The news took the state’s political establishment by surprise, even though Vallas had run for state office in Illinois before: He lost in a 2002 bid to win the Democratic nomination for governor to Rod Blagojevich, who is now in federal prison after being found guilty on federal corruption charges.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Quinn said in a statement:
I’ve known Paul Vallas for 30 years and he’s never been shy about fighting for education, reform and opportunities for working people. We have made great progress these last few years, but serious challenges remain and our mission is not yet accomplished.
Quinn, the Tribune said, also called Vallas “an independent problem solver with a proven record of reform.” Bit there are plenty of people who would question his “proven record.”
Vallas is known in the ed-reform world as a school turnaround specialist, although critics point out that he has met with less than success in his various positions. He ran school districts in Chicago for six years, Philadelphia for five years and New Orleans for four. His tenure in each of those cities was controversial, with his push to close failing schools, open charter schools and blaming teachers for the problems of troubled schools. In this review of his record, Stanford University’s Larry Cuban said of him:
Paul Vallas is … a sprinter at a time when marathoners are needed for turning around failing districts.
His latest job was in Bridgeport, where he took over the school system as superintendent in January 2012 and pushed a corporate-influenced reform agenda that immediately became controversial. This past summer, a judge ruled that Vallas wasn’t qualified for the job of Bridgeport superintendent because he had not taken a school leadership program required by law for administrators who don’t have education degrees. The case was taken up by the state’s highest court, but since Vallas is entering the political world, the decision, when it is announced, won’t really matter to his future in Bridgeport.
In elections last Tuesday, a new school board was elected, with a majority that was more likely to fire Vallas than to keep him, and that was backed by the Working Families Party along with a coalition of educators and parents. The Working Families Party is a grassroots progressive party that fights for working class and middle-class families
The voters’ decision is a direct message to Vallas supporters, including the Bridgeport mayor, Bill Finch.