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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Was Vallas a Case of ‘Do As I Say...Not As I Do?’

By Peter DeWitt — July 30, 2013 4 min read
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Many educators spend numerous days each year making sure that their certification is current. That may not sound like a big job, but over the past few years that process has become a bit more complicated because of increased mandates and accountability. There are teachers who are making sure that they have the necessary hours of professional development (PD) to meet state requirements.

In NY State, there are teachers who have to have 175 hours of professional development over a five year period, and have to prove to their school districts that they engaged in that number of hours. Teachers required to meet this mandate have to provide a list of PD, the number of hours spent, and documentation to prove it. School districts have to have that on record in case they get audited by their state.

As a principal, I have to upload documentation every single time that I attend a professional development session so I can prove that I am qualified...excuse me...highly qualified to lead my staff. My staff could tell you that I flip my communication to them and to parents, I’m in every classroom every day, they could also let you know that we all read voraciously and I send them research-based articles that we discuss at faculty meetings.

In addition, I could tell you that my staff send articles out to one another and engage in peer observations and collegial discussions, but that does not matter as much as proving that they have the necessary certification and number of hours to maintain their “highly qualified” status.

We don’t always feel “highly qualified” because we have state assessments tied to our evaluations and those state assessments cover curriculum we lack knowledge of before we give the tests, and the tests have a legal note at the beginning stating what will happen if any of us cheat. Do highly qualified people have to be told what would happen if they cheat? Their conscience already tells them that.

As I sit here getting prepared to head into three days of training to learn how to be a “Lead evaluator” I am thinking of Paul Vallas in Connecticut. For me, this is not about the character of Mr. Vallas, it is about the simple fact that he lacked certification for the position he had.

Do as I say, not as I do
In a N.Y. Times article, Javier C. Hernández wrote, “Mr. Vallas, who makes $234,000 a year, arrived in Bridgeport less than two years ago with a mandate to rattle the status quo in one of Connecticut’s poorest cities. He was appointed by a state-controlled panel, but a court ruling early in his tenure left him reporting to a locally elected school board, with several of its members calling for his ouster.”

The ousting of Paul Vallas bothered US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan so much that he stated in the same NY Times article that the “opposition to Mr. Vallas was “beyond ludicrous.” He said too many school districts were afraid of innovation, clinging to “archaic ideas.”

To me, what is “beyond ludicrous,” is that those of us with numerous degrees that certified us in the first place have to engage in trainings that will prove we are highly qualified, when someone who was brought in by the same officials who set the rules, didn’t have to play by them. In a Stamford Advocate blog, Wendy Lecker wrote, “Having never been certified to teach or work as an administrator, Vallas lacked the legal credentials to serve as an administrator in Connecticut.”

Many educators who move from one state to another have to go through a variety of state certification procedures because not all certification requirements are reciprocal. Does US Secretary Duncan find that “ludicrous?” Lecker went on to write,

Vallas previously led the school districts in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, leaving each one in crisis. His reigns were characterized by no-bid contracts, destabilization and a failure to raise achievement. Now, Chicago and Philadelphia have closed a record number of schools and the Recovery School District receives a consistent F rating by the state."

Vallas was asked to do no more than any other educator that entered into Connecticut. These educators teach all day and take graduate courses at night. Many of them have families and make sacrifices so they can finish their certification. Lecker wrote

Under the law passed for him, Vallas had to complete an educational leadership program. Countless teachers and administrators complete advanced degree programs while working full-time. Vallas could not be bothered. Instead, he took one three-credit independent study, that he helped design, at the University of Connecticut's Neag School of Education and pretended that it was a leadership program. Neag's dean later testified that this course did not qualify as a leadership program."

In the End
All educators should be qualified to be in the classroom. Many educators have numerous degrees and engage in edcamps and other types of professional development. Over the past couple of years because of new mandates, some of these trainings that we are all required to attend seem to be more about meeting mandates than providing us with ways to stretch our thinking. I truly hope these sessions evolve over time.

The reason why so many educators care about the Vallas decision is that they are happy to see that reformers are forced to play by the same rules. Regarding the decision, Arne Duncan stated “This, to me, is just another painfully obvious, crystal-clear example of people caught in an old paradigm,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview. “This is the tip of the iceberg.” It’s sad to me that Secretary Duncan doesn’t see this as someone being forced to play by the same rules that the Secretary and other state leaders have set through mandates and accountability.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.