The other day, I made a scan of my teaching and administrative certificates and sent them to my school office in order to update my records. If you teach in the State of Connecticut, as I do, you are required to provide the necessary transcripts and payments to secure and maintain a teaching or administrative certificate. The Connecticut Department of Education (CT SDE) has always been one of those great equaling institutions: no paperwork=no certificate.
Until now. Until Paul Vallas, Interim Superintendent of Schools in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Vallas has served 17 months as Interim Superintendent of Schools for Bridgeport, Connecticut, a 21,000-student school system. Before coming to Connecticut, Vallas had served as the Superintendent of the Recovery School District of Louisiana; and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools and the School District of Philadelphia. Vallas, however, was ousted by a Connecticut Superior Court Judge Judge Barbara Bellis’s weeks ago because he lacked graduate coursework and that the “alternative program” created for Vallas by the State Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, fell far short. Pryor’s letter certifying Vallas’s credentials, according to Jacqueline Rabe Thomas writing (6/28/13) in the Connecticut Mirror, was not accepted by the judge who ruled:
“’There is no doubt that Vallas received preferential treatment,’ the judge wrote in her 27-page decision.The judge also noted that Vallas lacked the required prerequisites to enroll in the regular UConn [University of Connecticut] program in the first place, and that such an independent study hadn’t been approved for anyone else in the last decade. Additionally, the university’s governing board had never approved an independent study program.’Ultimately, the course standards were reduced,’ the judge wrote. ‘The court accepts Vallas’ testimony that the work, although done over the course of 10 weeks while fulfilling his employment as acting superintendent, could have been completed in a week.’”
Ultimately, the judge ruled that Vallas’s BS in Political Science/History and MA Political Science from Western Illinois University were not comparable for a certification in education according to Connecticut’s Department of Education (CT SDE). While his experience as the Executive Director of the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission, revenue director and budget director for the City of Chicago provided him the experience to deal with Bridgeport’s financial woes, he lacked training as an educator.
Vallas has a number of supporters on the Bridgeport Board of Education, and his ouster has received the attention from the state and national press. There are articles and editorials, mostly positive about his work in Bridgeport. The editorial headline from the Hartford Courant (7/25/13) was particularly sympathetic: Why Make It So Hard For Paul Vallas To Help Bridgeport Schools? Qualifications shouldn’t obstruct a promising superintendent
It would be a blow to the city of Bridgeport’s school system and its 21,000 students if Paul Vallas is not permitted to stay on as superintendent. Someone of Mr. Vallas’ experience and gravitas is just what the doctor ordered for the city’s ailing school system.
While I know little about Vallas’s efforts to improve the school system in Bridgeport, I was particularly attentive to several comments that followed this editorial discussing the role of the state’s colleges and university programs. These comments made clear that academic institutions should be concerned when their undergraduate and graduate education certificate programs are being discounted at the highest level.
Educators in the Constitution State spend time and money at state colleges and universities to meet the requirements for teacher and administrator certifications. Even the state-run Alternate Route to Certification (ARC) for those entering the profession with degrees other than education has been made more demanding. There are special graduate certificate programs offered at different institutions (Administrator-092, Literacy Specialist-097, Superintendent-093) each with requirements of extensive coursework of 30 credits or more.
In addition, CT SDE requires that educators provide all transcripts and results from subject area texts (PRAXIS II); these cost educators time and money. CT SDE website also states:
All prospective administrators enrolled in Connecticut administrator preparation programs seeking a recommendation for the Initial Educator Certification for Intermediate Administration or Supervision (#092) must pass the CAT (Connecticut Administrators Test) in order to be certified.
All administrators prepared outside of Connecticut with fewer than 3 years within the last 10 years of administration experience who apply for the Initial Educator Certification for Intermediate Administration or Supervision (#092) must pass the CAT. An applicant recommended by an out-of-state institution may be eligible for a one-year deferral of the CAT.
Paul Vallas did not meet these requirements.
The controversy has captured the opinions of state politicians, educators, and reached the federal level with the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, siding with Vallas. They argue in the press over what Vallas has done for Bridgeport, or what he has accomplished outside of the state.
A more serious far reaching problem, however, is this example of the State of Connecticut’s unequal application of certification requirements to educators. If a certificate is not necessary for a high-profile educator to work as an administrator in the state, why have the requirement at all? If education course work is unnecessary, why should the state’s colleges and universities offer courses at all? And if there is no need for certificates or coursework, why have I paid money to the state to keep my teaching and administration certificates updated?
In Connecticut, the land of steady habits, inequalities in certification requirements make the state a little less steady.