The Vallas Effect
Here's an EducationNext article about Paul Vallas:
Little things. Big things. Of the cadre of non-educators—business leaders, military men, government officials, lawyers—who have been called on to transform large urban school districts in recent years, Paul Vallas has been at it the longest and, in the minds of many, is the one with the best track record. Since 1995, he has tackled the third- and eighth-largest districts in America—Chicago and Philadelphia. Both of them are old-politics big cities with school systems long steeped in racial tensions and marked by tough unions, deteriorating buildings, and white and middle-class flight. Intensifying poverty and racial isolation accompany escalating demands for better student outcomes.
Vallas lasted longer in both Chicago and Philadelphia than most urban school leaders, six years in Chicago and then five in Philadelphia, but he wore out his welcome in both places. He left the Philadelphia district in many ways transformed, most agree for the better, but still with a sour taste and a big deficit. While he won converts among longtime district staff for his energy and commitment, he alienated the people who hired him; things had become so bitter that he didn't show up for his own sendoff. A similar thing happened in Chicago, where Mayor Richard Daley, who had installed him to clean up what had been described as the worst school district in America, eased him out after he had done just that.
The saga of Paul Vallas, to hear him tell it, is one of too much success.
"What happens with turnaround superintendents," he said, "is that the first two years you're a demolitions expert. By the third year, if you get improvements, do school construction, and test scores go up, people start to think this isn't so hard. By year four, people start to think you're getting way too much credit. By year five, you're chopped liver."
The Vallas Effect
Spring 2008 / Vol. 8, No. 2