This morning was the final keynote of the CUBE summer issues forum, delivered by Paul Vallas, the head of New Orleans’ Recovery School District and former Superintendent of the Chicago and Philadelphia public schools. There are strong feelings about Mr. Vallas — either he is the savior of urban public education or a self-promoting privatizing windbag — and though I haven’t decided whether he is either or both I will say he is an engaging and energetic speaker with many interesting observations; I was glad to have an opportunity to hear him.
His talk centered on the seven essential ingredients of school reform, based on his experiences in Chicago, Philadelphia and now New Orleans. Whether you buy into the necessity of any or all of these ingredients depends on whether you agree that Mr. Vallas brought true and lasting reform to any of these cities. And with respect to New Orleans, well, what can you say? New Orleans, pre-Katrina, was easily the nation’s lowest-performing and most dysfunctional school system. Mr. Vallas is starting with a clean slate (a fact he readily acknowledges), and intense interest, support and financial investment from school reformers all over the country (something he doesn’t as readily acknowledge, at least in today’s talk).