Reform

2+2 Doesn’t =5: My commentary on Wendy’s Lecker’s “Our Orwellian education policy”

Recently, Wendy Lecker – lawyer turned columnist and well known denouncer of education reform – wrote an article that attempts to draw parallels between reform policy and the dystopian society featured in George Orwell’s 1984. Obvious scare tactics aside, I have some issues with Lecker’s piece.

In the article she accuses reformers like Superintendent Paul Vallas and Governor Malloy of duping the public with “double-think.”

For those unfamiliar with the term, “double-think” was used to describe someone who holds two contradicting beliefs without awareness of the contradiction.

One of example that Lecker uses is the supposed “reduction” of classroom assistants in Bridgeport under Superintendent Paul Vallas. Lecker says, “It has been reported that Bridgeport’s reformer superintendent Paul Vallas drastically reduced instructional assistants.”

The problem with Lecker’s claim is she never checked her own facts.

I did some research on the matter and discovered that in there has actually been an increase in paraprofessionals employed by the district.

If you look at Bridgeport Board of Education’s adopted budget for the 2010-2011 school year, you’ll notice there were 159 paraprofessionals, bilingual assistants and special education aides in total. Fast forward to the current school budget: the total number goes up to 190. That’s an increase of 31 paraprofessional and aides employed by the district. [Bridgeport Board of Education budget, 2010-2011; 2012-2013; 2013-2014]

 

Years General Ed Paras FTE Sp.Ed Paras FTE Speech and Lang. Paras FTE Library Media Paras FTE Bilingual Assistants FTE Total
2010-2011 23 134 4 0 2 163
2011-2012 13 139 4 0 2 158
2012-2013 19 158 4 8 2 191
2013-2014 20 158 4 8 2 192

 

Lecker might have received her information from a budget item. There has been talk of eventually eliminating non-mandated paraprofessional positions through arbitration and this is noted in the 2013-2014 budget. However, the plan also includes an increase of college interns through collaborative programs with local universities. That means there was never any intention to decrease the number of people in classrooms.

The idea that Vallas and reformers support starving public schools of resources is ridiculous. Instead of looking into the whole story, Lecker relies on un-cited “reports,” and misleading assumptions. It’s ironic that she’s pointing out all these supposed “lies,” when her own information is incorrect.

The hypocrisy doesn’t stop there. The whole point of the article was to point out “double think,” yet some of her own rhetoric is riddled with contradictions.

In the article she complains that reformers discount ideas supported by the educational establishment, then co-opt them. She cites a need for “high-quality pre-K, tutoring, and after-school and summer enrichment,” as ways to close the achievement gap.

Yet, all the programs she argues reformers are initially against are programs that both Governor Malloy and Superintendent Vallas have supported in the past.

For example, Bridgeport has seen an unprecedented expansion of its summer-school programing including a summer intervention reading and math program for elementary students; the “bridge-to-high school” program, which helps students transition from elementary to high school; and the kick-off to kindergarten program to help the transition for students who did not go to pre-k. These are just a few examples. $1.1 million was spent in 2012 on this expansion of Bridgeport’s summer-school program and it was Superintendent Vallas who pushed for it. [Connecticut Post, 2012]

Vallas spearheaded the development of summer and after-school programs in his previous districts as well. Vallas led massive expansions of the after-school and summer school programs in both Philadelphia and Chicago—it’s been noted that in Philadelphia, he tripled the number of clubs offered. In addition, he also supported the expansion of pre-k school programs in both districts. Vallas has himself touted a decrease in the average high school size from 1,700 students to 800 students, with half of those schools having approximately 500 students as an accomplishment in Philadelphia. If you look at his record, clearly he understands the value of small class-sizes, summer and after-school programs, and the availability of preschool. [ Philly.com, 2011; Only in Bridgeport, 2011]

The same goes for Governor Malloy, who has also been a huge supporter of expanding early-childhood education. [ Press release, Governor Malloy’s Office, 2012; New Haven Register, 2012]

What do you think?

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