowest performing schools, and thanks to the lessons of the RSD, drafters of the final bill can consider proven strategies for transformation. If the architects of the Opportunity School District absorb the real lessons of the RSD strategy, the needle will move.

 

Reader Comments 0

82 comments
MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

If public education ever becomes the focus of those who are mainly seeking profit or monetary gain through the education of children and the work of teachers, we will have prostituted the public educational system for America envisioned by our idealistic and brilliant Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson.  Moreover, in my opinion, that would lead to the prostitution of the highest ideals and ideas of America, itself.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Lee_CPA2 


Some people do not scroll that far back and I thought that what I had said was impacting enough that it needed to be read by all.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

I am against the concept of a state run Recovery School District.  Vallas touts the "impressive" gains by the New Orleans RSD, but as we have seen time and time again, "gains" of this nature (a) usually have an underlying reason  (as some have pointed out below about the New Orleans transfers to other states) and/or (b) the gains are fraudulent (have we forgotten Beverly Hall so soon?).

Secondly, the state already has a method to take over chronically failing and dysfunctional school systems such as when the governor replaced the Dekalb school board.

Here's an idea, instead of creating yet ANOTHER government bureaucratic monstrosity, give me a tax credit for the amount of state expenditure if I enroll my child in an accredited private school.

Starik
Starik

@Lee_CPA2 The Governor replaced the DeKalb School Board, but the people he appointed disappointed.

IvanCohen
IvanCohen

When these school students become adults and are running things such as elective offices, what will they think of the adults who are embracing what is a train wreck? The flexibility options remind me of a person who is being fitted for a suit. Catch is that the person has the suit on  and the tailors (legislators and Governor Deal) are making alterations with the person still in the suit. Their "stick pins" hurt.

Astropig
Astropig

@IvanCohen


Just curious: This has not even been implemented yet. How is it a "train wreck"? The enabling legislation (with the actual nuts and bolts of how it will be implemented) is not finished making its way through the legislature yet,so how can you project failure when it hasn't even been tried as of today? 


I don't know if it will succeed or fail. I only wish I could tell you the future with certainty. IMHO this has about  a one-in-three chance of succeeding. That doesn't sound like very good odds, but the chance of what is happening now succeeding is right around zero. We owe it to these kids to give them a chance at improvement,even if it's not a sure thing.The temper tantrums evident on this page the last couple of days have done no credit to supposed educators that should realize that there is a time for vigorous debate,a time for decision, and a time to roll up your sleeves and implement what is decided. The first two have happened. Now it's time to move on to the implementing part. 

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@To all, Paul Vallas has read your comments and questions and is writing a response. I also got a call from House Ed Chairman Brooks Coleman about why he supported the takeover district and will share his comments, too. Now, I have to finish working on the Monday print education op-ed page.


newsphile
newsphile

Another voice who has a lot to lose if NOLA schools are not perceived successful.  This man has moved on to bigger bucks, all based on his experience in NOLA. 

NikoleA
NikoleA

There's no one piece of data that suggests his Recovery District was any better.  Give public schools the same ability to innovate as charters and then FUND those innovations.

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

@NikoleA Every school district in Georgia has the freedom to request the same identical flexibility waivers that any charter school has. They request waivers all the time for class size, school calendar, and other items. They simply choose not to request others. Important to note is that independent start-up charter schools receive LESS funding for their innovations than local districts receive.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Question:   If the State is allowed to "takeover" regional "failing" local school districts, is it okay for the US government to "takeover" regional "failing" state school districts? 


If one is allowed, the other should also be allowed. 

RealLurker
RealLurker

@LogicalDude They might be able to do so with funding, but by force Constitutionally they can't.  The 10th Amendment specifically states that rights not granted to the Federal Government in the Constitution are reserved for the States.  There is nothing in the Constitution that gives the Federal Government power over education.  The only way that the USDOE makes requirements of States and local districts regarding education are by threats to remove Federal Funding.  I don't believe there is such a provision in the Georgia Constitution with regard to the State and local governments.


So, the State is Constitutionally allowed to takeover local school districts.  The Federal Government is Constitutionally forbidden to take over State or local schools.

newsphile
newsphile

@RealLurker @LogicalDude  GA's constitution doesn't allow it either.  That's why it has to be on the ballot next year.  Of course, our current mindset is that it's wrong for the president to issue executive orders but okay for our governor to do so.  We believe it's unethical for others to accept expensive gifts from lobbyists, but our governor did so recently, splitting hairs to justify doing so.  In other words, our state "leaders" yell about federal  government, hoping we will ignore that they are doing the same thing. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@LogicalDude Question:   If the State is allowed to "takeover" regional "failing" local school districts, is it okay for the US government to "takeover" states that are crookeder than a barrel of fishhooks?


If one is allowed, the other should be also

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @LogicalDude 

" is it okay for the US government to "takeover" states that are crookeder than a barrel of fishhooks?


If one is allowed, the other should be also"

They can start with Illinois, specifically Chicago.


Better be careful there- If Scott Walker were the next president, you may not want the federales taking over schools.

RealLurker
RealLurker

@newsphile  You are right about the Georgia Constitution apparently.  I have not kept up with the actual process well enough.


The executive order comment does not really apply.  The executive powers of the President are limited.  We do not live in a monarchy.  The President is ONLY in charge of the executive branch of the government.  He can issue orders ONLY to the executive branch.  He cannot dictate what the legislative or judicial branches of government do.  He also cannot exceed the powers of the Federal Government spelled out in the Constitution.  Unless there is a US Constitutional Ammendment(Which is extrememly difficult to get), he cannot take away the power of the States to control education.  He could direct the DOE to withhold funding, or the Congress could not approve funding for failing States that did not hand over control.  However the Federal Government is Constitutionally barred from taking away the States powers.(Unless there are other Constitutional concerns such as civil rights)


I am not trying to bash the President or defend the Governor, I am only responding to the original statement that if the State can take power away from localities, then the Federal Government should be able to take power away from the States.  In general, there is no tiered government where a city is responsible to a State which is responsible to the Federal Government.  The founders specifically tried to limit the power of the central government and leave most governing to the States.  You can debate about where powers should lie, State or localities, but the US Constitution left it up to the individual States to decide how their State would be run.

newsphile
newsphile

@RealLurker @newsphile   I was speaking to the hypocrisy of Deal and his cronies complaining when Obama issued executive orders because Deal has also issued  executive orders. 

RealLurker
RealLurker

@newsphile Once again, it does not really apply to the points I was discussing: Can the Federal Government take over local schools.  I am not concerned with discussion points of conservatives vs liberals or liberals vs conservatives.  I was addressing the post by LogicalDude that the Feds should be able to take over State's schools by pointing out that they are forbidden from doing so by the Constitution.


I will let others recite talking points from Olbermann or Hannity.  I have no interest in it. 

Disgruntled Employee
Disgruntled Employee

Doesn't the state already have supervision over McNair High School? How's that turning out?

Disgruntled Employee
Disgruntled Employee

Check out Race, Charter schools and Conscious Capitalism by Kristen Buras from Georgia State http://tagboston.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Buras-K-Race-Charter-Schools-and-Conscious-Capitalism-2011-copy.pdf


Deal is using the same blueprint, one that has its roots with ALEC. An excerpt from Buras:

In November 2005, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco called a special legislative session in Baton Rouge. One LFT representative recalled, “We were hearing rumors that of all the things we could concentrate on [after] the greatest national disaster to hit a state or city—we’re going to concentrate on school reform.” After hearing about a potential state takeover of New Orleans schools, the LFT approached Blanco, who reportedly assured the organization that “everything was going to be fine.” That legislative session became the occasion for passing Act 35, which redefined what constituted a “failing” school so that most of the New Orleans public schools could be deemed failing and placed in a state-run Recovery School District. Act 35 enabled 107 of the 128 schools to be folded into the RSD, whereas only thirteen schools could have been assumed before the legislation was passed (UTNO et al., 2006). On the floor of the state legislature where the bill was circulating, an LFT representative asked why all of a sudden the denotation of failure had shifted upward, with test score cutoffs now just below the state average (that is, shifting from 60 to just below 87.4), and what exactly a “failing school” was. A white suburban senator reportedly responded, “A failing school is whatever we say it is.” The LFT representative reflected on the meaning of the senator’s statement: The definitions are as we define them and the process is not driven by any kind of real data. It’s driven by the powers, and the powers now had a very clear charge. And the charge was these schools are going to be taken over and they’re going to be reformed, and they’re going to be sold out, they’re going to be chartered

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Disgruntled Employee


I am going to make a dramatic statement here, but I think that it is needed to get some citizens to wake up to what may happen to public education.  Moreover, although my statement may be dramatic, more importantly, I believe it is true.


If public education ever becomes the focus of those who are mainly seeking profit or monetary gain through the education of children and the work of teachers, we will have prostituted the public educational system envisioned by our idealistic and brilliant Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

It's a very interesting blog post, but as some of the commenters have said, why wasn't this post solicited months ago when the debate began? Doesn't it seem a bit too late?   You get your best practices blog post AFTER the bill has passed both houses??


Look - I'm not saying I do not support state takeover of schools.   However, it would have been beneficial to talk specifically about the research that led to the creation of the RSD, the specific "essential elements" common to all successful schools, and data that indicates why the RSD has been successful.   A lot of fluff and reads more like a political position than an intellectually sound piece.  I doubt that moving the deadline up a few days prevented Mr. Vallas from authoring something containing supporting empirical data.


Vallas makes salient points, but without supporting evidence, it's just a lot of hot air that reflects the posts of many of the anti-reform crowd as well.

teacherandmom
teacherandmom

Maureen, Any chance you can get a comment from Mr. Vallas regarding claims the Opportunity School District denied services to students with disabilities.  See links:


http://www.splcenter.org/access-denied/special-education-in-new-orleans-public-schools


http://hepg.org/hel-home/issues/29_1/helarticle/making-charter-schools-more-inclusive_556


Granted...NOLA did not have a stellar track record serving students with disabilities before Katrinia.  It seems the charters were not prepared to serve SWDs as well.





Wascatlady
Wascatlady

And what does DSI Education DO?


It takes school money and advises on how to improve student learning. Anyone want to bet their house on what DSI finds the best use of money?  To provide it to private charter school companies?  Perhaps someone would look into this?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig @Wascatlady You are right.  It is PUBLIC MONEY  raised to provide instruction.  NOT public money raised to be given to private corporations.


I have no problem with locally led charter schools--led by parents and community members who have a huge vested interest in their children.  They are not likely to skimp.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady 

Mr. Vallas has had plenty of critics in his years. I'm sure he has developed a tough hide. Most of the critics have been union people- 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/education/change-agent-in-education-collects-critics-in-connecticut-town.html?ref=topics

I really appreciate his point of view.


(BTW- There is no such thing as "school money". There is public money,raised through taxation.That money has to be accounted for to every voter-not just the people in the school system)

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

@Wascatlady @Astropig Let's not forget that district public school boards enter into contracts with private corporations ALL THE TIME. I'm not aware of any companies that give textbooks, computers, and food services away for free. Districts also "give public money" to private corporations to manage their alternative school programs, with negligible results to show in many cases. They are bound to pay the companies regardless of whether they actually graduate students.

Astropig
Astropig

@DrMonicaHenson @Wascatlady @Astropig 

Dr. Henson-

I think that it should be obvious to just about anyone that this debate is not really about data or experiences or any other metric of school improvement. We left that behind pretty early in the game.This is a political battle,with ideological lines having hardened to the point that it can only be settled by one side or the other pushing through to victory.Compromise is not possible.Sad that it has evolved this way,but the barnacle-encrusted ship that is old fashioned education will not accept any attempt at reform that they themselves don't control. In states where the political left holds the levers of power,they can hold on to their control of policy and thwart reforms.In states like Georgia,they have only one avenue to stave off the actions that are being implemented-the kind of bitter,divisive,over-the-top rhetoric that we see here every day. This further alienates undecided parent/voter/taxpayers that would like both sides to work in collaboration to improve schools.Those people have to make a decision at some point and push the button for one candidate or another and right now,they are pushing it for reform candidates.

HarryCrews
HarryCrews

@DrMonicaHenson @Wascatlady @Astropig 

Perhaps not, but this legislature will give away public infrastructure, textbooks, computers and food services (all paid for with tax dollars) for free to private corporations FOREVER.

popacorn
popacorn

Ask Houston about the massive numbers of NO scholars dumped in the city after Katrina. The rise in New Orleans' collective IQ is matched only by the decline in Houston's.  

yet_another_display_name
yet_another_display_name

Why is everyone falling for the lie that NOLA is at all comparable to this special district? 


NOLA primarily represents schools in one district, where they can, and have, closed charter schools that are failing to meet standards. "Charter" is not a magic bullet, when it works, it works because failing charters can be closed, while good charters can be expanded, it's called natural selection, and it works.

Gov. Deal's district would have many scattered schools, with no viable way to close the failing schools, as there are no place for the kids to go in most of the rural districts where these schools are scattered. There is no reason to believe it will work.  

newsphile
newsphile

@Astropig @Wascatlady @yet_another_display_name  Sadly, some of yesterday's votes were bought and paid for with our tax dollars.  Consider the $19 million pledged to Albany State in exchange for that one vote. GA politics are so crooked that one can't say the majority is in favor of anything.  It's even sadder that some posters defend such actions.

yet_another_display_name
yet_another_display_name

@Astropig @Wascatlady @yet_another_display_name

But we do have a great deal to lose, as it means energy that could be used to actually innovate is spent on yet another costly bureaucracy.


For instance, given the cost of this bloated bureaucracy , what if they had instead created grants and support  to help local parents (no for-profit or  national groups) open charter schools in areas that had failing traditional schools?


By pushing this legislation, we are denying ourselves the ability to come up with solutions that might actually help the problem! 

Astropig
Astropig

@newsphile @Astropig @Wascatlady @yet_another_display_name 


I'm sorry that you're sad,but I couldn't be any happier that Governor Deal did what was needed to secure passage. Democrats have done such things in the past,they're doing it today and they'll do it in the future. It's just the way politics works. Elections have consequences (to coin a phrase) and it's kind of nice to see that Republicans are catching on to how to play the game. I'm 100% certain that at some future date, a Democrat governor will "buy votes" in the legislature to implement his/her priorities. And I'm sure I'll grumble. And I'm sure you'll justify it. And so on. 


As a political technician, I admire the way this was done-greatly.Governor Deal had the votes sometime Monday or Tuesday and knew that he had to move quickly before opposition could mobilize. He no doubt saw how Senator Ligon was targeted in the media for his stand on APUSH and didn't want any of that.He pulled the right wires and totally outfoxed the people that would try to kill his centerpiece legislation before they even knew what happened. Sharp readers could see hints at his shrewd mobilizations in this space. It was a textbook surgical strike and I tip my cap to him and his staff.

Astropig
Astropig

@newsphile @Astropig @Wascatlady @yet_another_display_name


Serious questions: How do you see going through the legislature, getting members in both parties to vote for it and then risking rejection by the voters for this initiative unethical? Does it not seem that Governor Deal was risking an enormous amount of political capital to get this approved? All of these takeovers will most likely happen after he's gone,so how do you see him benefitting from this?

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @yet_another_display_name 

 I think that we arrived at the point where an overwhelming majority of the legislature and the administration felt like there was nothing to lose by going to an OSD.The winning vote in the senate was provided by a former middle school principal and a dozen Democrats joined Republicans in approving the act yesterday. The status quo had its chance and now we'll take a fresh approach. If yours is not a chronically failing school, you can only oppose this for political reasons. If you are worried about "government getting too big",then you can always join the Tea Party.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

So, let's look down the road.  What if, at a  later point, the schools in Gwinnett or North Fulton, Decatur, or East Cobb are judged "failing" because, with all their advantages, they don't move students along to even higher achievement?  How would the people there feel about their tax money being  taken, to support "improvement" beyond their current achievement?


I believe it is called a slippery slope, and Georgia started on it when Deal replaced duly elected school board members in Dekalb.

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

This whole issue troubles me and I'm not sure why.  Could it be because after Katrina, large numbers of NOLA residents moved to Georgia and didn't move back?  I remember my classes receiving about 5 students (among about 75 total in the school), who were behind on skills, displaced from their homes and living with relatives with little but the clothes on their backs.  To be gracious, I'm going to say their circumstances were an underlying cause of the behavior problems exhibited.  Their refusal to do their class work, their non-cooperation in the classroom, and difficulty getting along with others created an inhospitable learning environment for all students.  It was as if behavior took up a majority of my time after Katrina where it didn't before that terrible storm.  It seemed that no amount of compassion and understanding would change their behaviors.  Many of the parents who left after Katrina did not return. 


How much of the improvement in NOLA's school performance can be traced back to the loss of many perhaps disruptive and underperforming students?  How much can be traced to the implementation of the OSD?  I don't think we'll ever know - really.  Where are we going to send our underperforming and disruptive students once we "takeover" failing schools?

heyteacher
heyteacher

@Looking4truth I asked that same question in my comment below -- are there stats on the number of students who did not return to NO post Katrina? 

Mr_B
Mr_B

@Looking4truth What most teachers, who tend to have middle-class backgrounds, see as 'disruptive behavior", kids in poverty see as survival skills.

bu2
bu2

@Looking4truth 

They've looked at schools with comparable demographics and seen improvement.


Now some of the NOLA improvement is because the demographics are different.  Everyone acknowledges that.  The NOLA schools are not as poor as they were before.

newsphile
newsphile

@Mr_B @Looking4truth  There are parents living in poverty who teach their children how to behave, how to be respectful, that stealing is not acceptable, and teach them right from wrong.  It's the other parents who create the problems.  Our society must stop believing it's okay for people to commit crimes and bully classmates.   We cannot allow bad behaviors to disrupt classrooms and communities. 

Whether one is poor, middle class, or rich, white, brown, or black, we must stop justifying bad behaviors.  When we enable bad behaviors to escalate, a life of crime is usually the result and often that leads to a violent death.

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

@bu2 @Looking4truth  Which raises or clarifies my question - if the demographics are different, did the school really improve?  What will happen when a school goes into the OSD and the demographics do not change?  What then?