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Posted at 2:55 PM ET, 02/24/2010

Why not fire all the teachers?

By Valerie Strauss

Finally, a school system has decided to fire all of the educators at an ailing school.

Why didn’t we think about this sooner?

Firing some of them hasn’t really proven effective in turning around schools, has it? So why not get rid of all of them and start over?

That’s why the school committee in Central Falls, Rhode Island’s smallest and poorest city, voted to fire every educator at Central Falls High School at the end of the school year. They did this because about half of the school’s students graduate, and only 7 percent of 11th-graders were proficient in math in 2009.

At the committee meeting Tuesday night, 93 names were called for firing --74 classroom teachers, plus reading specialists, guidance counselors, physical education teachers, the school psychologist, the principal and three assistant principals, according to the Providence Journal. Not one of them was good enough to stay.

Some of the teachers at the only high school in the city cried, but the committee held firm.

It’s no wonder that Education Secretary Arne Duncan applauded the move, saying the committee members were “showing courage and doing the right thing for kids.”

Courage, indeed.

Now, all they have to do is find 93 excellent professionals to take their places. Recruiting the best educators should be easy, especially when you can offer them life in a very poor town and a job with no security.

And, of course, the powers that be will have to ignore all the other influences on high school students because their poor performance was all about the adults at the high school.

Their elementary and middle school education -- or lack thereof? Not a problem.

Their sometimes difficult home lives? Naw. That doesn’t affect how a kid does at school.

No Child Left Behind, a federal education law that has driven schools to drastically narrow curriculum and use rudimentary standardized tests to measure how well kids are doing? Nope. Not an issue, nor is the fact that Duncan is largely continuing the NCLB practices that have been shown to be a failure.

Firing all the educators may sound bold to some, but it sounds sad and desperate -- not to mention ineffective -- to me.

There is no evidence that wholesale changes at schools makes a difference at schools, though it has been tried repeatedly in districts around the country -- even in Duncan’s Chicago public schools, which he ran for years before becoming education secretary.

As my colleague Nick Anderson noted in a Post story Duncan tried a lot of things during his more than seven years as Chicago chief: shutting down schools, hiring experts in turning around schools, and firing a lot of people. The results? To put it nicely, there was no Chicago miracle. Some schools improved, others didn’t.

That’s because grand gestures don’t work in improving schools. It would be nice if they did, but time and time again, we’ve learned they don’t. Making schools work is a hard, hard job. There is no one thing that you can blame; there is no single remedy that works for every school and school district.

Instead of trying to figure out where real changes could be made at Central Falls High, the powers that be there went ahead and did the desperate thing.

Let Duncan call them courageous. It sounds foolish to me. And the people who will most suffer? As usual, the kids.


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 24, 2010; 2:55 PM ET
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan  | Tags:  firing teachers, school reform  
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I'd like to see who they end up hiring. Will they hold out and wait for those "excellent professionals," or settle for whoever can fill the classroom? And what, exactly, is the motivation for the current staff to do ANYTHING between now and the end of the year?

Posted by: LadybugLa | February 24, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

If you look into the whole story, the sequence of events, you will see that this drastic move was not simply a case of bad test scores = fired teachers. The superintendent asked for the teachers to take on 6 additional duties: 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 and participating in two weeks of training in the summer. The superintendent made the consequences of rejecting these very clear -everyone gets fired- the union chose to reject and so everyone at the school was fired.
Now, I realize that many would say "but teachers do so much already" and I do not doubt that among the 74 mentioned in the article there were many good folks who were willing to even do that extra work -but the union made the decision. The thing is, this is on of the poorest areas of the state -the teachers at the high school make $70K, as compared to a median income in the town of $22K. I can only imagine how few of the parents thought that the average teacher there deserved such a salary. These are obviously kids who need a lot more help than just a good teacher, maybe such drastic action at the school district level will draw attention from the state and increase support for programs outside school. But let's not judge the school board and assume that they wanted to fire people ---they wanted reforms to help the students & could not get that from the workforce they had.

Posted by: amk19 | February 24, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

This happens so often in our society now. The idea that if things aren't going well someone can be fired and it will be fixed. The whole idea that the teachers are there to solve all the kids problems instead of just dispensing information is wrongheaded to me. What does the gym teacher have to do with the kids not being able to add?

None of that is the point anyway. Make a big news splash and look bold and 5 years from now the school will be the same with less people paying attention.

Posted by: Dremit97 | February 24, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Sooooo.....what's your solution, then? Desperate situations call for desperate measures, yes? If you don't like this approach, what approach could you suggest to the superintendent that would be better that they haven't tried already? It's so easy to be shocked at this kind of thing, but why complain if you're not going to be part of the solution?

Posted by: vivace751 | February 24, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

The teachers can't teach.
we took that away from them.
What they can do is watch the kids grow up in the classrooms. The parents are too busy to teach their kids responsibility.
Now who are they going to blame? It comes down to the parents to help the teachers do the right thing by letting them do their job. Many times the teachers have to start with the basics such us "respect" and then the parents sue because they feel they are the only ones that can do this job. THEN DO IT

Posted by: cecil3 | February 24, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Prett lame that you ignore the fact that teachers refused any concessions at all at the worst school in the state and demanded to be paid an additional $90 per hour to work with students.

Posted by: jpmcad | February 24, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

1) "They did this because about half of the school’s students graduate,

2) Only 7 percent of 11th-graders were proficient in math in 2009."

So between grades K-10 (approx. 11 years of multiple education exposure levels and chances to increase academic performance (and who knows how many teachers)), ONLY 7 percent were proficient in math? ONLY 7 PERCENT!! that's CRIMINAL! and these people were making $70K/year??!

How many more years should the teachers still be allowed to provide this awful level of service toward student achievement?

Valerie, I have no doubt that teachers have already been screened and will be available to fulfill teacher positions.

That whole mess didn't just begin overnight but overtime and the decision was finally made.

Posted by: TwoSons | February 24, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

$70k/year? And the people STILL want to pay that much? For a lack of success in their children? For that kind of money (maybe even less!), I would take that job. I would move to that state. I would work those extra hours. And my kids would know why... because they would do the same. Mine are grown now, but they remember the days I came home from spending all day as a student in college, the late afternoon hours as a tutor for other students at that same college, and then spent all my after-dinner hours doing homework with my two teenagers and their friends, with me helping them understand math and English and writing skills, grammar, punctuation, and a slew of other things, WITHOUT the internet as a backup.

These teachers probably chose the wrong job, maybe took it because the need for teachers was so great that the schools were trolling for teachers in all the colleges. (We're doing that now for medical personnel, and we can fill all those jobs but maybe with the wrong people. Scary thought?) The one thing the really GOOD teachers will tell you is that the only goal is to get the kids to understand, to connect with the material, and the right teachers have that skill. The wrong teachers only repeat the material, and it's boring, dull, and unsuccessful as a teaching method with all but the best students - the ones who have figured out how to basically teach themselves - or the ones who have parents who want to help.

I'll take one of those teaching jobs. Heck, they're making twice what I'm making, and I really hate my job. I wish they'd do something drastic like that here, in Michigan, because our teachers are vastly overpaid too. I think every state should implement payment for progress, and pay reduction for failure. It's the only way, carrot and stick. In the end, the best teachers would finally be paid what they're worth... but so would the worst ones.

Posted by: whisperonthewind | February 24, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Valerie, not sure if you've viewed,
"Transcript: R.I. Ed. chief Gist chats with 135 projo readers" on this issue." It may answer many of your questions within your blog:

Posted by: TwoSons | February 24, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Ed-U-Cay-Shun in this country is one of the biggest expenses and the largest problem we have precisely because no matter what you do to it, from pumping in more money to pumping in less money, to firing teachers or reducing class sizes, from establishing Commissions or setting national standards, nothing - NOTHING works.

The reason is that it's an unsolvable problem the way we have to do it. The teachers unions in this country should be broken on the wheel and all the schools should be run for-profit. Then we might see some improvement.

Posted by: Extempraneous | February 24, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Ok see heres the problem nobody has the stats at this school!!!! I saw it on CNN last nite over 80% are students that speak English as a second language. When the guidance counselor was interviewed he noted that the 48% graduation rate is misleading because most of the students are transient! They leave in the middle of the year to go back to their home country and then return the next year or just dont come back at all! The small town is made up of immigrants and many are still migrant so attendance rates fluctuate drastically!!!.... Another stat that is misleading is the income ratio!!! Most of the teachers have been in the field for over 20 years so they made an extremely slow climb to that salary amount!!! We are not talking about 3rd year teachers!!! While the median income is low remember what I stated earlier most of the towns people are immigrant workers who are extremely low on the pay scale to begin with!!!... Please lets look deeper into the facts!!!!

Posted by: CedricCS | February 24, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Did anyone ask the teachers what is needed, that is, without union reps so honest answers could be expressed?

Now no good teacher is going to want to go there.

No doubt there were very many good teachers.

If you really want to fix the schools, fire at least half of the administration that is above the principals and then make the rest all answerable to the teachers. Have the teachers pick the few good books that are needed for each grade. Put the teachers in charge of the schools and the unions

Posted by: rjohnson2842 | February 24, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Very few people would actually take a job at any of these schools, part of the reason they make so much. If students come in with little english, move in and out of the system, and have no math skills to start with, it doesn't matter how much you pay the teacher. That is the point, the schools can't be put in the position to fix a decades worth of prior issues in a school year.

That's the problem with the mentality that you will fire everyone and things will be fixed. They won't. Perhaps take the opertunity to fire low performing teachers, close the whole school and distribute the students sparsely amoung better performing schools. Same students, same building, same neighborhood, new teachers will get you the same old results. Teachers don't always matter that much.

Posted by: Dremit97 | February 24, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

I understand the frustration of the parents and the board at Central Falls. There seems to be a prepared script for teachers across the country to blame the parents for the lack of success of the students. The teachers NEVER accept blame for failing 50% of their students. It is always something else. Inadeqate text book, ciriculum, class-size anything but the teachers themselves. The board usually backs the teachers and not the students or the parents. Arne Duncan is right; the students only get one chance for an education. The board should be applauded for their move.

Posted by: williemae1 | February 24, 2010 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Why not? The kids are getting the short end of the stick because adults cannot sit down and discuss and work things out. There is probably a lot more to this than was actually put in the story that came out.

Posted by: skyjumperdave | February 24, 2010 7:04 PM | Report abuse

If you deal with half the morons you deal with who serve as the front office for doctors offices, customer service desks, department stores, etc., these are the kids who graduate from crappy schools like this who have learned little along the way. As a Rhode Islander, I say, BRAVO! The teachers union in my state has been far too powerful for far too long and our kids have suffered for it. These teachers have grown too accustomed to thinking they are "fire proof." No doubt, the school has some wonderful teachers -- but not 93 of them. Rhode Island's unemployment situation is severely depressed. I'm sure that for $70K a year, the state can easily find 93 teachers from within or without the state to take those jobs and do a better job for those kids. Firing all of the teachers may not have ever had a record of improvement but one thing we know for sure, leaving the crummy teachers in place hasn't either. I say we try something bold and something new. These kids deserve the opportunity.

Posted by: sassafrasnewport | February 24, 2010 7:04 PM | Report abuse

So, after they get new teachers in, who will they fire if the students still don't make progress?

If your teachers have low expectations of their students then that becomes an issue. Teachers who have low expectations of their students don't bother to teach them. They don't demand the students pay attention, cut the crap and sit in the class room to learn. They don't engage the students. They also don't expect for parents to care or participate. Because of this , they come into the classroom not prepared to engage the students and demand that they respect them, themselves or their privilege of obtaining a free education.If teachers have low expectations of their students then they also have low expectations for their parents and therefore don't engage their parents until there is a problem. That is a huge part of the problem. Until schools demand better behavior and involvement from their students and parents you can fire all the teachers you want and it won't make a difference. It is time for the public school system to demand of their teachers, students , parents and school administrations joint cooperation. Dress codes are a start for students and teachers. I have seen teachers that look just like the students, not professional at all. Demanding respect from the students towards the teachers and the teachers need to respect the students. Zero tolerance for disrespecting the teacher and school. And stopping the law suits because Johnny didn't get chosen for the school play. These are starters.

Posted by: catmomtx | February 24, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

I taught for 40 years in the Riverside, California school system. By my choice I taught in three high schools and was a "quasi" administrator at district office and at 2 junior high schools.
I was and am still amazed at the use of the hatchet not the scalpel. Why not attack the problem from the beginning, as the author of this column said--the elementary school. Why not start at an even more basic point. THE FAMILY. I'm sure thousands of superior teachers will be glad to teach in this city. All the staff including the principal, vice principal (assistant), counsellors, and teachers were incompetent. I'd ask some additional questions? What's the crime rate in the city? How many kids are truant and hang out in stores. HOW MANY STORE OWNERS TURN THEM IN? What's it like in the home? Study time and room? How supportive are the parents? How interested in their sons and daughters education?
Yes, Arne Duncan cheers on. He wants to BLAME only the teachers and not look at other issues.
If they don't replace ALL the people fired, an I mean all, what impact will this have on the students? What impact will this have on education for the rest of the year. Sounds like there is another agenda on the part of the Board and the Superintendent.

Posted by: diamond2 | February 24, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Get rid of the bums. All of those lackluster morons you run into every day as you go to the doctors office, a customer service desk or a department store? These are the kids that graduate from these crappy schools. Not all of course but we've all had the experience. As a Rhode Islander, the teachers unions have for too long commanded a level of power over our schools that needed to be challenged. No doubt, there have been some good teachers at Central Falls; not these 93 however. Mediocre progress is not progress -- it is just bookmarking and a half assed effort at nothing. Who will take these positions? Haven't you heard? Rhode Island is woefully depressed in the unemployment world. No doubt there are a lot of fine teachers out there who would love to take one of these jobs, covet the opportunity and do a much better job. Firing all of the teachers may not have ever set any records anywhere but as we've seen too many times, keeping them on for posterity hasn't either. Get rid of the bums.

Posted by: sassafrasnewport | February 24, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Back during the heyday of immigration, teachers had students who didn't speak English at home, whose parents couldn't come to school because they were working day and night trying to earn a living, who didn't speak English well enough to know what school their kids went to. The difference is the teachers were qualified--very few were hired as coaches and then given a history or health class to satisfy the law. The schools took the kids with what they knew and taught from there. The kids could move along one grade a year, one grade in two years, one grade a semester, or even skip a grade if they could do the work. My father, part of that generation but not an immigrant's child, had a high school teacher with a PhD in the science he taught and used a textbook written by a nationally-known scientist.

Now, students sit in class 180 days whether they know the material or not. The textbook is written by a committee; the teachers whose names are on the cover may have never seen the text. The proofreading, even in English texts, may have been done in a foreign country. Factual errors aren't corrected even if caught, because that would require changing the size of the chapter headings to make room on the page for the correct information. And high school teachers may have never taken a college course at all in the subjects they teach. And the results are justified by standardized that may or may not measure anything.

The wonder is not that the students aren't doing better--it's that they are learning anything at all.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 24, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

Why is the school "failing"?
What is not happening at this school?

For background,
there's this:
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.

Repeating the l;ast line:
these same students at Central Falls only had 22% proficiency on the 7th grade tests, 5 years earlier.

Posted by: edlharris | February 24, 2010 8:01 PM | Report abuse

Have you even seen the people teaching your kids lately? let me give you an example. I used to rent a house in the Holmes Run area of Falls Church, sharing it with 4 other people, all school teachers at Woodburn Elementary school. They couldn't cook worth a darn. Didn't clean up at all. Loved to binge drink and host parties. At least two of them had bundles of mail being forwarded to them from other addresses, obviously from collectors and creditors. Generally pathetic excuses for adults. And they are elementary school teachers. No wonder your kids are screwed up before they even get to middle school. And why did they become teachers? Because they couldn't hack physics, engineering, or any other discipline except education... having no where else to go, of course education departments will accept anyone for their programs. It looks good on the bottom line when they submit a budget report for the next fiscal year. Losers.

Posted by: biffgrifftheoneandonly | February 24, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

What a F#@*ING JOKE! I'm SORELY disappointed that our education secretary would applaud something like this.

Posted by: TheReflectiveEducator | February 24, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Only 7 percent of 11th-graders were proficient in math in 2009."


I would like to know exactly how many are proficient in math when they graduate.


Posted by: 37thand0street | February 24, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

This is terrible and I'm sure it was an awful shock to the teachers and school employees who have dedicated their lives to these students. If anyone thinks teaching is an easy job, they should try it. If you can't get a job in a school system, volunteer to teach Sunday School like I do, or substitute teach or volunteer to tutor or mentor with a program like Big Brothers/Big Sisters. If you do, you'll see what I see: teaching is an incredibly difficult job. I only have to do it for an hour and a half once a week in a classroom of 8 students (11 year olds) AND I have an assistant. That is a far, far, far cry from what our public school teachers have to face. If the Catholic Church held me to the same standard that NCLB holds public school teachers, every boy in my class would be planning to be a priest or at least a deacon. Every girl would be planning to be a nun. Instead, I've only got one kid willing to be an altar boy. If I taught in a public school, I would be out on my rear end.

Posted by: kathycoulnj | February 24, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse


I'm sure I could find 4 random people in your profession who are similar to what you describe (heavy drinkers, partiers, poor students, etc.) - hardly fair to compare all teachers to this admittedly low standard.

Posted by: cnote_723 | February 24, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Makes me sick - about the teachers and especially about Duncan.

As for the students - no one's looking after them. It's just a bunch of silly adult games. Maybe in a couple of years, when the next batch of teachers flames out, things will change.

I'm not hopeful.

Posted by: efavorite | February 24, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Why are only the HS teachers being penalized for low achievement levels?

Clealy low academic achievements were occurring prior to students entering high school. seems when teachers agree to these larger pay scales, it's considered combat pay "with strings" attached. Raise test scores or face consequences.

Posted by: PGCResident1 | February 24, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

so employers can unilaterally change the union contract, then fire all union members, then get called "courageous" by a government official now?

Posted by: someguy100 | February 24, 2010 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Also, out of the 168 hours in a week, I as a teacher see a student for ~4. How do you expect me to turn around 11 years of low expectations and failure in 4 hours a week (with 25+ other students in there with them no less)?

Posted by: someguy100 | February 24, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Let's all base school reform on Duncan's Chicago miracle and Rhee's Baltimore miracle. Kinda of like making major policy decisions based on things that don't exist, except in certain ideologues imaginations. Oh wait, that was Bush and the WMD's, oh wait, that didn't go so well.

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That's the part I'm not really understanding. Why aren't middle school elementary & middle schools teachers focused upon as well?

Posted by: PGCResident1 | February 24, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

Once again the kids are off the hook. It's the teachers fault, it's the unions fault, it's the lack of money, it's too much money, it's the parents fault ....

The kids failed. Someone ought to tell them it's their responsibility to learn. The parents, the teachers, the schools, the counselors .... none of them can force students learn to learn.

That's the message I got when I was in grade school. It was my job to learn and no one else. Period.

The message today is it's the responsibility of everyone else for the students to learn. The kids are off the hook.

Posted by: James10 | February 24, 2010 11:15 PM | Report abuse

I know how the state of Rhode Island can turn these "bad" teachers into "good" teachers overnight. Just transfer all of them to the most affluent district in the state and (voila!) these teachers will get great results! I guarantee it.

Seriously, although I feel very sorry for the students and the teachers, this action (along with the failed turnarounds in Chicago) will just prove what almost everyone already knows: it's all family.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 24, 2010 11:25 PM | Report abuse

Interesting you say that.

I don't think anyone's goal is to seek "blame" but to obtain solutions to a very critical issue.

I think's it's only fair that children are provided opportunity wherever and whenever possible.

Multiple BILLIONS of dollars are placed into the public school system nationwide. Increased funding has been historic for the past couple of decades, but yet, there is an inability to solidify much higher and consisten proficiency levels.

When our children fail, it affects all of us. We cannot allow this to continue. Children are our nation's most valuable and natural resource.

Who cares whose fault. We must resolve and permenantly sustain HIGH educational standards and provide adequately and effectively toward our future, aka our youth via highly qualified and effective eduators.

Children are KNOW WHERE near as complicated as foreign dictorships or governments, but yet, we spend triple amount to secure and sustain.

No More Excuses. It seems to contributes to children who are being ignored while school boards and teacher unions are "negotiating" for YEARS to figure out "what's fair." Parents and Students are caught in the middle of the nonsense and that's not fair either. In the meant time, students STILL need to be properly prepared to become contributors to society.

Posted by: PGCResident1 | February 24, 2010 11:43 PM | Report abuse

A school for transients? WTF? Give the money earmarked for rehiring to ICE and see if that won't help set things right.

Posted by: beowulf3 | February 24, 2010 11:44 PM | Report abuse

Wow, you posters seem to believe everything you read without checking your facts first. So check this out: The ONLY certificated staff members making 70K a year in Rhode Island are those with a PhD who have been teaching nearly THIRTY YEARS! Check the salary schedule for yourself. That's right, do your research before you believe the idiot who made it sound like there are really a bunch of teachers who make 70K. Oh, and news flash: people who earn a PhD are most likely ADMINISTRATORS. I have been teaching for 10 years and I don't know anyone with a PhD who is still in the classroom. You can all just simmer down and take it easy, since you obviously don't know what you're talking about.

To all the valid points made by the author of the article on why NOT to fire all the teachers, let me add this: Who do YOU know of that willing to work extra hours WITHOUT COMPENSATION??? THAT IS SIMPLY LUDICROUS! Not to mention the fact that educators ALREADY put in COUNTLESS hours on their own that they will never be paid for. No, we don't just work a 7.5 hour day. Try 10-12. One hour to prepare lessons, make parent phone calls, grade papers, etc. isn't nearly enough we take work home. Not a folder full of work - a bag full. Every night. No, we don't have the summers off - that's when we advance our education with more college credits, which we are required to do (and pay for out of our own pockets - don't most people get paid for required additional training?). We also work summer jobs to make ends meet. Last summer I took a college course and worked. Don't act like we don't already sacrifice. If you think that, you are truly ignorant.

Posted by: Politiciansareignorant | February 24, 2010 11:59 PM | Report abuse

Chew on this: here so many of you are casting judgment on these teachers without even knowing anything about the actual test used to measure student success. Did you stop to think it might be flawed? I've seen tests in my state that were asking students questions 2 grades above what they were required to know. Whoever made these tests was out of touch with what students were supposed to be learning and when. You can't say anything about a score unless you have seen the test it comes from. Not taking the test into consideration is like putting an anorexic in charge of a fat camp - you have to consider who or what is the measuring tool.

Let's play devil's advocate here: Since we are so game to put teachers on the line as the sole people responsible for test scores, let's flip the card over. Let's say that the state is going to pass a law that says that it is solely the parents' responsibility to keep students from failing. I mean, if they were doing their job, reading to their young ones and making sure they did their homework, wouldn't achievement be higher? If parents were instilling the right work ethic into their children, wouldn't they be more successful? That's now if kids aren't meeting standard, the state is going to take them into custody and find a foster parent who can do a better job. If you think this sounds ridiculous, then you need to reconsider what you are saying by placing sole blame for lack of student achievment on the shoulders of teachers. "But my kid won't do his homework - he just sits there," you say. "It's not my fault, I'm doing my best!" Well what makes you think that teachers aren't trying THEIR best? I can tell you they do. We don't get into this profession for the money...because it isn't anywhere NEAR $70K. If it was, I wouldn't still owe about $15,000 in school loans 10 years later.

WAKE UP AMERICA: Do your research and ask the right questions before you jump on some ignorant bandwagon.

Posted by: Politiciansareignorant | February 25, 2010 12:02 AM | Report abuse

There is a very simple explanation. You see some ethnoracial groups just tend to have lower levels of IQ-type intelligence.

The average IQ of Hispanics is about 88 and for Blacks it is about 85 compared to Whites at 100.

Central Falls High is 87% Hispanic and Black (Total = 208, Hispanic = 154, Black = 27, White = 26).

Regarding 11th grade Math scores in Rhode Island, 90% of Hispanics are below proficient--compared to 94% of Hispanics in Central Falls High. Wow 94% failure rate compared to the state average of 90%, those Central Falls High teachers really are bad teachers, no wonder they are being fired! At Central Falls High 92% of Blacks are below proficient--compared to the 93% of total Rhode Island Blacks who are below proficient.

All good liberals have seemed to believe that it is a wonderful thing for the USA to have permitted essentially open borders with Mexico and Latin America. Then these same liberals are all now complaining when Hispanics (who are not White since they have high levels of African and/or Native American ancestry) turn out to be on average substantially less intelligent than average White Americans. Well, what did they expect? Do you see very many non-Whites in Mexico and Latin America showing high academic performance? Oh yeah, they are not too smart there either.

We could have been like Canada and allowed only college educated (i.e. higher IQ) foreigners to immigrate into our contry. Instead we allowed these many tens of millions of Hispanics (often illegal immigrants) to enter and remain in our nation. Now it is time for us to accept that they are just not as intelligent as the liberal Boasian left-wing Whites would have wished that they could be. Now we have to realize that the Galtonians were correct after all, ethnic diversity in levels of innate intelligence is an unalterable fact of nature. So quit complaining and learn to live with the consequences.

Posted by: rifraf | February 25, 2010 12:26 AM | Report abuse

but they remember the days I came home from spending all day as a student in college, the late afternoon hours as a tutor for other students at that same college, and then spent all my after-dinner hours doing homework with my two teenagers and their friends, with me helping them understand math and English and writing skills, grammar, punctuation, and a slew of other things, WITHOUT the internet as a backup.
Sounds like your talents should be applied to parenting classes for the parents of these failing students.

Posted by: ekorea | February 25, 2010 1:44 AM | Report abuse

They should bring in as teachers Mr. Duncan, Ms. Rhee and any Representatives who lose elections this fall. The action by the school board is shameful scapegoating at its worst. Mr. Duncan, if he truly approved the action, should be willing, along with all other administration officials at his department to resign if there are not significant improvements in the nation's schools within four years.
Fair right?

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | February 25, 2010 2:00 AM | Report abuse

That explains my experience in RI a few years back. As my friends and I traversed the state, we noted the large number of folks sitting on porches, not talking to one another. I always thought it was either indifference or extreme familiarity; turns out it was inability.

Posted by: UncomfortableTruths | February 25, 2010 5:16 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for this sensible piece. It's hard to understand how this school is going to get anyone to teach there.

Posted by: clarkjerome | February 25, 2010 5:22 AM | Report abuse

You had me until this paragraph:

"As my colleague Nick Anderson noted in a Post story Duncan tried a lot of things during his more than seven years as Chicago chief: shutting down schools, hiring experts in turning around schools, and firing a lot of people. There results? To put it nicely, there was no Chicago miracle. Some schools improved, others didn’t."

THERE results?

For an article about education this is appalling.

Posted by: nixxie71 | February 25, 2010 5:33 AM | Report abuse

A school in my district went to zero based staffing. This meant that everyone at the school had to interview again. They only rehired about 7 staff members, everyone else was a new hire. The school is 80% ESOL and low income. The school day was extended and Saturday school was added. Staff was well compensated for the increased work load. The school has made a complete turn around and is often sighted as one of the best school's in the district.

Posted by: 12345leavemealone | February 25, 2010 6:10 AM | Report abuse

Living in the state of Georgia, I am quite surprised at how little homework my 10-year-old is assigned each week.

Public schools are failing all across this nation.

It is time to completely rethink how we teach our kids.

Teacher unions are preventing this change from happening.

Posted by: ahender1 | February 25, 2010 6:54 AM | Report abuse

they will go out and find companies that provide bilingual teachers...
and they will find them...

Posted by: DwightCollins | February 25, 2010 7:01 AM | Report abuse

I asked my wife (reading teacher k-2) what was the biggest reason kids struggle to read. She said it was due to kids coming to school in kindergarten with few reading skills, ie not being able to recognize any letters, not having been read to, etc. Yes, they can teach them that stuff but for some, they never catch up and they usually don't get much extra support at home.

Posted by: rjma1 | February 25, 2010 7:37 AM | Report abuse

I’d love to know how affluent schools in the suburbs manage to produce students who score high enough on standardized tests to be on par with the top scoring nations in the world while having teachers; that are unionized, who aren’t subjected to “more rigorous” evaluations, who work a 7 ½ hour day, who don’t attend 2 week summer training sessions, and aren’t forced to eat lunch with their students. So the difference must be something else, let’s try for:
1) Safe, clean, and modern schools
2) Access to technology
3) Access to meaningful field trips and frequent non-school based after school and summer learning opportunities
4) Stable homes and crime free neighborhoods
5) Access to quality nutrition, health, dental, and vision care
6) Teachers with small enough classes and enough free time in the school day to plan, implement, and evaluate meaningful learning activities

Until you get ALL students access to the above items, you’ll have the type of school achievement gaps that exists today. Students live in a society that tolerates and promotes such heavy inequality in every aspect of live. It should not come as a shock that school achievement reflects the type of society in which it is based.

Posted by: Mostel26 | February 25, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

The wholesale firing of an entire school’s staff is a complete and total mistake. No doubt in almost any school, or any place of work for that matter, there are some employees that need to be fired from their job due to a variety of reasons. Good luck trying to staff an entire high school with a totally new staff. I wonder what that will do for classroom behavior and management. A few comments for the “free market” school approach gang:
1) The public school system exists to offer an educational opportunity to all students. Should schools perform an IQ check prior to admitting a student like a bank would perform a credit check prior to issuing a loan?
2) Output is a result of input. No rational human being would expect an inner-city AIDS hospice to have the same health outcomes for patients as a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgery clinic? But aren’t they both medical facilities? Sadly the American school system deals with this level of disparity in terms of who walks in the door every day.
3) The business world is horrible example of responsibility in terms of holding people accountable for results. How many financial firms bailed out by TARP still received bonuses, let alone maintaining their employment? These fools and their suspect approaches to finance caused a worldwide economic meltdown. No critic of our schools could remotely claim the same type of impact.

Posted by: Mostel26 | February 25, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Amk19 mentions 6 additional duties that were requested. My comments on those:
a) 25 minute school day extension: To be used for what? How long is the current day? Additional time doing the same activities as part of the administration’s education program isn’t likely to accomplish anything of worth.
b) A rotating schedule of before and after school tutoring: In what subject areas? In addition to what existing time commitments by staff? How long in duration? Extra tutoring time by the same existing staff doesn’t necessarily translate to better results. At some point the same teacher begins to sound like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon to the average teenager. Possibly the school should look into hiring additional para-professional staff to provide tutoring opportunities before, during, and after school.
c) Eating lunch with students once a week: In order to accomplish what? When does the educator receive a lunch break on that day? A lunch break is a reasonable and healthy expectation for any human being. Having to monitor students in not a break
d) Submitting to more rigorous evaluations: Designed how and measuring what? What administrative time would be devoted to this process as opposed to other tasks such as opposed to dealing directly with students? What would be the improvement avenues for staff members who perform below satisfactory on this new evaluation?
e) Attending weekly after school sessions for group planning: How long after school? With what other members of the staff? It is fully possible to staff a school in a way to arrange for this common planning time during the existing school day.
f) Participation in two weeks of training in the summer: In order to learn how to do what? There are already 7 or so days of professional development on the calendar for most teachers. How are those being used already? Could that time be reorganized in a way to accomplish training?

Posted by: Mostel26 | February 25, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Politiciansareignorant: "Who do YOU know of that willing to work extra hours WITHOUT COMPENSATION???" ANSWER: All professionals and other people on a salary work extra hours without compensation. That is the main difference between a professional and a laborer. Teachers need to decide which they are. They demand to be treated as professionals, and then they turn around and want a union (what else are the teachers' organizations?) and to be compensated for every moment they spend working, just like factory workers. Make up your minds.

Also, something else to think about: I recently was talking to a college official whose job is to review proposals for research. She told me that she rarely gets a proposal from the school of education that can be understood--education students, she says, simply can't read and write. So they are supposed to teach our kids to read and write?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 25, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

In what capacity are teachers treated like professionals EXCEPT in the way we are paid?
We have a rigid structure informing us of where we need to be and what we need to be doing every hour of our working day.

Posted by: someguy100 | February 25, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Mostel26, AMEN.

The big question not being asked is why and how.
Why the need for these extra things?
How will they increased the math rate and graduation rate?
Why are the math scores so low?
Why are the reading scores in the middle for similar schools in the state and better that HOPE charter?
How did the students come into the school at a high level (from middle and elementary) and drop sop much in high school?

Posted by: edlharris | February 25, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Hoorah for Rhode Island! Stand up to public sector unions for the sake of the children and taxpayers!!

Posted by: millionea7 | February 25, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

12345leavemealone - please tell us the name of your successful turnaround school - I'd like to check it out.


Posted by: efavorite | February 25, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

They did this because about half of the school’s students graduate, and only 7 percent of 11th-graders were proficient in math in 2009."

Sorry, but if only SEVEN PERCENT of 11th graders are found to be proficient in math, drastic action does indeed need to be taken. The kids clearly aren't receiving much of an education, for whatever reason(s), so they need to start from scratch. Otherwise, they're just turning the overwhelming majority of kids out into the real world a short year later without the skills needed to do basic jobs.

As for teachers being 'professionals', I agree with the comment by sideswiththekids. Every salaried professional I know, myself included, worked the hours it took to get the job done. It's what being a professional means. If they don't want to do the professional job of teaching, then find another line of employment.

Posted by: raynecloud | February 25, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Just for fun--let's give all teachers the same competency tests the students take. First, you would find most of the teachers cannot pass all the subjects--no one bothers about subjects they aren't involved with once they are out of school, but we worry if the students don't achieve high scores in every single field. Second, I guarantee at least one teacher is going to score below the competency level his or her own subject--in my state, at least, there is no requirement that high school teachers have even taken courses in the subjects they teach, let alone major in them. And as long as schools have to reduce their forces by seniority instead of academic credentials, you will end up with a history teacher with 5 years experience being dismissed and a math teacher with 25 years experience agreeing to take over the history classes just to stay employed.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 25, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Arne Duncan and others don't seem to understand that what happens to a child outside of the classroom, at home and in their neighborhood, is as critical if not more so than what happens in the classroom.

If the answer to the problem was firing teachers, that would have been done long ago. Unfortunately in this ed reform atmosphere, the teachers have become the scapegoats.

Posted by: dorainseattle | February 25, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

I took a look at the RI standardized test results for Central Falls and noticed some interesting things. For one, while 7% of CF students were proficient in math last year, only 28% of all RI students were. That seems pretty shockingly low. Is something up with the test? Still, nobody can say that 7% is an impressive score, even if that percentage did double over two years.

I also looked at Reading and Writing. Also not good, but the CF average Reading scaled score was 1140 while the state average was 1146; 56% tested proficient or advanced, while statewide that number was 73%. In Writing CF was also behind the state, by 35% to 55%, but the average CF raw scores seem to have increased pretty significantly (4.9 to 5.8 over two years, while the state averages were at 5.7 in 2006-07 before rising to 6.7 last year).

Let me preface the following paragraph with this disclaimer: I don't believe that state test numbers should play a role in teacher rewards or termination. That said, these numbers, while decidedly unimpressive, are not too far out of line with what one would expect for a low SES district when compared to a state average. In PA, a quick look at last year's results reveals a number of low-SES schools that perform at less than half of the average proficiency rate for the state as a whole.

Something else is at work here, and decontextualized test scores seem to have been placed in the forefront as a propaganda tool. Talk about the horrors of "one-size-fits-all": treating every teacher in the school to the axe seems utterly disproportionate...suitable for an act of political grandstanding, perhaps. Or union-busting.

Where is CF going to find solid teachers to come apply to work under what appearances suggest might be a very heavy-handed administration, while there is a shortage of teachers in urban districts nationwide? Do you seriously think any teacher with experience -- and experience does matter -- will leave another school to go there?

I sincerely wish those children and their parents good luck.

Posted by: carlrosin | February 26, 2010 12:39 AM | Report abuse

When this recession is over and all the baby boomers retire, I hope teachers everywhere will remember the name Central Falls, Rhode Island.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 26, 2010 12:43 AM | Report abuse

This policy of firing teachers is beneath contempt. You think you are going to get quality teachers to even bother to apply to such jobs under such circumstances? Does anyone think a good teacher is going to quit his job at a good school and go teach in one of these underperforming schools? Does anyone think that good teachers are willfully failing these kids and simply want a cushy job with a lot of time off? As one of those fired teachers I say shame on Arne Duncan and on the President who chooses to frame the reform of education in these terms.

Teachers of inner city schools have enough problems just getting their lessons together and grading papers without also having to run the gauntlet of administrators and parents and children taking pot shots at them. It is a thankless task with a lot of stress. I challenge any of these federal or state know it alls to try teaching for even a month in such schools and still believe the ridiculous nonsense that is going down in public education today.

Posted by: MichaelSteele | March 1, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Definitely some information left out here. No mention of the initial (preferred) plan that was rejected by the teachers? That seems pretty important to the whole story, doesn’t it? Furthermore, the school is permitted to re-hire half of the teachers.

“Not one of them was good enough to stay.”

“Now, all they have to do is find 93 excellent professionals to take their places.”

These statements are not true and I imagine (if you did any research) that you already know this.

When has anyone said that this was all about the adults at the high school? When did they say elementary and middle school education was not a problem? When did they say that factors at home don’t influence how a kid does in school?

You say that the students are going to suffer. Were they not suffering under the current system? Half didn’t graduate from high school! Only one in ten is proficient in math!

Let’s see how the reform works before passing judgments. If we are going to report on the reform, don’t omit obviously important information. If you have a character limit, try leaving out the parts about folks crying.

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

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