George Schmidt was a high school teacher in Chicago who was fired by Paul Vallas for releasing the contents of a standardized test that he was required to administer to his students. Here he responds to a post called "In Defense of Paul Vallas," written by Diane Fager, who was on Vallas' staff in Chicago.
By the middle of the 20th Century, reporters were trained to check for accuracy, not to simplify reality into "two sides to every story" stuff.
"If your mother says she loves you, check it out!" was a motto of reporting that came out of Chicago.
It's a compliment to Diane Ravitch's blog that Paul Vallas dispatches one of his former minions to blow smoke into the eyes of people taking a closer look at the actual Vallas record.
Diane Fager's versions of the wonders of the Paul Vallas record typifies the way in which Vallas has always tried to manipulate the media. He does it by working directly himself or through surrogates, often former subordinates like Fager. When I read the original anonymous testimonial, I thought it came from Cozette Buckney; Phil Hansen is no longer available to sing Vallas's praises because he's dead... The Vallas fan club has been around (and usually well compensated) for a long long time.
One of the wonderful things about the educational leadership career of Paul Vallas was how intensely he worked the press.
From the day he was announced as the mayor's choice (because of his "business acumen" ????) to head Chicago's schools (Vallas's actual private sector business experience had been at his family's suburban restaurant; his other work was overseeing patronage as Chicago's Mayor's Budget Director, the job he had before he became the Business Roundtable's choice for the first CPS CEO), Vallas was intense about his publicity stuff.
Reporters who wrote (or spoke) even a line that wasn't to Vallas's liking would either hear from him directly (often in late night phone calls) or from a well-paid surrogate (as in the present case). Those who asked him impertinent questions (or who laughed at the absurdity of his claims and hypeactive posings) usually got the "I'll get back to you on that..." stumper that was patented here in Chicago. Those of us who actually published the facts about Vallas's regime (most famously for me, the actual content of the CASE tests Vallas had spent millions of dollars on in Chicago) could expect enormous pressure (in my case, a million dollar "copyright infringement" lawsuit and termination for "copyright infringement...") and usually (as in the case of Grady Jordan, who wrote about Vallas's racism) slanders or worse.
One day, the Paul Vallas event will become a case study for reporters to study in school, just as the Harvard Business School uses case studies. But for now the whole spin cycle is still spinning, so we'll have to continue adding to the portfolio now that the Connecticut courts have added a new chapter.
For the rest of the USA, Paul Vallas is the first reason to quarantine anything or anyone emerging from Chicago as a "school reformer."
But there is a fine history to all this...
And since Diane Ravitch is a historian first, it's fun to do the history here in the present tense.
Paul Vallas became "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools in 1995, as soon as the (Republican majority) Illinois General Assembly had passed the "Amendatory Act of 1995" beginning "Mayoral Control" of large, largely minority urban school systems. The Amendatory Act was the beginning of it all, and Paul Vallas was the first of the non-educators to get the top job of reforming public education.
Even before Vallas took over the public schools of Chicago, he was spinning his narrative with the help of certain reporters who had opted for good storytelling over accuracy and boringly checked-out facts.
I remember the Chicago Sun-Times, in an early "Who is Paul Vallas?" story, quoting Vallas's Mom -- yes, his mother -- about how hard he worked at high school football because our humble hero was not very talented but always substituted hard work and grit for whatever... That motherly endorsement came as if that, for some reason, was why he should, with no education experience (but with a long record as a Democratic Party and City Hall hack), become the head of the nation's third largest school system.
This episode is just the latest in one version of the Vallas Spin. Testimonials.
The other (which has probably happened, but Our Pal Paul is too humble -- and/or too busy busy busy -- to go directly to Diane Ravitch...) is to call the person making the original report.
By the time Vallas's star was rising in Chicago, the media were in decline. Chicago's City New Bureau (for decades the training ground for reporters in Chicago) was terminated. No longer would reporters (from famous ones like Mike Royko and Kurt Vonnegut to the average street reporter) be taught that reporting began and ended with accuracy under the famous motto: "If your mother says she loves you, Check it Out!" No, by the time Vallas was creating his clip files, a reporter could quote Vallas's mother with a straight face and not have an editor send her back to basic training! By the time Vallas was finally dumped by Mayor Daley in May - June 2001, even the Vallas media manipulation machine had worn out its welcome and Vallas's frenetic phone calls to favored reporters weren't taken as a good thing any longer. Also, some of the reporters who had done Vallas's dirty work (based on "inside" dirt against Vallas's enemies) were also leaving the business. (I go once a year to spit on the monument to one of those guys, a reporter who turned pundit and ended his career disgraced by the number of times he ran Vallas's slanders as his own words in the Sun-Times...).
Vallas was out in Chicago in July 2001. He told the press he was going to relax and spend some time with the kids, maybe play a little baseball blah blah blah. At the time, I told people it was really sad for Vallas to pull that one on his own kids, since it was clear he was already looking to make a political bed for himself in Illinois or Chicago. Sure enough, within a few months, Paul Vallas was running for the Democratic Party nomination for Governor of Illinois. During that time, we published an extensive refutation of just about every claim Vallas was making, including a resume padding (he claimed "teaching" experience he never had and that stuff about eye glasses) and some typical tall tales (nobody ever saw that "600 page..." thingy Vallas supposedly authored, for example, just as nobody has ever seen evidence of this claim by Vallas's person here that Paul was a "historian")...
Anyway, we've reprinted some of those old articles at http://www.substancenews.net this week just so readers in 2013 could note that had people been paying attention to the accuracy of the facts in 2002 (and before, as we published them in Substance) maybe Philadelphia, New Orleans, and now Bridgeport would not have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) on the Vallas Hoax. But the method hasn't changed, as we can see here. A humble saint Paul Vallas is, whose entire life has been dedicated to the children, Paul Vallas's has. Often in history these kinds of versions of reality get treated unkindly in fiction. I'm thinking of Gradgrind in "Hard Times" or so many of the others satirized by Charles Dickens. But Paul Vallas and his Vallasizations of reality (as well as the "Vallas Method", most recently exemplified here) are still costing public school districts dollars and time. So it's worth returning to a story about which the facts have long been clear.
"If your mother says she loves you, check it out!" still holds.