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Posted at 3:51 PM ET, 03/ 1/2010

Obama's unfortunate comments on teacher firings

By Valerie Strauss

I have an uncle who was for years a Chicago public school teacher. Passionate and articulate about his subject, biology, Arnie cared a great deal about whether the kids learned in his class.

But here’s the disturbing thing he recalls about his career:

In the years that his classes were filled with kids from poor, broken homes who didn’t eat or sleep with any regularity, he worried that he wasn’t nearly as effective as he wanted to be. He reached some of the kids, sometimes, with some material, but not enough to his liking, no matter what he did or how hard he tried.

When he changed schools and suddenly was teaching kids from middle-class families who valued education, he instantly became a brilliant teacher. His students progressed at a fast clip, and everything he did seemed to work.

What some school reformers seem to forget is that the kids' circumstances outside school affect their class performance: how much they eat, how much they sleep, how many words they heard when they were young, how many books were made available to them, the abilities and the disabilities with which they were born, etc.

What happens in the classroom is incredibly powerful, but it is not the only thing that matters.

This is why it was so disheartening to hear President Obama wade into a debate about last week’s firing of all of the educators at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island.

The firings by the Central Falls school trustees made big headlines, not because reconstituting a school is new, but perhaps because it is the only school in the state’s poorest and smallest city, and because it was not reported as being the consequence of years of calculated efforts to fix the school (even if it was).

Education Secretary Arne Duncan immediately applauded the move, saying the committee members were “showing courage and doing the right thing for kids.”

And today, Obama felt the need to jump in, saying in a speech:

So if a school is struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution. We’ve got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements. But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability.

“And that’s what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th graders passed state math tests -- 7 percent. When a school board wasn’t able to deliver change by other means, they voted to lay off the faculty and the staff. As my Education Secretary Arne Duncan, says, our kids get only one chance at an education, and we need to get it right.”

One thing that Obama got right: the school board wasn’t able to deliver change, but, unfortunately, the school board didn’t fire itself. It fired all the administrators and teachers, as if they were the only things responsible for student failure.

I wish someone would tell Obama the truth about school restructuring.

What happened in Rhode Island was not unique; restructuring schools is a “reform” tool that administrators use after other attempts to improve student achievement have failed. It is the last resort in the No Child Left Behind law, which mandates that school systems meet specific student achievement targets. If they don't, in the end, all the teachers have to be fired (though some get rehired, as is expected at Central Falls).

The overall problem with this approach is that there is no proof that it actually works for most of the schools that undergo the process.

As I said in a post last week after the news of the firings at Central Falls became public, this has been true in districts around the country, including Washington D.C., and even in Duncan’s Chicago public schools, which he ran for years before becoming education secretary.

My colleague Nick Anderson noted in a 2009 Post story that Duncan had tried a lot of things during his more than seven years as Chicago schools chief: shutting down schools, hiring experts in turning around schools, and firing a lot of people. The record in Chicago was less than spectacular.

In her new book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” education historian Diane Ravitch notes that studies conducted by the Washington-based nonprofit Center on Education Policy, concluded that restructuring “very rarely” works in improving student achievement enough to meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

And we are talking about a lot of experiments in restructuring that didn’t work; in 2007-08, more than 3,500 public schools across the nation were in the planning or implementation stage of restructuring, an increase of more than 50 percent over the previous year.

So when Obama and Duncan talk about firing all the teachers and replacing them as if it is a last resort worth doing, they have it all wrong.

It is a last resort, but it doesn’t solve the problem and creates havoc not only for the teachers--many of whom do a good job--but for kids who have enough problems without being subjects in endless educational experiments.

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 1, 2010; 3:51 PM ET
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, Teachers  | Tags:  arne duncan, president obama, school reform  
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Comments

so, what if the R.I. teachers weren't working as hard as your uncle arnie? do you have any evidence that they were great educators? are you saying we should lower expectations for teachers who teach difficult populations? there are plenty of schools around the country where disadvantaged students are making gains. it's disingenuous to criticize the school board members for not firing themselves -- that's the voters' job. let's let them decide if the board took the correct action. bravo for the reformers for being bold enough to make the tough decisions. that's why they were put in office.

Posted by: darlingnikkitoo | March 1, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Hey, he gets involved in local disputes with police at Harvard, so he inserts himself in to school issues in Rhode Island. Once again, inserting foot firmly in mouth.

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | March 1, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

lets just get ride of the department of education alrerady. it is a complete waste of a federal agency which spent billions and has never been shown to improve education.

Posted by: dummypants | March 1, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

The Rhode Island story likely has nothing whatsoever to do with the teachers, and everything to do with the parents. Too bad we can't fire them, because they are the ones giving their kids a disadvantaged start to life. The teachers can only do so much when the parents provide no support at home.

Posted by: boosterprez | March 1, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

RE:lets just get ride of the department of education alrerady.
*****
yawh, weer smert enuf we aint gots to have an edjamacation retartment, axe anyonn!

Posted by: bproulx45 | March 1, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

It should surprise no one Obama got his facts wrong-he does not listen. He has made the fatal political mistake of not listening to the will of the American people-he has chosen to make himself the enemy of the people-this is reflected in his approval ratings. When we elected him to work for us he made promises he has failed to honor. He now has a failed Presidency and is a disgrace to the American voters.

Posted by: lappis | March 1, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

So are you arguing that because there are complicating factors outside of the control of teachers and administrators the school should not have been shut down? It is hard to fire students and their parents.

Posted by: jfx1 | March 1, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Bravo for your comments. Without examining each individual teacher, how does Arne Duncan know that they are all deserving of firing? To use a sports analogy, not all of the players on a losing team are bad players. Even the dismal New Jersey Nets have a few talented players that other teams covet. Wouldn't it make far more sense to evaluate teachers one at a time (as well as school board members and principals) before deciding which to fire? President Obama promised dramatic change from his predecessor, yet he retained one member from the Bush cabinet rather than firing them all. Nor did he fire every employee of AIG as a condition of the bailout despite their decisions that were far worse than anything these teachers have done.

Posted by: polprof | March 1, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

What makes you think that the teachers aren't as hard-working as her uncle? You are assuming that they're just lazy, incompetent, uncaring losers. I doubt that is true across the board. There are certainly incompetent teachers and there are some who don't care and are lazy. It is unlikely that all of them are. And if they are, who hired them? Why is it that the board was unable to find competent, caring, hard-working teachers to work in its schools? Would you work there?

Posted by: notation | March 1, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

1) Parents are the biggest influence on children's success in education. It's unfortunate but not all kids are born into families that give them the basis to succeed.

2) Schools can help these kids, but in many cases, there is no substitute for solid parenting.

3) I wonder if there was at least one solid hard working teacher fired. That would be unjust.

4) Obama seems more than willing to express an opinion when he doesn't have the facts. Not a good trait.

Posted by: InTheMiddle | March 1, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

The board has now broken it, they now own it.

Posted by: pbassjbass | March 1, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

When that school district does no better with its replacement staff, (as it almost certainly will, since the school district will be looking for replacement teachers, all of whom will see that school district as a very bad bet to work for), will it also fire its second set of teachers?

There is this unstated assumption in education reform that there is a vast untapped pool of teaching geniuses ut there who will work for the pittance offered by Charter School organizations and other supposed saviors of education, who are just waiting to go to work for less pay, fewer benefits, and less status than even our underpaid, underfunded and badly treated public school teachers currently get.

You get what you pay for, and education on the cheap will get you a really cheap education.

But the marketplace will work miracles.

"Bad Money Drives Out Good" and bad currency in any field of endeavor drives out good currency. So don't be surprisede when firing a whole school district doesn't get you better results.

Posted by: ceflynline | March 1, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

"The firings by the Central Falls school trustees made big headlines, not because reconstituting a school is new, but perhaps because it is the only school in the state’s poorest and smallest city, and because it was not reported as being the consequence of years of calculated efforts to fix the school (even if it was)."

The school board is majority Hispanic. Hispanics voted to fire white and black teachers so they could hire Spanish speakers in their place. This is ethnic cleansing. Why does the Obama's so-called Department od Justice allow this to stand?

Posted by: greg3 | March 1, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

This particular case reminds me of the Toyota recall. First, it is now "high profile", second, in the case of Toyota, after they fix all of the accelerator pedals, if the acceleration problem goes away, then we can call it a "fix". If not, then there is another inherent defect causing the problem. If, with a new administration and teaching staff, the problem goes away at the school, there is a fix. If not, then not.

Posted by: dvanderl | March 1, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Lady, I take it you aren't from Rhode Island. Many of these teachers (not all) had only one thing in mind -- their jobs -- not what was best for the kids, but what was best for them. Period. This is the culture in Rhode Island. I understand that many of these kids came from very bad circumstances; at the end of the day, you're either up for the job or you're not. Asking for more money to do a job that you're already failing at is not the right thing to do and I applaud the school's attempt to start anew.

Posted by: sassafrasnewport | March 1, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like "Arnie" was a supremely lousy teacher and should have been fired and his teacher accreditation revoked. Teachers like that scumbag are why the American school system is in the sewer.

Posted by: FridayKnight | March 1, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

greg3 -- what you said was just plain ignorant. Apparently, you didn't have good teachers either.

Posted by: sassafrasnewport | March 1, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

The Federal Government Knows Best.


You must do what they say.

Any questions? Ask Barack.

Posted by: Tupac_Goldstein | March 1, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

and Docs are pulling kids tonsils b/c it pays more than prescribing pills.

he screws up these anecdotes all the time

Posted by: TheDubb | March 1, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

polprof, leave your politics out of this. whatever your opinion is about the bailout, this has nothing to do with it.

Posted by: sassafrasnewport | March 1, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Unless every school they were in charge of was failing, I don't see why the board would have to "fire itself".

You identified two possible factors for student failure in school - teachers and parents (or other family as the case may be).

As a last resort, something obviously has to be done, and we can't fire parents.

If it was truly taken as a last resort, and you say it shouldn't have been done - then it seems your recommending doing nothing (since anything else remaining would mean it wasn't a last resort).

Posted by: Vingold | March 1, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

In many school districts it is very difficult to fire a teacher. Suppose that you want to keep 80% of the teachers, and fire the other 20%. Sadly, it is probably easiest/cheapest to fire everybody and rehire the 80% you want to keep, than it is to fire the 20% you want to eliminate. Teachers unions need only blame themselves for making it so difficult to fire a teacher.

Posted by: niceshoes1 | March 1, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

The Obama administration is every bit as disastrous for public education as BushCo was.

The Secretary of Education is more interested in enriching his charter school owning pals than in actually helping schools.

Posted by: solsticebelle | March 1, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Why would any good teacher work at a school at risk of being "restructured?" Why take a chance of getting fired when he or she could work at a much easier, school middle class, school for the same pay?

Posted by: dflack44 | March 1, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

If my company fails, the whole lot of us lose our jobs--including the top performers. That's life.

The sorry lot here is that we dump truckloads of money into poor, underperforming districts for nothing. We should just pull out the children who care and sent them to good schools.

The rest we can teach to sweep floors.

Posted by: tonynelson1 | March 1, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

It's likely due to the ridiculous rules of the teacher's unions. It's probably easier to fire the whole lot, and hire most back to get rid of the worst teachers.

Selected firings would probably result in huge legal expenses, severance packages, etc...

Remember - in urban public schools, there are several things more important than actually teaching childrin.

Posted by: pgr88 | March 1, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher in a school with 90% FARMS and a majority of the students second language learners, I encourage you to walk a day in my shoes. I, too, was much more successful teaching in a school with a different population because the students progressed at a faster rate. They didn't have to think in two languages, worry about their next meal, or be concerned about the 5 other family members sleeping in their bedroom. To think that the success of my school is measured on the progress made by these 8,9,and 10 year olds is simply irresponsible. They need time, not a ridiculous AYP goal.

Posted by: cedarpark | March 1, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

I teach in community college, and allegedly students CHOOSE to be here. I know how difficult it is to reach students sometimes, and that the students come in with varied ideas on the meaning of education and work.
I do not believe that firing every teacher is a solution, let alone a good solution. I think that people working under the atmosphere of fear translates to the students. How could you concentrate on giving to kids, when you think you're facing unemployment?

Posted by: cococo | March 1, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

We have equated "holding people accountable" with "firing them". Unfortunately, that rarely produces good results. Many times it doesnt matter who holds the job, the results are terrible. And many other times, there is an interminable delay before the new person starts to have an effect. Firing someone is usually just the lazy way out.

Posted by: bruce18 | March 1, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Valerie Strauss, what does your uncle have to do with the teachers being fired in Rhode Island? Talk about a nonsequitur!
What happened to your uncle has NOTHING to do with Rhode Island. He didn't teach there, nor have you shown any example of someone like him at the school. Please, if we talk about wanting teachers to excel, then lets get the ones who don't accomplish that to not be there. And my mom taught in the grade school I went to in Richmond Heights, Mo. She has as much to do with the students in Rhode Island as your Uncle.

Posted by: ljk76 | March 1, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

As a trained aircraft accident investigator we were taught to look beyond the obvious and deep into the root cause of a crash. What is wrong at the RI school is more than the teachers though they do play the second largest day-to-day role in a child's education immediately after the child's parents. Without the parental support structure a child faces very grim chances of succeeding in education but also just in succeeding in day-to-day life. Teachers can't be the child's parents, at least not to all of them. America has to recognize that our educational failures are indicative of larger failures. These failures and their results on education cannot be "fixed" by throwing money at the education system, we cannot buy children kind and concerned parents. The failure of many of these children's parents is the result of their lack of education and a self-fulfilling welfare state that does not encourage the people to improve themselves but rather to just continue to go collect the welfare and live status quo. To win in these schools there has to be more a total commitment to the community and to every level.

Posted by: staterighter | March 1, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

From the sound of things this was the best possible solution for this school. As with any failing business there comes a time when massive changes are needed. If these teachers and administrators cared they would have found a way to make improvements.

Many of you are forgetting that the way no child left behind is structured, that this school would have been losing funding because of its under performance.

Some of you would rather criticize than try to find solutions. It is much more easy to educate affulent kids that have supplies and experiences that make learning easier. If these teachers could not teach to the under privilege as they demonstrated that they couldn't, they were wasting the tax payer dollars. In no other arena would anyone pay for 17% success rates.

And by the way, the author should not think that her uncle was a great teacher; a great teacher stays and makes a difference, he chose to move to the suburbs where teaching was easier, I don't by that as great.

Posted by: justonevoice | March 1, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

The board has now broken it, they now own it.

Posted by: pbassjbass | March 1, 2010 4:54 PM

If I was a teacher again, I wouldn't be very much interested in going to that school. It's difficult to imagine every single person was incompetent.

The board merely mowed down everything in it's path because the board couldn't tell who was good or bad. Why would you work in an environment like that if you had other choices? That's what they'll end up with; teachers that can't get jobs elsewhere.

I know there are school districts in the major cities that recruit teachers from Eastern Europe. The urban schools are getting teachers whose second language is English because no Americans will work there.

It's not a one or two candidate operation. There are screening centers in Europe that select groups of candidates. Send them over and then the applicants fend for themselves finding teaching jobs. They've got n months to land a teaching job, including being a sub or they go back.

Posted by: James10 | March 1, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

The parents are key. Having said that there are many aspects that need improving. Even in a good school district there are too many times where mediocrity rules. That doesn't fit very well into our global economy.

Posted by: happy2bhere | March 1, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

The reforms put to the teachers by the school supt. to help the students included:

-adding 25 minutes to the school day
-providing tutoring on a rotating schedule before and after school
-eating lunch with students once a week
-submitting to more rigorous evaluations
-attending weekly after-school planning sessions with other teachers
-participating in two weeks of training in the summer

The teachers union balked at those ideas even though the teachers at that high school have average earnings between $72,000 - $75,000 (with summers off). The per capita for Central Falls is $10,825 with 29% below the poverty line.

Posted by: millionea7 | March 1, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Ridiculous, I know plenty of teachers that work in very dangerous schools. I have volunteered at these schools myself and have learned that with the right attitude the kids respect you and learn form you. I am not a big fan of the president but he is absolutely right on this one.

Posted by: lynn5 | March 1, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

lets just get ride of the department of education alrerady. it is a complete waste of a federal agency which spent billions and has never been shown to improve education.

Posted by: dummypants | March 1, 2010 4:43 PM

What a novel idea. Ronald Reagan promised he would do that. Didn't happen.

What's really awesome about your idea is that the States would have to pick up the tab [as they should] and probably need to raise taxes to do it. Also awesome.

States have the lousy habit of saying: "Send us the money and leave us alone." I'd just as soon just stick them with the bill.

Frankly, we don't have enough drop outs to compete with the illegals for jobs. We need more.

Posted by: James10 | March 1, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

The home environment is 75% of education... If the child is going home to a disheveled flat with dirty floors, noise and screaming, a TV with one corner propped up with empty beer cans, and the child being ignored by adults who read at the third grade level, the chances that this child will be educated are almost zero no matter how many teachers you fire...

dr. o

Posted by: ad4hk2004 | March 1, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse


The POTUS is a fool when he attempts to speak about education. He never taught. Where does he get the audacity to threaten someone's job for that which is beyond their control? Let Obama put his money where his mouth is and instead of blaming teachers come up with a program that addresses the substantial problems with US education. Anybody can criticize. It is disgraceful for Obama to keep spewing accountability for teachers when there is none for him or his administration. Who does he blame for the financial crisis? I didn't hear him say all on Wall Street should be fired. He is trying as hard as he can to not get reelected with this speech and he has succeeded in losing this vote.


Posted by: edanddot | March 1, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Ridiculous, I know plenty of teachers that work in very dangerous schools. I have volunteered at these schools myself and have learned that with the right attitude the kids respect you and learn form you. I am not a big fan of the president but he is absolutely right on this one.

I saw that movie too, too bad real life is well, real

Posted by: mamoore1 | March 1, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

It's all about the parents and their view on education. If my son is surrounded by the kids of anti-intellectual irresponsible dolts he'll be in private school the next week. It starts at home and requires parents to set expectations regarding achievement.

I don't want my kid around Joe the Plumber's kid. Hypocrisy and unwarranted self righteousness is not something I'm interested in teaching him.

Posted by: theobserver4 | March 1, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

The school failed. Those results are failure. It almost begs the question as to whose fault it is. Did GM workers fail when GM failed? They still lost their jobs. Everyone did. Even Uncle Arnie who worked like a demon.
Will it be better to start over? I don't know. Maybe not. Would it be better to continue the same system in the same school with the same personnell? Probably not.
I am a teacher. Many, many, many things are outside my control and I resent being blamed for them. But it's not all about me. I've been on ships that have gone down. I didn't put the holes in the side and I was doing my best to plug them, but there you go. We still sunk. Me, too. That's life.
I feel for the teachers. And I'm sure the Board shares the blame. But we have to do something drastic for those children. A 7% pass rate? If I were one of those teachers, I'd be releaved to start somewhere else, to let someone else take on a job that obviously I wasn't succeeding in. Uncle Arnie would agree.

Posted by: JosephGAnthony | March 1, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Earlier accounts indicated that the school board has the power to re-hire some or all of the fired teachers and administrators and that it plans to do so. Does that indicate, as other posters have suggested, that it took this precipitous action as a way of getting around union rules and tenure restrictions so that it could weed out the sub-par teachers and reinstate the good ones? If so, that sounds like a reasonable course -- just not well explained.

Posted by: beckley1 | March 1, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Everyone acknowledges that the greatest influence on children is from parents. If the parents don't value education, neither will their children. I know personally of cases where children were living in the slums of DC but their parents valued education---made them do their homework, went to school meetings, took them to various museums frequently, wouldn't let them hang around troublemakers, etc. Today those children are college graduates, married and with children. It's ALWAYS the parents; the teachers can do only so much.

Further, we can't live in Lake Woebegone where everyone is above average. The poor in judgment (like many of my relatives) will always be with us. They will always make the wrong choices and not value education. You can't do a lot about it except to make sure they don't starve and do have a roof over their heads. Spend the resources where it will do more good.

Posted by: MrBethesda | March 1, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

valerie - I give you credit for even being able to write about this. It's your job, I know, and you're living up to it. Brava

The whole thing makes sick. I can't believe Omama is doing this, but he obviously is. This caps it.

What is he thinking?

Posted by: efavorite | March 1, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Ms Strauss

As a career teacher working with high risk students I'd like to thank you for a voice of sanity. This whole reform thing is not a game, these are peoples lives. Education needs to be done right, but it always happens in the context of student's world. I'm still shocked that Obama, who I normally respect is so far out of it on this one. Please continue to take the time and make the effort to advance meaningful solutions to these problems.

Posted by: mamoore1 | March 1, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

President Obama promised dramatic change from his predecessor, yet he retained one member from the Bush cabinet rather than firing them all. Nor did he fire every employee of AIG as a condition of the bailout despite their decisions that were far worse than anything these teachers have done.
---------------------------------------
1. AIG is a private company...the President has no control over the hiring/firing of its employees.

2. As much as you Rethuglicans would like for the bailout to be Obama's mess, the bailout took place under the Bush Administration not Obama's Administration.

Posted by: Keepinitreal3 | March 1, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

While teachers are certainly key to student achievement, the process makes the biggest difference. The stand and deliver model of instruction is wholly inadequate and ineffective for many at-risk kids, regardless of who is standing in front of them. The greatest positive change occurs when students work at their level and their pace and advance on the basis of competency - testing out as they prove mastery. When teachers work in a more supportive role where they can connect with students on a deeper personal level, kids feel the love and will work harder to get results. Process, Process, Process is the key! Change the process and the results will come. Rearrange the classroom, the roster or the teachers and you’ll get more of the same. Check out www.BrilliantHigh.com for a model that supports teachers and works for today’s high school age kids.

Posted by: markthimmig | March 1, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

It is nice to hear the President talk holding people accountable,
is that sort of like blaming every ill this country experiences on his predecessor? Oh, no, that would be something different! I think he means it is ok to blame everyone else for the nation's problems, but he certainly is not going accept blame. With the stranglehold the Dept of Education has on our nation's school's systems, I thought all the schools would be perfect by now, not broken.

Posted by: fairfaxgoper | March 1, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse


Obama's "Race To The Top" program provides incentives for school districts to fire the whole staff. That is pathetic and indicative of how Obama feels about working Americans.

Posted by: edanddot | March 1, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

When are we going to fire all the teachers in DC in the failing schools? How 'bout Prince George's County? I know, merit pay will fix it all. All we need is a whole bunch of Jaime Escalantes and it will be fixed. Right.

Posted by: Hairless | March 1, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately this story lacks information that is required to make a judgement. Anecdotal evidence from places far removed from the school in question do not apply.

Perhaps the move to fire the staff was high handed. Perhaps it was justified. Writing opinion without the relevant facts merely adds heat instead of light to the circumstances surrounding Central Falls High School.

Posted by: edbyronadams | March 1, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe the writer of this piece omitted the SINGLE BIGGEST ISSUE HERE.

THE UNION AND TEACHERS BALKED AT CHANGES IN THEIR WORK SCHEDULE AND PAY-

From- http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com/2010/02/central-falls-rhode-island-fires-every.html

Hi Mish,

As I'm sure you're aware, Rhode Island has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

Central Falls is one of the poorest towns in the state. It looks like the pictures everyone's seen of Detroit or Flint. There are lots of boarded up windows, abandoned buildings, decrepit factories with broken windows, etc. It's an absolutely depressed community. According to Wikipedia, the median income in the town is $22k.

Teacher salaries at the high school average $72-78k. Apparently 50% of the students at the school are failing all of their classes, and the graduation rate is also under 50%. In an effort to turn the school around, the superintendent requested some changes be made whereby the school day would be slightly extended, teachers would perform some extra tutoring, etc.

The union balked and refused the terms, so now she is firing the entire teaching staff of the high school and replacing them. This is yet another example of unions digging their own graves by refusing to negotiate or accept reasonable terms. Sentiment is on the side of the superintendent, at least among the folks I have discussed the issue with.

See more-

http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com/2010/02/central-falls-rhode-island-fires-every.html

Posted by: knight1977 | March 1, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

"It's likely due to the ridiculous rules of the teacher's unions. It's probably easier to fire the whole lot, and hire most back to get rid of the worst teachers."

You're exactly right. Union contracts have made it cost prohibitive to weed out the bad teachers individually. NCLB let's the district hire back 50% of the fired teachers if the district plays the nuclear card.

Posted by: millionea7 | March 1, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

“And today, Obama felt the need to jump in, saying in a speech:
“So if a school is struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution. We’ve got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements. But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability.”
============================
The President is right. Any teacher who find him or herself teaching at a school where the kids are( in their opinion) un-teachable, then they should either transfer or quit. But to expect to hang on indefinitely collecting a paycheck while the school constantly under performs makes me wonder if the teacher is in it for the desire to teach, or for benefits and payed holidays.


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“The overall problem with this approach is that there is no proof that it actually works for most of the schools that undergo the process.”
==================

So teaching the kids doesn’t work, and firing the teachers doesn’t work. Which boils down into the typical educator line of, “It’s not our fault the kids are un-teachable.”

If so, then why do we need them in the first place?

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say the kids are un-teachable, but then expect to continue to collect a pay check.

Posted by: moebius22 | March 1, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

I agree! For if there was a connection between all of these Teachers and their student's poor performance, then I am sure that many Charter Schools would have already appeared in order to take advantage of the slack ... or, maybe the case is that they already have ? Now what !

Posted by: jralger | March 1, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

ONCE AGAQIN DUMBO GETS IT WRONG. HE HAS GOT TO SAY SOMETHING ABOUT EVERYTHING WITHOUT ANY REAL KNOWLEDGE OF THE SITUATION. WHAT OBAMA NEEDS IS A FEW GOOD MEN TO STUFF A RAG IN HIS MOUTH WHEN HE SPOUTS OFF. PEOPLE ALWAYS SPEAK ABOUT HIS INTELLIGENCE. HE HAS YET TO SHOW IT. HE REMINDS ME OF THE SAYING "JACK OF ALL TRADES, MASTER OF NONE. HE IS STILL WET BEHIND THE EARS AND REFUSES TO TAKE HIS TIME TO LEARN BEFORE HE SPEAKS. BEING A GOOD ORATOR DOES NOT OVER COMETHE LACK OF BRAINS.

Posted by: MALBENNET | March 1, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Valerie, too bad you only focused on one part of the speech.

Obama DID support the work of teachers and principals and acknowledged the HARD WORK they do:

"We'll not only challenge states to identify high schools with graduation rates below 60 percent, we're going to invest another $900 million in strategies to get those graduation rates up. Strategies like transforming schools from top to bottom by bringing in a new principal, and training teachers to use more effective techniques in the classroom. Strategies like closing a school for a time and reopening it under new management, or even shutting it down entirely and sending its students to a better school.

And strategies like replacing a school's principal and at least half of its staff. Now, replacing school staff should only be done as a last resort. The public servants who work in America's schools -- whether they're principals or teachers, or counselors or coaches -- work long and hard on behalf of our children and they deserve our gratitude. Keep in mind I've got a sister who's a teacher, my mother spent time teaching -- one of the most important jobs that we have in this country. We've got an obligation as a country to give them the support they need -- because when principals and teachers succeed, then our children succeed.

So if a school is struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution. We've got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements. But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn't show signs of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability."

Posted by: TwoSons | March 1, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

The teachers Union could care less about the kids. It's all about their GREED.

Wonderful to see GREEDY UNION WORKERS fired.

Next stop, unionized government employess.

Posted by: knight1977 | March 1, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

I am sick and tired of hearing about how this is all the fault of teachers. This always comes from people who are absolutely clueless! It's been decades since teachers had a say in what's going on in a school! These days, if parents complain about teachers, the administrations take the parents' side. They will not support the teachers. Education in this country will NEVER be good again until parents are kept OUT OF THE LOOP. Education in this country will never be good again until PARENTS ARE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR REARING THEIR CHILDREN! I'm sick of parents who demand that their kids work so they can buy their own clothes or pay for gasoline or whatever. Parents do not sit down with their children in the evenings and make sure they do their homework. They don't read to their children. They don't do anything academically with their children. THEY EXPECT TEACHERS BOTH TO TEACH AND REAR THEIR CHILDREN AT THE SAME TIME! The fault is not with the teachers, it's with irresponsible parents and gutless administrator and school boards.

Posted by: georges2 | March 1, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

The school board acted as a last resort. The only reason most people are commented on this board is because of their hatred for President Obama. Most of the people could care less about these students or the teachers since they hate unions as much as they hate Obama.

The fact is, as a teacher you have to find ways to reach your students. You can't just say these kids are disadvantaged and so I don't have to worry if they learn anything or not. Most job requires that you perform to established goals why can't teachers be held to the same standards.

Posted by: wmwilliams14 | March 1, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

What's missing from the article is that the administration wanted to institute a new after-school tutoring program. It was going to require the teachers to work an extra hour or two each week. The Teachers Union said no way without more pay. Since we all no there is no more money, the union left them no other choice. So who is the union looking out for the kids or the teachers? Last time I checked the teacher are professionals, and when your employer asks you to do more, you do it. You're not getting paid by the hour, you're salaried.

This is a good plan, fire them all. Rehire the good ones and start the extra tutoring.

Posted by: rdtshop | March 1, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher, I believe good teachers find a way . . it may take non-traditional methods, but accepting these results would have been condoning failure.

Posted by: sarno | March 1, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

So, Valerie: WHO IS ACCOUNTABLE? If your uncle could only teach kids from the middle class, he really was NOT a great teacher after all. This is the mindset that is so difficult for many to break through. At some point, and many of us are WAY PAST, somebody has to stand up for low-income urban kids, and against the status quo. This is not about your uncle, and his union pals. It's about THESE KIDS. They are failing. And those who seek excuses will ALWAYS find them. People who fail are great at this. So I dissent. And I say fire as many of these failed teachers as possible. Fire them all. And keep on firing. Right on Barack!

Posted by: Craig_Colgan | March 1, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

The extra work the teachers were going to have to do was going to pay $30 an hour.

The union wouldn't take anything less than $90. They got FIRED.

GREEDY TEACHERS UNION hates kids and only cares about themselves.

Posted by: knight1977 | March 1, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

To respond to darlingnikkitoo below:

Every major study of educational achievement since the 1970s has concluded that the major determining factor of educational achievement is the income and educational level of the parents....every one.

Parents know that, students know that, teachers know that and administrators know that...the only people who deny it are fools and politicians.

There are not plenty of schools filled with typical poor students where the outcomes match schools with typical middle class students. There are none.

Finally, use some common sense: If all of the teachers at Sidwell Friends (where Obama chose to school his children), or Walt Whitman in Potomac, were switched with the teachers at Cardozo or Ballou in DC, do you think the Sidwell and Whitman kids would start dropping out and the kids at Cardozo or Ballou would start getting admitted en masse to Ivy League schools?

Posted by: evlanton | March 1, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

I didn't see anyone advocate busing: Find nine better (or even "good") schools and bus 10% of this school to each one, 10% of those to this one. Everyone is now in a good or better school environment. If this works, the problem is not the teachers. Why not try it and find out?

Posted by: sonberg | March 1, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Firing the superintendent , prinicple and scool board makes sense.

Fire the leadership first..

Posted by: newagent99 | March 1, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Gooddbye public employee union workers, your time has come-

Consumer Preference for Saving vs. Spending Jumps in 2009; Major War Coming Between Union "Haves" and Non-Union "Have-Nots"

-At some point retail sales and tax levels will stabilize, but it will not be at a level that will support rising wages for public unions, or even current benefits promised to public workers via defined benefit pension plans.

A major war is coming between the union parasite "haves", and the non-union "have-nots", the latter already forced to live in the real economy.

http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com/2010/03/consumer-preference-for-saving-vs.html

Posted by: knight1977 | March 1, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

The problem is that even if half the teachers were caring and dedicated, it would not make a difference. Kids are with any one teacher five hours a week at most. I spend more time than that with my workout buddies at the gym. By the time a kid gets to high school, the path is fairly well laid out. My condolences to those teachers. And for those of you who think that 75K a year sounds like a lot of money -- it's not.

Posted by: realgrrl | March 1, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher, I believe good teachers find a way . . it may take non-traditional methods, but accepting these results would have been condoning failure.

Posted by: sarno | March 1, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

_______________

sarno, for every teacher like yourself that states what you've conveyed above, there seems to be 10-20 teachers that say "it's impossible"

that's the saddest part of all and Children are paying the price.

Valerie Strauss took a very small portion of Obama's speech, compared it with her uncle's teaching experiences, and WahLah..."Obama supports teachers being fired"

That's clearly not the message Obama conveyed today, nor seems to be the core fundamentals of the Education Reform initiatives, IMHO.

Posted by: TwoSons | March 1, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Amidst all of the mass school teacher firings (it's going on in Chicago too), I've yet to hear or read about anyone decrying the union busting going on in these firing episodes around the country.That said, the most likely outcome in Rhode Island will be a weak union, a failed program and very little English.

Posted by: NJJACK | March 1, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

What makes you think that the teachers aren't as hard-working as her uncle? You are assuming that they're just lazy, incompetent, uncaring losers. I doubt that is true across the board. There are certainly incompetent teachers and there are some who don't care and are lazy. It is unlikely that all of them are. And if they are, who hired them? Why is it that the board was unable to find competent, caring, hard-working teachers to work in its schools? Would you work there?

Posted by: notation

-------------------

I have to laugh at comments like this one. *Every* teacher in an entire school district is incompetent, lazy, and uncaring? Somehow I find that hard to believe.

But then the poster goes on to point out the implicit contradiction in the blanket statement that was just offered...because if every teacher was incompetent, then this reflects on who hired them. So who hired them? The poster doesn't answer.

But the point--it's the school board who hired these teachers, and if every single one is incompetent, then the school board needs to be fired first, and once they are replaced with competent leaders, then the school district can work on competent staffing. But the school board didn't fire themselves, so what really is going to change?

More likely, not every teacher was incompetent to begin with. In fact, probably very few were, and probably not many more than one would find in a successful school district. What that school district had was not incompetent teachers, but ineffective ones, and the distinction is crucial.

The simple fact is that even great teachers can become ineffective if put in difficult or impossible circumstances. The best curriculum, the best classroom management techniques, the best pedagogy, and the best motivational techniques will simply not work if social and material pressures leave most students disinterested in or hostile to school.

There is a reason why schools have always been left under local authority in our country. It's because government, schools, and teachers are not ultimately responsible for educating our children; parents and communities are. As states and the federal government exert more control over schools, communities with poor records on education are happy to step aside, absolve themselves of responsibility, rely on external government programs for solutions, and then blame the government when solutions fail.

However, communities and parents are what shape attitudes toward school and are what provide the support structure necessary for good education. Once these are in place, almost any teacher will be effective. Firing a bunch of teachers because the community is failing on education is simply creating scapegoats. None of those teachers is perfect, but almost all would be successful in a school district that is already successful.

Posted by: blert | March 1, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Paul Vallas deserves all of the credit with improving CPS.

Arnie Duncan was and still remains a big disappointment.

Posted by: chicago3 | March 1, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

One of the better things I've read in the Post. Bravo, Valerie Strauss.

We are told that this is a classless society. If a kid does poorly in school, it's the kid's fault, or the parents' fault, or the teacher's fault, or the school's fault. Those who believe the classless society myth wag their fingers in arrogant ignorance. Those who are selling it make out like bandits. Either way, the kids pay. The poor and the weak always do.

Posted by: geezjan | March 1, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Stories such as this always amaze me a bit. Authors and others seem to struggle to explain how the system failed and whose at fault. In my view, this results from a basic misunderstanding of the education process.

The pro-active part of the education porcess is the "learning-end" not the "teaching-end." Without the student wanting to, willing to and able to learn the teaching will always be ineffective (see the author's father's experience with the poorer students). There is nothing the teacher can do to maximize performance across the board, though occassionally you hear stories of one or two students in these settings who want to learn and who thrive.

In the not too distant past the education system in America and around the world was a simple system: Students paid their teachers to teach them. In some parts of the world this is still the model. And it worked. Why? Because the student (and/or their family) was invested in the learning process and they did their pro-active part to learn. The problem was that not everyone went to school and some people couldn't go because of the cost or even the proximity to a school.

Society, especially in the U.S. aroudn teh turn of the century, decided that they needed all people educated and they eliminated child labor to make time for school, established public schools that cost the students little if anything, and enacted truency laws to keep kids in school. It workled for some, if not most, particularly in smaller towns and close-knit communituies that made it clear to students that the community had a vested interets in their education, and this rubbed off on most students for whom it bacame somewhat of an obligation to learn and be educated: They were incented by community pride rather than dollars and cents.

However, today in many school settings especially in larger more impersonal cities (see the higher drop-out rate in cities versus more rural areas and public school versus the private school environment) the students (and too often their families) have no legacy of education and they pay nothing for it so it is not seen a valuable and they react by being passive or totally disinterested in education. In these settings the teacher is a babysitter at best and there is nothing he/she can do to teach when student don't want to learn. Without a thirst for learning (the pro-active part) there is no receptivity.

Railing against teachers, as much fun as that can be, isn't the answer and maybe we as a society have to just recognize, like days of old, some people don't want to learn in the normal way and maybe we have to change the model, say more on the job training programs run by businesses and unions and incent learning with a paycheck and not the promise of a sheepskin. Maybe we have to also lower our expectations for our education system and generally get real, not everyone wants to learn in the traditional sense.

Posted by: mikes7373 | March 1, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Valerie Strauss took a very small portion of Obama's speech, compared it with her uncle's teaching experiences, and WahLah..."Obama supports teachers being fired"

Sorry Twosons,
Obama's secretary of education was rather clear about his message. If that high an official makes a statement calling the firings courageous then Obama's position is rather clear.

Posted by: mamoore1 | March 1, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Well, "me thinks" that the writer protests too much. As a retired educator of both "poor" and "rich" schools, it seems that there was a problem at that RI school, at least on the surface. Perhaps the none of us knows at this moment what both Arne Duncan and the President knows about this particular situation.

Posted by: EarlC | March 1, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

From a family of teachers, I cannot stand seeing teachers being beat up on--cannot stand it, in most cases. But the unfortunate truth here is that if this was a school of the majority, such institutionalized failure would never have been tolerated and certainly not for so long. And the firings would never have been the subject of this column. Bravo to the President for expecting more for our kids. Those teachers who were really at the top of their game will get another chance.

Posted by: CharacterCounts | March 1, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

If it was truly taken as a last resort, and you say it shouldn't have been done - then it seems your recommending doing nothing
-------------
I think she was saying it's best not to solely blame the teachers, Obama and Duncan perhaps making assumptions that are incorrect.

And when those in power make bad decisions borne of a lack of comprehension, real failure is evident and unavoidable, e.g., a situation is created which is not in any way productive, one directly affecting not only the kids but the state of education in America.

The article was more about the need to look and understand causation before offering solutions and assigning blame.

The problem is Washington, too...

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | March 1, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Valerie Strauss took a very small portion of Obama's speech, compared it with her uncle's teaching experiences, and WahLah..."Obama supports teachers being fired"

Sorry Twosons,
Obama's secretary of education was rather clear about his message. If that high an official makes a statement calling the firings courageous then Obama's position is rather clear.

Posted by: mamoore1 | March 1, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

_________________

mamoore1,

The words from Obama's mouth supports teachers and principals, their long hours and hard work that they do. Firing teachers as the very last resort if "year after year after year" of improvement did not occur.

Posted by: TwoSons | March 1, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Every major study of educational achievement since the 1970s has concluded that the major determining factor of educational achievement is the income and educational level of the parents
/////////////

I understand the point that parents and the home environment are the #1 factor in a child's education, but the reality is that many children live in less than optimal homes.

If the home environment cannot be improved, why are we bothering to keep the school open and the teachers payed if an education is no use to these children?

Of course it's mandated by law, but educators who teach in these schools need to ask themselves that question.

Should the School District be required to keep paying them if their best efforts are for not? Most would say no.

Posted by: moebius22 | March 1, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

The people closes to the situation chose to fire the teachers. A 7% pass rate is certainly evidence their action was well-grounded. Obama and Duncan are simply going with the judgment of the people closest to the situation. And by the way, LOCAL CONTROL is supposed to be a hallmark of conservatives; obviously, the Obama-haters will garb at any branch in their pathetic belief that everything he does is not only wrong, but unreasonable.

Posted by: gbooksdc | March 1, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

You seem to deliberately miss the point of the firings. They were set off by the refusal of the teachers' union to agree to 20 minutes a week of extra tutoring in order to give struggling students a chance to catch up on their work.

Administrators can't fix failing schools if their staff won't change work practices that are clearly failing the kids. They need some flexibility. The teachers would have been paid, but not (in their minds) enough. They already made far more than the average family in the school district, but they couldn't sacrifice a few minutes a week for the benefit of these kids.

THAT is why Arne and Obama are right to back up the superintendent on this one. I don't think this administration is always right, especially on education. But in this instance they are standing up for the right team. Are you?

Posted by: Clio1 | March 1, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

I was disappointed to see so many commenters didn't understand the connection between the "Uncle Arnie" story and the rest of the article. Teachers do not work in a vacuum.

As a high school teacher I often teach the same lesson to different classes over the course of one day. I've had experiences where one class left me feeling like a miracle worker and another left me feeling completely incompetent. These were classes of similar levels within the same school, some of which simply had better chemistry, behavior, and comprehension.

Of course a functional school with well-prepared students makes it easier to be a successful teacher. When states take over schools in the name of "restructuring," they are doing little more than punishing those willing to work in challenging environments. Most students and teachers in high-poverty schools have similar, not opposite, interests. After all, they spend every day together in schools where non-educator policy-makers wouldn't send their own kids... even if all the teachers were replaced by superstar educators.

Roxanna Elden
Author of "See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers."

Posted by: RoxannaElden | March 1, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Duncan's policy of firing teachers is simply wrong headed and ineffective. Students in low level schools in Chicago get the worst possible administrators who are nothing if not inept and usually no more than political hacks. Duncan blames the teachers for students who do anything they want, which doesn't include learning.

Posted by: Scrumble | March 1, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

If they reconstitute the chool with all new people the success rte will be lower until some have some experiecne and have a clue about what they are doing. But if they bring in Edison or Charters they can expect a success rate near zero. We saw a similar thing here in PA with the Chester school system. the state took over, restructured to school, brought in Edison, and in one year the situation was so amazingly bad they had to go back to where they were. It is not the school that is failing the kids, it is the economic structure and social situations that economic structure engenders that fails these kids.

Posted by: John1263 | March 1, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Duncan's policy of firing teachers is simply wrong headed and ineffective. Students in low level schools in Chicago get the worst possible administrators who are nothing if not inept and usually no more than political hacks. Duncan blames the teachers for students who do anything they want, which doesn't include learning.

Posted by: Scrumble | March 1, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Duncan's policy of firing teachers is simply wrong headed and ineffective. Students in low level schools in Chicago get the worst possible administrators who are nothing if not inept and usually no more than political hacks. Duncan blames the teachers for students who do anything they want, which doesn't include learning.
============================
If you were handing in a 17% success rate at your job would you still be employed?

Administrators don't teach. Teachers teach. If these teachers were doing their best then they deserved to fired. And in this case the entire stucture was let go. As much as I hate to see people lose their jobs, a 17% success rate with "our" children in just unacceptable.

Posted by: justonevoice | March 1, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Lazy incompetent teachers are eaten alive by students. Devoured whole and they don't even spit out the bones. It is why there is a 50% loss rate for teachers in the first 5 years. the crappie teachers don;t survive.

As for school today -- today we attempt to educate everyone to the level where they would theoretically be able to atend university. 50 years ago most states were just starting full compulsory ed, with the idea that most would go into jobs in industry. Not the same thing.

Posted by: John1263 | March 1, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Some teachers, fancifully known as "educators," just go through the motions. The path is clear. A teacher is in the classroom primarily to ensure attendance, secondarily to enforce discipline, and, down the list, responsible for "covering material," "administering examinations," and "correcting papers." Actual teaching may not be required. When the whole bunch of "educators" -- from the principal down to the lowly teacher's aide -- are unable to fix what is broken, then maybe mass firing is in order. Also to be fired: The Area Supervisor. There is no standard for teaching. Any student who gets a lousy grade is assigned 100% of the blame for that. A royal screw up of a teacher is not detected as long as the individual gives every appearance of competence and doesn't cause his administrators any trouble.

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | March 1, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

A good idea would be to randomly install cameras, for one year, in several of the most challenging classrooms in the U.S.

Maybe it's "over" time to do some real research, classroom assessment gathering, observation of teacher techniques and observation of student behaviors. A real time/life evaluation could create real solutions.

Posted by: TwoSons | March 1, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

The blunder within Mrs. Strauss's three article series on the RI teacher firings is her failure to include the word "Union" in any of them.

Copy/Pasted from Clio1's comments:

You seem to deliberately miss the point of the firings. They were set off by the refusal of the teachers' union to agree to 20 minutes a week of extra tutoring in order to give struggling students a chance to catch up on their work.

Administrators can't fix failing schools if their staff won't change work practices that are clearly failing the kids. They need some flexibility. The teachers would have been paid, but not (in their minds) enough. They already made far more than the average family in the school district, but they couldn't sacrifice a few minutes a week for the benefit of these kids.

THAT is why Arne and Obama are right to back up the superintendent on this one. I don't think this administration is always right, especially on education. But in this instance they are standing up for the right team. Are you?

Posted by: Clio1 | March 1, 2010 6:30 PM

Posted by: alexandrian78 | March 1, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

It would be nice if we could see some consistency on family income.
Is it $10,000 a year or $22,000 a year.
It would be nice to see some honesty on teachers' salaries at Central Falls HS.
The $75,000 figure being bandied about seems to be the highest a teacher can be paid; after getting a doctor's equivalent of graduate courses and putting in many years.

As for the students, their reading level was about 25% proficient in 7th grade. By 11th grade, it has doubled.
Not where it should be, but progress has been made.
(unless one is expecting the second coming of Michelle Rhee's "Baltimore Miracle.")

Posted by: edlharris | March 1, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

To those who are critical of teachers, I invite you to try the profession for a while. There is a misconception that teachers work relatively short days and have summers off. Truth is, they need the two months (it certainly isn't three anymore) off during the summer just to recuperate from the long hours spent working when school is in session.

My school day, officially, ends at 2:45, but the only time I leave school at 2:45 is when I have to leave for a doctor's appointment or some other engagement. I routinely work up to between 4 and 5 p.m. EVERY DAY, and still I have a lot of unfinished paperwork on my plate that I could take home and work on even more. (I'm a special education teacher, so I have an inordinate amount of paperwork anyways. But, in all honesty, my general education counterparts work lengthy hours as well). I also am well qualified with multiple Master's degrees and have owned by own business, so I know a little about multi-tasking.

I provide the detail here simply to suggest that the Rhode Island teachers probably already felt they were putting in long hours without pay. My experience is that administrators and Board members remove themselves too far from the reality of the demands of the classroom, particularly during this era of high-stakes testing, that most of their requirements are unreasonable if not abusive.

Certainly, we do not know all the facts of the Rhode Island school. But having transitioned from another professional career into teaching, I empathize with teachers far more than I would have been able to do had I not made the decision to "walk in the shoe" of a public school teacher. I have immense respect for them.

Posted by: vscribe | March 1, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

I think much of the problem is accounted for by the different perspectives from which each group views the source of the problem. There is a fundamental difference in how educators and the public view academic performance and academic accountability.

Teachers see themselves as one of many factors that impacts a child's learning experience. Thus they feel it unfair to hold teacher's totally accountable for when children fail to perform up to standards.

The public on the other hand view teachers as an employee responsible for producing quality product. Therefore, the educator is held to task for results-even when extenuating circumstances are present.

Thus educators, politicians, and the public continue to talk past each other.

Posted by: moebius22 | March 1, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Until you have spent time teaching in a public school, you cannot fully appreciate the emotional stress that comes with the calling.

If teachers could spend all of their time teaching instead of also having to be clerks, counselors, coaches, accountants, security guards, cheerleaders, foster parents, etc, then it might be fair to judge them solely on what can be measured on a standardized test.

Fortunately for most of the public and all of the politicians, they do not have a job that so consumes their waking hours and invades their fitful sleep. The students' failures, fears, trials and triumphs are part of the teacher's everyday world, and that is a strain between sadness and joy that is too much for many people to face.

Posted by: mingkeeper | March 1, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

I do not know enough about the reform efforts at that particular school , so it's hard to comment...but when is it o.k. to fire a teacher if students don't learn?

There are deadbeat parents, and children with issues you can't imagine...

BUT

what about doctors? isn't their job to save lives regardless of who they are, what they did, and where they live...they just treat the patient.

Posted by: rickyroge | March 1, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree that Obama has fallen down on the job as President; he has broken his promises to the American people who elected him; and now he has made comments about the firing of R.I. teachers without bothering to assess the situation or garner facts.

Such a disappointment.

Educators today have a hard row to hoe. Students run amok in the schools without discipline, disrupting classrooms so those who want to learn, can't. I witnessed this first-hand when my son was in middle and high school.

When teachers, and by extension, parents, have the tools of discipline taken from them, it's impossible to teach or raise children properly.

I'm not saying beat the kids (although certainly there are some that might benefit from it - after all, even God said "Spare the rod, spoil the child"), but for goodness sake, teachers have to have some tools at their disposal to force unruly kids to toe the line.

Parents, too. There are some kids who just don't respond well to instruction - either at home or at school. They ignore their parents'/teachers' warnings because they know that when push comes to shove, their parents and teachers can do NOTHING to MAKE the kids mind them.

Permissive liberals have made sure that kids now have the power to have their parents/teachers arrested, fired, etc. - all they have to do is say "abuse" and it's a done deal.

If you want to see kids improve in both their manners and in their abc's, then one of the things we have to do is give back to parents and teachers the power to enforce the rules they set for their children/students.

Otherwise, this will become a country in which kids will continue to rule the roost, telling their parents, teachers, and other community elders what they will or will not do, rather than the other way around.

And that, my friends, is what falling down on the job is really all about: the failure to teach our children not just the basics of school instruction, but the abc's of living.

Posted by: kentuckywoman2 | March 1, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

mingkeeper...

I have been a teacher and am now an Administrator...

You are correct...but isn't this the profession you chose?

Posted by: rickyroge | March 1, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

I'd like him to take the same stance with the Department of Education and fire them. What a USELESS outfit.

And thanks Mr. President, for painting a target on the back of every teacher in the US. What a STUPID thing he said.

Posted by: tarheeler | March 1, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Commenting on mingkeeper above, unless some of the posters above have spent a few months in a school similar to the one in question (and I have spent over a decade in and currently teach in one) you have no idea what difficulties a teacher in such a school must overcome. Half of all teachers quit after five years, in schools such as these, more than half. Let Obama, Duncan, and the school board members in Rhode Island teacher at the school for a semester.

Then let's talk.

Posted by: evlanton | March 1, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

1. Obama should focus on his own job.

2. You can lead a mule to water............

3. We don't need no education............

4. Experience is a dear teacher.............

5. Wisdom is the principal thing...........

Posted by: rusty3 | March 1, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher, I know that any teacher worth their salt that has had experience with children in need, knows that there are many extenuating factors which greatly affect their learning- many of which were mentioned in this article. A hungry child is not as ready to learn as a child who has had a good breakfast. A child who has little or no parental support at home doesn't have the success with homework and reading that other child do. Denying the importance of these factors is like an ostrich putting their head in the sand. That doesn't mean that the teachers get a free pass or an excuse for poor teaching. But lets give the teachers the benefit of the doubt and assume they did the best they could. Even caring, competent teachers face a steep uphill battle against poverty, hunger, worry over safety and a disspirited attitude. Many kids don't even sleep well b/c they share a room with many other family members. Furthermore, often struggling schools lack funding for special programs that might raise test scores and more importantly, teach life skills like reading, math and a love of learning. The biggest question I have is the school board thinks they're going to attract top-quality, experienced educators to a school that is failing, offers poor salaries and is in an undesirable locale. That is the real challenge facing them! Good luck with that. I have a martyr complex but still, I know I wouldn't apply.

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Posted by: xciaioivs | March 1, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

The main problem with this article that was not addressed is the teacher's at this poor performing school objected to the pay raise offered to spend extra time teaching during thier workday, to try and improve the schools standing.
The pay for these teachers averages around $70,000 per year, and of course as with most public school teachers you do not have to work year round. I would like to know if this is true. I think I read this in the Washington Post, if this is true then I think firing these teacher's was the correct thing to do. It is not so much that they can control the student population, I have friends who are teachers who struggle with the "No Child" paperwork instead of teaching and dealing with students who cannot read, write or speak english at a basic level, I understand they cannot be at fault for a poor community. However, considering the hard times we are having and how incredibly poor the students are achieving, I think they could have comprimised on their pay.
I do not know the actual facts here, I would like to if the pay issue is true.

Posted by: moore732 | March 1, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Geoffrey Canada has a policy with his charter school in the Harlem Children's Zone: every one of his students is going to college, or his employees are getting fired. That's how the military works, too. I support the President. Don't tell us why you can't...tell us why you can.

Posted by: seancarp102 | March 1, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, genius, abolish the Education Department just because some schools are falling behind. That's like eliminating the Pentagon because we haven't achieved world peace. Moron...

Posted by: mikebythesun | March 1, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Today I had a conversation with a brilliant graduate of NYU who expressed an interest in becoming a teacher. This is what I said to him:

"When I started teaching I didn't care whether the children were rich or poor. I taught mostly poor children for many years and had a wonderful, satisfying career. However, now that teachers are being evaluated based on student test scores, I would advise you to try to teach in the most affluent districts in the country."

He responded with these words: "Yes, that's what everyone is telling me."

I imagine conversations like this are taking place all over America. Two can play this game.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | March 1, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Good teachers are a must, especially when there are so many mediocre ones around. But no matter how good teachers may be, if the home environment and the pressure students face daily in their neighborhoods counters everything positive they may experience at school, reinforcement is gone and the norm or their lives generally prevails. This is a societal thing not easily fixed by money, good teachers, or presidential grandstanding. How you fix it is a mystery and has been for some time. The last thing you do is find scapegoats.

Posted by: wp318676 | March 1, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Some of the comments here suggest that the teachers make too much in comparison to the parents of the kids they teach. What does that have to do with anything? How are you going to get teachers to work there if you don't pay them a competitive salary? Also, are you suggesting that a teacher working in a wealthy neighborhood make 200,000 a year, like the parents of his or her students?

I still think some lousy teachers were fired, but most were probably already putting in long hours already. I wonder if the fired teachers that they want to come
back will. I also wonder what effect this will have on the kids.

If the school was really that poorly run, perhaps this is a blessing in disguise for those teachers. Working/trying to learn in a poorly run school anywhere is bad for kids and teachers.

I just hope that the good teachers don't get marked as ineffective due to this. I also hope the school can get going. That kind of uproar is not good for the students.

Posted by: celestun100 | March 1, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Geoffrey Canada has a policy with his charter school in the Harlem Children's Zone: every one of his students is going to college, or his employees are getting fired. That's how the military works, too. I support the President. Don't tell us why you can't...tell us why you can.

Posted by: seancarp102 | March 1, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

_____________________

OMG! The young lives that Mr. Canada saved in Harlem!

A parent brought this to school and teacher shared it with her classroom (with approval of the Principal of course). She then held a discussion regarding the content of the poem and what the children thought it meant to them. It was remarkable to witness.

http://www.hcz.org/

Harlem Children’s Zone

Don’t Blame Me

The girl’s mother said, “Don’t blame me.
Her father left when she was three.
I know she don’t know her ABCs, her 1,2,3s,
But I am poor and work hard you see.”
You know the story, it’s don’t blame me.
The teacher shook her head and said,
“Don’t blame me, I know it’s sad.
He’s ten, but if the truth be told,
He reads like he was six years old.
And math, don’t ask.
It’s sad you see.
Wish I could do more, but it’s after three.
Blame the mom, blame society, blame the system.
Just don’t blame me.”
The judge was angry, his expression cold.
He scowled and said, “Son you’ve been told.
Break the law again and you’ll do time.
You’ve robbed with a gun.
Have you lost your mind?”
The young man opened his mouth to beg.
“Save your breath,” he heard instead.
“Your daddy left when you were two.
Your momma didn’t take care of you.
Your school prepared you for this fall.
Can’t read, can’t write, can’t spell at all.
But you did the crime for all to see.
You’re going to jail, son.
Don’t blame me.”
If there is a God or a person supreme,
A final reckoning, for the kind and the mean,
And judgment is rendered on who passed the buck,
Who blamed the victim or proudly stood up,
You’ll say to the world, “While I couldn’t save all,
I did not let these children fall.
By the thousands I helped all I could see.
No excuses, I took full responsibility.
No matter if they were black or white,
Were cursed, ignored, were wrong or right,
Were shunned, pre-judged, were short or tall,
I did my best to save them all.”
And I will bear witness for eternity
That you can state proudly,
“Don’t blame me.”

‐ By Geoffrey Canada
February 2007

Posted by: TwoSons | March 1, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

If you look at the RI NECAP scores in math statewide, 11th graders are 27% proficient in math. How does that 7% look now? Did you think RI students were 80%, 90% proficient? No. Almost 3 out of 4 students are not proficient and 90% of them do not have the socio-economic conditions that the Central Falls students do. What's their excuse? Furthermore, these math tests are not yet required for graduation. That will be in 2012. Then RI will have so many low-performing schools because they will not reach 100% proficient in this lifetime. What then? Will all these schools be shut down? And where will RI get all the "excellent" teachers that they will then need? Those "excellent" teachers will be nowhere to be found.

Posted by: factcheckerRI | March 1, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

Cannot believe I fell for Obama's hustle. Change?! That ignorant racist from South Carolina Joe Wilson might have been on to something. Obama, you do lie!

This fraud serves the bankers, continues sending young Americans to their deaths in far off wars, extends the Patriot Act, kills innocents with his drones, keeps Guantanamo up and running, and now supports the firing of teachers whose only crime is being in a poverty-ridden community's only high school.

This man has turned out to be one of history's greatest con artists.

Posted by: malcolmxmlk | March 1, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for explaining that there are many children who come to school sleep deprived, without proper nutrition, just plain hungry, form homes that are either violent or very loud and the rest...

This affects the ability to learn. duh.

Posted by: jato11 | March 1, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

It's the parents' fault, of course, since they apparently didn't demand that the school meet their expectations. Oh wait, maybe it did.

Posted by: dadofmeg | March 1, 2010 7:56 PM | Report abuse

I thought the President was correct in hilighting the school who fired all the teachers because they were not improving but hurting the children who get one chance. Remember the teachers are upfront with the students! If they can't teach, get another job....

Posted by: QuietStormX | March 1, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

Why is it so difficult to understand one simple fact:

Schools are NOT Businesses.

I don't even know where this analogy comes from. Schools don't produce anything or provide service for fee (UPS doesn't have to deliver packages that walk out of the truck). Schools have no customers (parents, maybe? But that doesn't work because Verizon can't blame Verizon when they don't charge their phone). They are a government agency that provides a legally mandated service. There isn't a business functioning whose customers actively work AGAINST the product, like some students, parents. If a school fails, it doesn't "go under" like a business, it has to stay open, and it's not like there is a limitless supply of good employees that work cheap at a place where things beyond your control get you fired.

It is right that when a business fails, just like when teachers get fired, the wheat gets thrown out with the chaff, but the best and brightest will get snapped up by better (read: richer) districts, and the end result is a drain of good teachers from poorer schools.

I never thought I'd see the day when a Democratic president gives praise to an employer for mass firing union members.

Also, it takes 90 days and some documentation to fire a teacher, not an act of God... this is lazy administrating.

Posted by: someguy100 | March 1, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

QuietstormX:
How do you figure that the teachers were failing the children? The math score for CF went up 3% over the previous year whereas for the rest of the state it went up just 2% in math. Furthermore, there is no stability in CF high school where in 4 years there have been 4 principals as well as 7 asst principals who have been either fired or left. Is this the teachers' fault too?

Posted by: factcheckerRI | March 1, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Um, I believe the unionized teachers got fired when they refused to do a little more work to help the students. Things like tutoring or adding 20-30 minutes to each school day or eating with the students once in a while. Too onerous for the union. Too bad they couldn't be flexible and lost their jobs. Don't see this as being the fault of anyone but the unionized teachers who refused to help even when faced with the fact that they sure couldn't teach.

Posted by: bandmom22 | March 1, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Maybe instead of bussing the kids out of their neighborhoods the pay in each neighborhood school should be based on the percentage of black kids. Base pay for 90% white kids and then an additional 10% for every 10% of black kids.

The teachers who wanted the extra pay could bid THEIR class record against the job. In each set of bids the school board would pick the teachers whose kids got the highest scores.

Posted by: billwald | March 1, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse

Welcome to the read world, O sheltered teachers.

Ever stop to think that the teachers who were there included some who couldn't get a job at another school? Firing everybody may be the only way to deal with issues like seniority that would be seen as "discriminatory".

In the real world, people lose their jobs when their organization doesn't perform. That's just how it is. It creates motivation to try to make things work better, or to vote with your feet.

Posted by: dhartmanva | March 1, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Valerie Strauss' blog post, or rant, provides absolutely no suggestion on how to improve outcomes at schools where the kids aren't learning. You can't just say "This doesn't work" and walk away. What else would you have people do when a school has just 7% of 11th graders meeting minimum state standards?

In that case, people should be fired, schools broken up, kids sent to separate schools so maybe they will have a better chance at passing.

I'm all for finding a way to bring the parents some consequences as well & tying Board of Education members incomes to overall school system performance may be a good idea too(?) It may get them to be more hands-on.

In any case, Mrs. Strauss, we no longer have the luxury to merely rant about things we disagree with in the education system - we better all start talking about actionable solutions to try to help fix the problem. Or we simply won't have a workforce in the 21st century.

I like the idea of having schools work with local businesses to set up 6-week internships for high school students, just so they get some taste of the working world & what they need to be able to succeed there. Might help encourage them to do well in school.

Posted by: agupta1 | March 1, 2010 8:28 PM | Report abuse

He was in trouble the minute he opened his mouth.

How about if he'd said, "well this school is the worst in Rhode Island and the teachers and staff are doing a heck of a job!"

Posted by: RedBird27 | March 1, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

I agree with President Obama on this one.

Posted by: sonofliberty09 | March 1, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse

Silly argument. If only 7% of the students are meeting standards, the school does need to be disbanded. Why are we defending a failing school? Those teachers can get another job. These students on the other hand are the ones that are really affected when they are allowed to be hurt by that horrible education they were receiving. Most people have to produce results. Teachers should not get a free pass on failing to educate their students.

Posted by: onifadee | March 1, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse

It's about time that Students
and Parents take responsibility
for their failure. Self Esteme
is Bogus. Only Self Respect is
genuine and you have to earn it.
Nobody in this deteriorating
society wil take responsibility
for their conduct anymore and
that includes presidents who
admit they don't have the facts
and yet call cops "stupid" for
doing their job. But I don't
think you want the truth, do you.
You just want to hear what you
want to. Nothing more, nothing less.

Posted by: iamredwolf | March 1, 2010 8:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised at how many readers who have posted comments seem to be missing the point of this piece. Comments along the lines of if 7% of students are meeting standards, the of course the school should be disbanded or why is the author defending a failing school, or what evidence does the author have that the teachers are brilliant educators. These comments actually get to the heart of what the author is trying to communicate: that the board and the President have missed the root cause issues in deciding that the poor student performance reflects the teachers efforts. Her point with the example of her relative was that as a teacher in a school population with poor, hungry kids who did not read at home, did not receive parent support, his teaching was not effective. But that same teaching at a school where the kids were well fed, well rested and had parents who supported them did very well. I fear that the comments above simply demonstrate what recent studies have shown, that even many who might read this blog are functionally illiterate in that they cannot read content and really understand its meaning.

Posted by: tparadise1 | March 1, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Schooling starts at home! When parents do not give a rats ---, why would the kids.
So easy to blame the teachers! I am surprised almost all the posts blame the school. LOL WOW The kids need a good asswhipping both at school and home. In way too many schools the kids run the school as they know nothing can happen to them at all.

Posted by: usmc1969 | March 1, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone read what anyone else posts? Statewide in RI only 27% of 11th graders are meeting the math proficiency standard. 27%. That's a disgrace too. Where's the outrage over this? The Republican governor has proposed a reduction of $11 million in aid to Central Falls and has increased aid to the wealthiest districts, with the wealthiest district set to receive more than 500% more than the previous year. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Posted by: factcheckerRI | March 1, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

Schooling starts at home! When parents do not give a rats ---, why would the kids.
So easy to blame the teachers! I am surprised almost all the posts blame the school. LOL WOW The kids need a good asswhipping both at school and home. In way too many schools the kids run the school as they know nothing can happen to them at all.

Posted by: usmc1969 | March 1, 2010 8:56 PM | Report abuse

RI is so dinky that one of our state counties could absorb it

Posted by: houston123 | March 1, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

"It is the last resort in the No Child Left Behind law, which mandates that school systems meet specific student achievement targets. If they don't, in the end, all the teachers have to be fired (though some get rehired, as is expected at Central Falls)."

This is NOT what happened. The superintendent gave the teachers and staff a choice: meet several conditions, including rotating extra tutoring for 25 minutes a day and spending one day a week eating lunch with their students - or being fired. The UNION stepped in and refused to agree to the conditions if the teachers weren't paid more, and there was no money in the budget to pay them any more. Therefore, it was the TEACHERS AND STAFF, through their union, who chose to be fired.

You can bet that the teachers who had indicated that they were willing to meet the extra requirements will be the ones rehired. The rest have no one else to blame but themselves and their union.

Posted by: anna_78750 | March 1, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

To anna_78750
That's where you are wrong because the teachers never even got to take a vote.

Posted by: factcheckerRI | March 1, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Instead of a war on poverty, we have a war on poor people. Everything is their fault. Thank you for a compassionate piece. It is hard enough working against the odds without the president weighing in on the side of the well-heeled. No Child Left Behind is all about leaving children behind.

Posted by: SarahBB | March 1, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Here is some background on the Central Falls situation.

The Central Falls Teachers' Union refused to accept a reform plan aimed at improving the dismal test scores at the school, so the teachers were sacked. Central Falls School Superintendent Frances Gallo blamed the union for rejecting a proposal that Gallo put on the table in response to a mandate from the state’s Education Commissioner, Deborah Gist.

Essentially, Gist offered Gallo four models to “fix” the school. Gallo's first choice, the “transformation” model, met Gist’s conditions on how to improve the high school. What did she want the Central Falls teacher to do under this model? (1) Tack 25 minutes onto the school day. (2) Provide tutoring on a rotating schedule before and after school. (3) Eat lunch with students once a week. (4) Submit to more rigorous evaluations. (5) Attend weekly after-school planning sessions with other teachers. (6) Participate in two weeks of training in the summer.

Under Gallo’s “transformation” model proposal, the teachers would have been paid for some of the additional duties. Gallo said she just didn’t have the funds to compensate the teachers for everything that would be added to their plate.

When the union refused to accept the conditions, Gallo moved on to her second choice, the “turnaround” model, under which the entire staff was fired. The turnaround model allows the district to hire back no more than half of the old staff.

How bad is Central Falls High? Just 3% of the school’s 11th graders scored “proficient” in math in 2008 and just 7% met the mark in 2009. The school's graduation rate is around 48%.

But here are some additional numbers to consider. Of the Central Falls High School students who participated in state assessments, 22% were identified with Limited English proficiency (English as their second language) compared to just 3% for the state of Rhode Island as a whole. In addition, 23% had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) designed for students with special needs. The state average is 17%. Finally, 85% were classified as economically disadvantaged compared to the state average of 35%. Central Falls High School’s demographics do not mirror those of the state. Central Falls is a tiny, tough, poor place.

BTW, the other options Gist presented to Gallo? Closing the school or turning it into a charter school. Gallo didn't think either of those would work.

Personally, rather than firing all of the teachers I would have closed the school and distributed all of the students and staff to the other, more affluent and "successful" high schools. It would be very interesting to see what would happen to the standardized test scores at those schools.

I also wonder how the teachers at Central Falls High would have voted on the “transformation” model, if given the chance. As far as I can tell, they weren't given that opportunity.

Posted by: daveairozo | March 1, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

When I was in high school, in a lower middle class area, virtually 100% graduated and 60+% went to college. This was the same in all of the towns around, and pretty close in the nearest two cities of any size. The difference between then and now that I can discern is we never had illegal aliens and we never had teachers' unions.

I have a friend who is a retired teacher from the NYC system. She told me that there is a 34 page document of rules and steps to follow before you can discipline a union teacher. So the key factor in the decline of public education has to be somewhat due to this problem, or am I totally wrong?

Posted by: apberusdisvet | March 1, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

I've met the administrators in the Chicago system.

They seem mainly self important, and couldn't find their nether regions with both hands and a direction manual.

If the Chicago school administration is model, I say shut down every school system now and save ourselves the problems.

I suspect most kids would learn more watching MTV and reading the back of baseball cards.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | March 1, 2010 9:02 PM | Report abuse

The problem is that we somehow made education a "right". Secondly, if it's free, people won't value it. So, charge a fee to go to school. Children that misbehave will have their parents to deal with for "wasting $". Maybe we can actually reduce taxes that's being wasted. Those that want to go to school but can't afford it can join ROTC or some sort of public service in order to pay their way.

Make them earn in... both the kids and parents... show them the value of education... If parents are force to pay for school, they might think twice about having kids willy nilly... and we all save on taxes!

Posted by: vinhr1 | March 1, 2010 9:04 PM | Report abuse

Two Sons makes an excellent point in bringing up the work of Geoffrey Canada. Here is a man who did "whatever it takes" to reach the children in his community. He provided them with health care, "baby college," parent education, preschool, small classes, excellent teachers with all the needed resources, tutoring, counseling and summer classes.

I am so disappointed that President Obama didn't look at Central Falls and say "Let's give these kids whatever it takes to help them to be successful." Instead, he too is scapegoating the teachers who would probably be getting "off the chart" test scores if they were teaching in Newport, RI.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | March 1, 2010 9:04 PM | Report abuse

Little wonder why we import 1.5 million workers into the US annually to work at Microsoft and other high tech jobs. But someone has to flip the burgers and who is better suited for that than our kids. LOL
India and even terrorist haven Pakistan produce Engineers and Computer Geeks. We can't even get kids through high school. Immigrants love our lack of producing kids that can't to count to 11 without taking off there shoes.

Posted by: usmc1969 | March 1, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

As with most things in life, this is not a zero-sum equation. I'm willing to bet it reflects decades of failure, portions of which can be legitimately laid at many doorstops ... parents, school administrators, teachers, elected leaders, etc. But study after study shows students whose parents take an active role in their education are far more successful than those whose parents are MIA. We parents enjoy the benefit of a very convenient and self-serving illusion. When our children are over-indulged, under-achieving and under-disciplined, debate in the public square generally throws everyone under the bus, but us.

Posted by: stephanie17 | March 1, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

This whole discussion is absurd. There has never been a child who did poorly in school whose parents were not involved in tutoring and making sure homework is done, etc.
There are many children who do poorly and all of their parents are either uninvolved, don't care, or to busy with their own lives.
People should stop scapegoating teachers or the system or the government when the real culprit is uninvolved parents. Every caring parent will know this to be true and it is about true responsibility and accountability.

Posted by: RememberIraq | March 1, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Wow, what a cop out by this NEA union rep(Valerie Straus). Yes your life experiences can affect your abilities in the class room. But when 93% of the kids are too dumb to pass a very standard test, it's not the kids or the parents fault.

It is a systemic failure of the teachers/faculty to provide an adequate learning environment.

Posted by: lottaaction | March 1, 2010 9:26 PM | Report abuse

No teacher, not even the "miracle workers", can overcome indifferent parents. If parents don't know how to raise their children and cannot instill in them any desire to learn or any feelings of responsibility, then Obama may as well fire every teacher in the nation.

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Posted by: qitkonlyyou | March 1, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

The world needs ditch diggers too

Posted by: hithere2 | March 1, 2010 9:34 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, Obie and his wife are totally against everything they used and took advantage to get to where they are.....programs for minorities such as the Voucher Program, OBama';s ended, yet both used similar programs to get into college and grad school....bummer

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Posted by: qitkonlyyou | March 1, 2010 9:34 PM | Report abuse

what about doctors? isn't their job to save lives regardless of who they are, what they did, and where they live...they just treat the patient.
----
Just as doctors treat every patient, teachers must teach every student. So? Do you think a doctor will achieve a great outcome if the patient he/she treats continues to smoke/drink/drug himself to death? Of course not. Would you then blame the doctor if the patient subsequently died? No, you'd blame the patient.

But when a student who does no homework, fails to pay attention, participate, or even attend, class, you blame the teacher?

What drapes are YOU smoking?

Posted by: notation | March 1, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

When the playing field is made even and public schools can expel children for the same reasons as private schools, then and only then can we compare schools. The only reason a private school needs is.... none.

When children in the poorest of environments have regular food, regular sleep, and live in a drug free or at least drug controlled environment, then we can compare school testing performances.

When society stops holding parental rights above childrens rights, children might be of a mindset to learn.

When children are able to stop living in mortal fear at school, maybe they can learn.

When parenting actually happens, we can evaluate teachers on teaching ability instead of hiring teachers to cope with the cast offs of the rest of us.

For all of you who believe you can do better than most inner city teachers, quit your jobs and go do it. Prove me wrong, please. I would be so happy to be proven wrong.

Mr. President; shame on your short sightedness. Perhaps you could invite Dr. Cosby to the WH for lunch and ask him to evaluate your opinion. Better yet, invite a groupof CASA's and let them better inform you as to why Johnny can't learn and Mr. Jones can't teach.

Posted by: ciathom | March 1, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

My friend was a teacher in the poor end of Seattle! If you have never been in a class room full young adults that could care less about school or themselves then please stop the "it's the teachers" No it is the parents! Teachers have absolutely no control over the kids anymore. You would be amazed at the words they produce when asked to sit down. Any kind of physical contact leads to huge legal issues. The kids now days know this well.
This is only a taste of what is to come.
I can understand why businesses want to vring in immigrants to work in high tech jobs.

Posted by: usmc1969 | March 1, 2010 9:36 PM | Report abuse

As a general rule, it is fairly safe to side with teachers in the trenches against over-paid, meaninglessly credentialed administrators and the school boards that hire them, often filled with posturing political wannabes looking toward their next step up.

But "when just 7 percent of 11th graders passed state math tests," it's simply irresponsible to resist the common sense conclusion that the teachers, themselves, are a huge part of the problem.

Doubtless the board has also a significant role in the failure, but one can't fault them for not firing themselves. That's the public's responsibility.

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Posted by: barclayfgjdfg | March 1, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Valarie, you are correct. I remember the studies on secondary education done in, I believe, the 1960s in which the social science researcher, James T Coleman of Hopkins and later Chicago, in one of the most comprehensive studies ever done, determined that the most important factor in student success was support in the home. Lacking that, students have little change of learning.
Firing the school staff reinforces the canard that it's the fault of the teachers when students fail, giving uninvolved parents the excuse that it is 'someone else's fault' when the responsibility is, to no small extent, their own.
It is not that there are not bad teachers, there surely are. But the best teachers cannot overcome an environment where education of children is unimportant to their parents and their community. No amount of skill and caring on the part of teachers can deliver learing to children that are not receptive and are not supported by their parents and communities.

Posted by: dmarple | March 1, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

I taught mathematics for years. I taught Special Education Applied Mathematics my first few years, I moved on ti Geometry and Algebra II. Amazing how great a teacher I became. All my students became over achievers. All of them.

In Applied Math my students were under achievers, regardless of how hard I worked or tried the many motivational maneuvers.

Many of them made great progress, but they were so far behind at the start they couldn't pass grade level test scores.

To be honest I was probably a better teacher in Applied Math than in Geometry or Algebra II. But that would never have shown up by testing my students.

Posted by: bnw173 | March 1, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

With all due respect, your assessment and your argument are dated ... very much in line with the teachers' unions, which, for a great many parents/observers, have lost their credibility and used up all their good will. I assume you blog from D.C., so you're familiar with Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, Teach for America, etc. Pick up the Jan./Feb. issue of the Atlantic ("What Makes a Great Teacher?") for a strategy that works ... in the classroom ... regardless of the students' circumstances outside school. It turns out the teacher matters -- not most, but almost entirely. There's the data, much of it collected right in your back yard. Remember all the talk in the '70s and '80s about "reengineering" our businesses to restore their vitality? More often than not, it amounted to jettisoning the folks who held on to "old" thinking and bringing in a bunch of fresh faces/new ideas. If that's what the R.I. school board intends -- reengineering vs. typical restructuring -- then they've got it right. Meanwhile, you might want to consider renaming your column ... this time around, anyway, it's no guide at all for parents. BTW, the Post isn't considering a reengineering of certain areas of its editorial operations, is it?

Posted by: BruceHyland | March 1, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Wikipedia identifies that in Central Falls, RI, as of the 2000 census, about 25.9% of families and 29.0% of the population were below the poverty line. I suspect that at Central Falls High School the percentage of student population below the poverty level is even much higher, with students from wealthier families in the community going elsewhere to school.

Beyond parent involvement and the efforts of teachers and educators is another factor - interaction with other students. Jonathan Kozol, in his book "The Shame of the Nation," documents the impact of apartheid schooling in America, the educational separation of rich and poor.

Though not from a family that particularly valued education - my father had a formal 6th grade education, I ultimately had academic success in college, which I credit to no small degree to my exposure in elementary school and high school to a number of peers who ranged from good to excellent role models. As students from low income families have become more and more isolated from interaction with students from higher income families, to the point of no interaction at all, our levels of nationl educational achievement have declined.

Posted by: harveyh5 | March 1, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Chicago high school student Shantell Steve, who President Obama recognised last year, was scheduled to speak on the closing of schools in Chicago at a board meeting last week.
She was initially censored, but then got to speak.
Here are her first two paragraphs:
Good morning everyone, I would like to take the time to thank Jonathan Jackson and Rainbow PUSH for inviting me and actually allowing me to speak.

As some of you might know, on Wednesday [February 24, 2010], the Chicago Board of Education invited us to be honored and then decided that Kellina Mojica and I were too dangerous to be allowed to speak to the people of Chicago. Because on that the day they had already planned to vote to close 8 schools and they knew we would tell the truth about this terrible process. In a way, they are right — truth is dangerous to people doing wrong. Kellina and I were at the board to be recognized for our work to promote a democratic society so it was especially ironic to be silenced. So I would like to share some excerpts from that speech.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated that “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice”. I have lived this meaning over my four years at Julian High school. I have worked with different social justice groups like Jaguars for Justice and Chicago Youth Initiating Change to promote strong student voices in our community and education in general. I have advocated for peer-to-peer mentoring and teacher-student mentoring as an alternative to punitive interventions for so-called “at-risk” students. Most of all I have fought for student and community voice in the reforming of our schools — opposing Renaissance 2010 and its closing and turning around of schools against the wishes of our communities and the betterment of our educations. In our experience Ren2010 disrupts schools and takes away the heart of what school is all about—our relationships with teachers.

read the rest at
http://edumacationarchive.com/2010/03/01/censored-student-finally-allowed-to-speak/

Of course, she is a teenage child, so what does she know about education reform.
More than most posters here.

Posted by: edlharris | March 1, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse

More data on Central Falls HS:
"When Superintendent Gallo points to standardized test scores that supposedly show Central Falls failing she doesn’t point out, on the 2009 NECAP reading scores (teaching year), Central Falls is right in the middle of the state’s large urban high schools. At 56% proficiency they are behind the lower-poverty ones (Tolman, 64%; Shea, 62%; Woonsocket, 60%), tied with The MET and Providence Academy for International Studies, and ahead of Central (51%), Hope Leadership (49%), Hope IT (47%), and Alvarez (44%) in Providence.

The Hope schools are of particular note since they went through a “fire the teachers” restructuring process a few years ago. There is no particular reason to expect the results of Central Falls restructuring to be any different. Now, I don’t believe that standardized tests show you much outside of household income, but Central Falls ranking among similar schools is never mentioned nor is the fact that these same students at Central Falls only had 22% proficiency on the 7th grade tests, 5 years earlier."

Posted by: edlharris | March 1, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse

President Obama:

Before giving your support to the Central Falls firing, could you please give these teachers a chance to prove that they can be A+ teachers. Here's how you can do this:

Ask all the teachers in the richest high school in the richest district in RI to go on Sabbatical for one year. The federal government can pay for this. Then have the Central Falls teachers teach at this school. I guarantee that within one year, all their students will have the highest scores in Rhode Island. Thank you.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | March 1, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

so, what if the R.I. teachers weren't working as hard as your uncle arnie? do you have any evidence that they were great educators? are you saying we should lower expectations for teachers who teach difficult populations? there are plenty of schools around the country where disadvantaged students are making gains. it's disingenuous to criticize the school board members for not firing themselves -- that's the voters' job. let's let them decide if the board took the correct action. bravo for the reformers for being bold enough to make the tough decisions. that's why they were put in office.

Posted by: darlingnikkitoo

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I hope none of your teachers were evaluated on your reading comprehension skills when you were in school.

What she is saying is that the great many students like you have problems regardless of the great teacher.

It is impossible to teach, referee, counsel, mother, and all the other non-teaching chores teachers have to do.

I think every politician should have to teach a month before they are qualified to run for public office. Really it probably should be required before adults are allowed to have children.(Maybe I should take that back. Require that and there might be any children.)

I can't truly evaluate a teacher by their student's performance even after years of teaching and administration. Every single student is a unique individual.

But, I can evaluate the electorate by the performance of their last two POTUS' and other elected officials. They failed miserably. They elected nincompoops.

We should listen to these folks when they talk education?


Posted by: bnw173 | March 1, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse

The contract between the teachers and school system in Central Falls can be seen here:
http://ntlongcber.com/cber/docs/_CF.htm

Your salary, if you have been teaching there for 10 years and have a doctorate is $75,783.
If you just graduated from college with a bachelor's, the salary is $43,486.

Posted by: edlharris | March 1, 2010 11:03 PM | Report abuse

Rusty3 wrote:

1. Obama should focus on his own job.

2. You can lead a mule to water............

3. We don't need no education............

4. Experience is a dear teacher.............

5. Wisdom is the principal thing...........
-----------------------------------

AND according to Juan Williams, King Obonehead can't get the people of the United States to eat his own dog food!!!

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | March 1, 2010 11:05 PM | Report abuse

This is such a serious issue - grave, actually.

1. Schools are not business plants that you can inspect, find wanting and then shut down; children need continuity and security. If they aren't getting any security and continuity from their parents
(usually not possible in an impoverished
inner city school)and you fire all of the other adults in their lives, how do you expect them to learn to trust anyone?

2. I have a friend who was employed at one of the inner city schools where the Board of ED decided to fire everyone, from the principal right down to the janitors. This friend and a number of other teachers like her had worked valiently for MANY years trying to "save" students from desperate homes; my friend had probably taught over 10,000 kids to read in the 20 some years she taught, paid psychiatric bills for some others, visited pregnant 9th graders in the hospital and some kids in jail. This brilliant, dedicated teacher said of this experience: "the entire staff is depressed and we have to finish out the spring semester (about 3 months); who will write recommendations for the juniors and seniors next year? The new staff won't know these kids." She said more, but those two points are plenty to think about.

3. Has it not occurred to the country that if our politicians keep up this practice of firing entire staffs of schools that you are laying groundwork for staffs of other shaky schools to go on strike?

4. Schools reflect society; our current American society is teaching students that
it is okay to demean teachers, that it's ok to run up a deficit if you are fighting two wars but not ok if you want decent healthcare, and there probably will only be jobs for a few graduates as we have sent most of our jobs overseas.

"Teachers" are not the only teachers; the really big lessons are being taught by our politicians and corporations, most of whom appear to be either inept or morally corrupt.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | March 1, 2010 11:51 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for shedding light on an issue that the Obama administration clearly does not understand. Teachers are being held solely accountable for student performance when a variety of factors are involved. The lack of funding in under-performing school districts is a major impediment to success. Students in low-income areas are deprived of the resources, supplies and experiences that students in affluent areas enjoy. How can we expect teachers to operate effectively if they don’t even have the books they need.

President Obama is making funding available to low-performing schools, but to receive it, school districts have to commit to a “turnaround plan” that involves firing half the teachers or closing the school altogether.

Teachers face a multitude of challenges. It would be much more effective to offer them support and assistance, rather than replacing them with a new group of teachers who will face the same obstacles to success.

Many teachers, like those in Central Falls, Rhode Island, provide more than an education for their students; they offer stability, encouragement, guidance. When teachers are arbitrarily fired, the students suffer.

Natalie Schwartz
Author, "The Teacher Chronicles: Confronting the Demands of Students, Parents, Administrators and Society"

Posted by: NatalieSchwartz | March 2, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

I'm cracking up. The pro-gay NEA supported Obama and now he's stabbing them in the back!! Got to love that part.

I think Obama actually did something right. Stood up against the bully NEA, the pro-political agenda NEA and I'm LOVING IT!

Posted by: MOMwithAbrain | March 2, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

MOMwithAbrain? You've got to be kidding. You don't have anything of the kind.

Posted by: notation | March 2, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Don't kid yourself. This isn't about teacher quality. It's about money. If it was about quality the school board would be telling us about all the incompetent practices going on in the school and all the teachers it's been trying to fire over the years. The Board wanted more hours of work from the teachers and they were bargaining over it with the union. Suddenly the Board stopped bargaining and fired everyone. Now they care hire new teachers at base pay and save a bundle. Then when the schools don't improve they'll do it again.

If the state of Rhode Island really wanted to help the school they would help the city with a jobs program and help the parents with day care and after school programs and RAISE teacher pay to attract better teachers and THROW MONEY at the school with excellent new facilities and resources. Is there any evidence that they tried this path?

Posted by: stanleyheller | March 2, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Everyone acknowledges that the greatest influence on children is from parents. If the parents don't value education, neither will their children.

This is so important, but people overlook it. If the children come from homes that don't place high value on education, the schools' job becomes much harder.

Of course, if we acknowledge the parents' responsbility, then we have to look at ourselves and our neighbors, don't we, and admit that maybe, just maybe, we have some role in the failure of our children? It's so much easier to blame someone else for our inability to tell the kids, No, you can't have a TV in your room, you can't spend all of your free time texting your friends, playing computer games.

Posted by: sanderling5 | March 2, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps in this case the Union ought to stop fighting the firings, find all the fired teachers other positions, (there don't seem to be all that many teachers involved), and then put the word out to all teachers they can reach, "Don't work for this school district." When the school district has no teachers to start school with, and they will have to be hiring very soon or face the fact that there are no quality teachers out there who haven't already found a job with some other school district, what will they do?

I sort of wonder just what the political make up of the school board is. It sounds like many of our gentrified "Rural" school districts here in Ohio, where a once truly rural district is now mostly McMansions full of good Republicans who hate paying property taxes. While it is listed as a poverty stricken district, what are the actual general values of the houses in the district.

Let the fired teachers go off and find school districts that appreciate their work, and let this district try to run a swchool district without teachers.

Posted by: ceflynline | March 2, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

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