Reading & Reacting: Did This Little Election Strike a Big Blow to Education Reform?

Photo: Paul Vallas

Paul Vallas – photo by Ned Gerard, from The Connecticut Post

By Molly Ball @ The Atlantic

Bridgeport, Connecticut, is proving to be a significant battleground in the current, national edreform fight that has been beginning to boil. Current superintendent, Paul Vallas, is at the center of a political maelstrom that looks like it is only heating up, and could potentially have broader consequences. Vallas, whose previous superintendent stints in Chicago, Philadelphia, and post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, is a heavy in the corporate edreform movement. Yet he has been under fire almost since his appointment in Bridgeport. Then this article was published in the wake of new local elections.

Last Tuesday, three Vallas-supporting school-board members were trounced in the city’s Democratic primaries. Vallas’s opponents — liberals, labor unions, and angry public-school parents — are calling it no less than a repudiation of his philosophy. And Vallas is likely to lose his job as a result.

After losing a recent court case for making an end-run around Connecticut’s qualifications for holding the superintendent job, he has been hanging by the thread of an appeal. Interesting how leaders that want to impose tough standards and harsh penalties have all kinds of reasons why they should not be subject to them. Granted he has obviously held prior superintendent posts, but if in a new state there are different requirements that must be met, it seems only right that he must satisfy them.  His appeal suggests otherwise. More than that, he has clearly rankled enough people that they were willing to dig deep enough to expose the fault.

It is encouraging that local supporters have made their voices heard and are looking to take further action. Being close to New York and involving Vallas are two factors that have this scene at the center of the edreform battle. Vallas’ start status and history make this situation a magnet for media attention. Still, a defeat looks imminent.

“This was a repudiation of the corporate-reform model, a repudiation of Paul Vallas, and a call for community control of education,” Joe Dinkin, a national spokesman for the Working Families Party, told me. “There are major fights over the future of education going on in a lot of bigger cities than Bridgeport. I hope people in those places will see this and take heart. The [corporate reformers] have gone close to undefeated in expanding their agenda for the last couple of decades. But this shows they can be beaten.”

Ultimately, time will tell how this plays out, but it does not look good for Vallas. As to whether this will be a major blow to the current edreform movement strikes me as a bit of hyperbole, good for headline writing. It is definitely high profile, but it is not as thought this happened to Vallas while he was in one of the higher profile positions. THis could all easily be just the tale of an individual defeated and not a larger agenda.

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