Three days ago, Washington Post writer Valeria Strauss featured an article on her blog written by fellow education blogger and former high school teacher/superintendent/professor of education, Larry Cuban. Cuban’s article, entitled The problem with the Paul Vallas brand of school reform, argues that reformers like Paul Vallas push reform policy too quickly and then leave before the work is truly over. Cuban believes that Reformers’ goals are short-sighted with little time to analyze the impact of the changes made.
In Cuban’s words, quick reformers “get spent from there [sic] exertions or create too much turmoil, and soon exit leaving the debris of their reforms.”
Compelling, but flawed.
Cuban never accounts for the average tenure of a superintendent, which in urban districts is generally a short 3-4 years at best.
According to the American Association of School Administrators, the median retention of a Superintendent nation-wide is about five to six years, and according to the Council for Greater City Schools’ most recent findings, that number goes down to an average of 3.64 years in urban school districts.
Vallas served in Chicago for six years, in Philadelphia for five, and in New Orleans for four. According to those figures, and considering he’s worked exclusively in urban districts, he has actually exceeded the average tenure in each district he’s worked in.
Additionally, Cuban places sole blame on superintendents for leaving school districts. After four years in Seattle, Marie Goodloe-Johnson was pushed out by community groups and unions despite improved school performance. The same was the case for Vallas, who was pushed out of Chicago due to political pressure by both city hall and new union leadership.
Central to Cuban’s argument is this idea that reformers look exclusively to “reluctant (or inept) district bureaucrats, recalcitrant principals, and knuckle-dragging union leaders defending contracts that protect lousy teachers from pay-for-performance incentives” as the reasons for low test scores and achievement gaps in inner-city schools.
While closing budget gaps, standardizing testing, and pushing for greater accountability are all corner stones of Vallas’ vision for school reform, Cuban’s criticism implies those are the only areas of reform that have been undertaken.
In Chicago, Vallas inspired a vision screening program and here in Bridgeport he started the “cradle to the classroom” program. Both programs take a more holistic approach to education reform.
In sum, Cuban’s argument that reformers like Vallas move too quickly and focus on quantifiable problems leave districts in chaos doesn’t stand up to the facts in Vallas’ case: He’s stayed at schools longer than the national average and he’s instituted programs that are more holistic and don’t just focus on the bogeymen Cuban points to.