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Obama wrong, Weingarten right

It puzzles me why President Obama yesterday chose to endorse the firing of 93 teachers and other staff members at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, as reported by my colleagues Michael A. Fletcher and Nick Anderson. Dismissing every member of the staff was overkill, and unnecessary. The president knows that, but I guess decided that he had to show some of that toughness a lot of people say he needs.

I am not one of those people. The president seems quite clear and right to me on nearly all educational issues. But in this case I have to endorse the statement released by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, along with other union leaders, that his statement is scoring "political points by scapegoating teachers" and "does nothing to give our students and teachers the tools they need to succeed."

When schools are as bad as Central Falls High, with only 7 percent of juniors passing state math tests, I am in favor of getting rid of the principal and other school leaders, but firing all of the teachers doesn't make sense. The math teachers may have been bad, but what about the English or history teachers? What of the counselors and coaches?

The smart thing to do is what has been done in cities across the country, including D.C. Instead of announcing all teachers are fired, you announce that all teachers must reapply for their jobs. I have visited many low-performing schools, but have yet to find one that didn't have at least one or two teachers having success with their students. If the president is going to support more money for teachers who succeed in raising student achievement, then he should also favor keeping such teachers even when they are working at schools that up to now have been unworthy of them. As the president is passing out money for educational innovation, he doesn't want to leave the impression that a meat cleaver is his favorite tool.

Read Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.

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By Jay Mathews  | March 2, 2010; 3:58 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Central Falls High School, President Obama, Randi Weingarten, Rhode Island teacher firings, firing all teachers  
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Comments

I guess Obama sold out teachers to help built street cred with conservatives for health care votes. Sad.. Right on Jay. I'll save any disagreements with you for another day.

Posted by: mamoore1 | March 2, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Great point! You say,

"If the president is going to support more money for teachers who succeed in raising student achievement, then he should also favor keeping such teachers even when they are working at schools that up to now have been unworthy of them."

Yes, yes, this is so true! That's just it!!

Posted by: celestun100 | March 2, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

I only want to know one thing. Where are the new teachers and administrators going to come from? What makes anyone think that they are going to do a better job than the fired teachers did. I would like to apply the same reasoning to the federal government. Since they have failed fire them all, starting with the person at the top. Should we impeach him? Nah! since they have failed they all need to go without any reason or due process.

Posted by: gvelanis | March 2, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

I believe that under the terms of the turn-around model, teachers may reapply for their jobs, but no more than 50% may be hired back, which you left out of your post.

Also, the teachers in this case were offered additional time in classroom requirements and additional training (compensated) but the union shot it down.

I am strongly pro-union, but the teachers walked right into this and knew the entire time this was a possible outcome. They played hardball when they just haven't been delivering.

Posted by: salf | March 2, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Curious that Obama chose an event at the Chamber of Commerce to endorse staffwide teacher firings. I wonder who is going to help him, his agenda and Democratic campaigns: the Chamber of the NEA/AFT.

I doubt Obama would have said what he said where he said it and when he said it (on the verge of ESEA reauthorization) if Rahm Emanuel were still alive.

Posted by: ChesterWest | March 2, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

"Instead of announcing all teachers are fired, you announce that all teachers must reapply for their jobs."

The teachers can reapply for their jobs. How is mandating that everyone reapply for their jobs (and then being fired if they didn't want to keep you in the first place) different from firing everyone and bringing back those that reapply? The amount of applications you have to sort through?

As I understand it, the schools asked the union to extend the hours of the school to increase the amount of classroom time for the kids. The union said no.

On NPR this morning they interviewed some teachers and they had a Math teacher who said that she "had worked there for 28 years and had done nothing to deserve being treated like this." I think 7% Math proficiency was enough.

Posted by: thingsthatshine | March 2, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

I agree but the spin was that "at least half" of the fired teachers would be back in their jobs.

So is this style over substance? What is really going on here?

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | March 2, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

basically everyone is at fault on this one. first the students and their parents if they have any that are decent are the ones to blame. the saying goes you can lead a horse to the watering trough but you can't make him drink. I don't care, you can put the best teacher in the class and if the students don't want to learn it isn't going to work. alas there's your problem, students don't want to learn and haven't learned the basics. there is a possible you could have terrible teachers at this school but if there is no discipline and the students don't care, what else is a teacher to do. It is high time we get parents if they have any to the school and sit them down and tell them blank face this is what is going to happen to your children. Society needs to wake up and now, and don't expect teachers to work miracles because they can't if students don't want to learn. Parents and student involvement go a long way. Dear Mr. President you are wrong on this one. This was a mistake.

Posted by: bncfirme | March 2, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

What's the real story here? Does anyone have gossip from the ground in Rhode Island?

I dunno, my take on it is that there's a huge difference between effort and effectiveness. I think the teachers should just pick a different school to work at and be done with it.

Posted by: bbcrock | March 2, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

bbrock

You mean they tried (effort) and were unable to deliver(effectiveness)? Could be. But why is the whole school held accountable for math scores? Presumably the French teacher had nothing to do with that.

Posted by: celestun100 | March 2, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

President Obama has walked into another issue from the media without full knowledge of the facts. I agree that something must be done about schools that fail year after year. To fire an entire staff is an indictment of the school system and not the school. Each administrator and teacher needs to be fairly evaluated. Ultimately, the fault for repeated low performance is more indicative of poor performance by the supt., school board and state dept. of ed.

Posted by: david_brown1 | March 2, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

you're saying that a "best teacher" can't inspire uninspired teachers? I think the ability to inspire learning is the #1 definition of what the best teacher is. No teacher who can't get kids to want to learn is a good teacher by definition.

I think someone, somewhere hoodwinked people into thinking that you can be a good teacher with students who don't learn. That's impossible. Don't be so gullible. The definition of a good teacher, like a Jaime Escalante, is to inspire students to learn.

any teacher who can't take control of a class of minors is not a good teacher, period, by definition they're bad teachers. they might skate by in a rich neighborhood but that doesn't make them good teachers in that neighborhood.

that's it. you can't inspire kids to learn then you aren't a good teacher, you suck at teaching.

Posted by: bbcrock | March 2, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

you're saying that a "best teacher" can't inspire uninspired teachers? - should read "uninspired students."

Posted by: bbcrock | March 2, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Saying that only 7% passed the math test isn't quite right. The 7% refers to those who scored proficient or above. Actually 24% passed. Fifty-six percent scored proficient and above in reading and 84% passed. The number of students scoring proficient and above increased by 23% in three years in reading. Central Falls High is almost entirely minority. Test scores for black students are higher than the state average for black students. Scores for Hispanic students are slightly below the state average for Hispanic students. The school that the President praised had lower scores. In math the MET School had 2% proficient in math, but a higher graduation rate. The teachers were offered the chance to reapply for their jobs, with 50% being rehired, a longer school day and school year with no additional pay. The superintendent said that she would "try" to get money for several weeks of required training during the summer. The teachers rejected this "reform."

Posted by: Susan50 | March 2, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

How that Union working for ya:) This is a good starting point! Our kids are not too smart these days and we have to face the facts straight on! Bill Gates stood in front of congress almost begging them to fund education better, primarily math and sciences. Why! Because those are the kids he wants to hire! SMART kids who know math and sciences. I have met teenagers today that can not make change! Try it! Asked a 13-18 year old to make change! "If I bought a product for $12.37 and gave the clerk a $50 dollar bill. What is my change going to be. Give them 7-9 seonds to get the answer from their heads. No paper!
This is why we need better schools and much better parenting. People send their kids to school at treat the school as a babysitter for most of the day. Bill Gates gets it! He told congress that he had 2500 high tech jobs ready to fill but "NO" American kids to fill them. So he ended up asking for 2500 Guest workers visas for India, Pakistan and beyond so he could keep his company moving forward.
How much time do you think a teacher should spend when a student refuses to learn or listen and the parents back it!
Some schools need to be burned to the ground and those students shipped elsewhere. Be poor is no excuse! There is no excuse for how some of these thugs treat teachers and disrespect the system.

Posted by: usmc1969 | March 2, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

The concept of data-drive accountability, like the words "culture of accountability" and "performance culture," have long been a way for Dems to sound tough. The 90s accountability movement came from the same milleau as Sista Soldja and Clinton executing a mentally retarded inmate during his presidential campaign. So, President Obama, like FDR, is a politican. (hey!, FDR over-ruled Eleanor and signed the legislation that caused most of the Okie movement, but he did so to get Southern votes to pass the draft legislation needed for WWII. Obama is doing the same to teachers on this one, but that's life) But if you are going to have a culture of accountability, then Gallo and the board should resign because: a) they weren't able to reach a resolution that would have been more constructive, and b) now they've shot their wad in terms of improving students' performance.

The same, of course, should apply to Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: johnt4853 | March 2, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

This is the result when Affirmative Action values meet individual responsibility and accountability...people are judged on their image and categorical relationships, rather than individual skills, abilities, and results. Welcome to Mr. Obama's "America"...SUCKERS!

Posted by: wcmillionairre | March 2, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

From the edumacation blog: http://edumacationarchive.com/2010/02/18/judgment-at-central-falls-part-1/

In 2005-2006 the 7th grade students who fed into the high school achieved the following results on their 7th grade NECAP test for reading:

0% – Proficient with Distinction
22% – Proficient
36% – Partially Proficient
42% – Substantially Below Proficient

In 2009-2010 when many of those same 7th graders had moved to 11th grade, they achieved the following scores:

8% – Proficient with Distinction
47% – Proficient
29% – Partially Proficient
15% – Substantially Below Proficient

--------------------------------------
So, proficient and proficient with distinction both went up substantially from 7th grade to 11th grade (same cohort of students, but certainly some moved in and out). Yet, somehow ALL the teachers are doing something wrong.

I bet there were some poor teachers there, maybe even should have been fired. But firing the whole school (without looking at the data it seems) is just silly.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | March 2, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

More data:

"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."

http://edumacationarchive.com/2010/02/20/judgment-at-central-falls-part-3/

Posted by: edlharris | March 2, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

As I read the comments, all teachers can reapply! I would like all the Board Members and all the Administrators to reapply!
The tenure system is at least an opportunity to rid the system of bad teachers! How do we rid the system of bad parenting, bad administrators,and bad board members?
The teachers are the people in the system that are the most easily blamed. Parents should come first and then those who hire and supervise and then tenure teachers.
Teachers are scapegoats/targets!
They make it too easy for politicians/reformers to skip over the layers or responsibilities for child welfare. Get rid of bad principals FIRST who tenure BAD teachers.

Posted by: knoweverything | March 2, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

As I read the comments, all teachers can reapply! I would like all the Board Members and all the Administrators to reapply!
The tenure system is at least an opportunity to rid the system of bad teachers! How do we rid the system of bad parenting, bad administrators,and bad board members?
The teachers are the people in the system that are the most easily blamed. Parents should come first and then those who hire and supervise and then tenure teachers.
Teachers are scapegoats/targets!
They make it too easy for politicians/reformers to skip over the layers or responsibilities for child welfare. Get rid of bad principals FIRST who tenure BAD teachers.

Posted by: knoweverything | March 2, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

No teacher who can't get kids to want to learn is a good teacher by definition.
bbcrock
@@@@@@@@@@@

You should read what Jay has written about Jaime Escalante and his protegee, Ben Jimenez.

There were students Jaime couldn't work with, who succeeded with Ben.

Posted by: edlharris | March 2, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, Jay - you're still presuming it's the teachers' fault, and the way to deal with it is to fire teachers, just not all the teachers and not in the way it was done in RI.

Posted by: efavorite | March 2, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Unless the teachers were warned, there is evidence that the teachers were not complying with job rules and guidelines, and/or these students were honor students upon admission...I call BS and shall be moving out of this miserable, unfair, and Godless country.

Posted by: tracietigress | March 3, 2010 12:41 AM | Report abuse

What's the real story here? Does anyone have gossip from the ground in Rhode Island?

Perhaps FACTS would be more useful than gossip from Rhode Island.

Posted by: sanderling5 | March 3, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

@sanderling5

Some facts are that Gallo, the Central Falls superintendent, offered to pay teachers $30 per hour for two weeks of summer development training, and asked them to teach for 25 extra minutes per day, tutor students, and eat lunch with them once a week. The union demanded teachers be paid for the extra work, and at a rate of $90 per hour. (See http://www.projo.com/news/content/central_falls_turmoil_02-28-10_TQHGS9N_v292)

I'll bet that exorbitant demand, though Jay doesn't mention it, had something to do with Gallo's decision, and Secretary Duncan and President Obama's endorsement of it.

Posted by: wittbell42 | March 3, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I think that Supt Frances Gallo is merely preparing her resume so she can apply for the position soon to be vacated by Michelle Rhee...

Posted by: Incidentally | March 3, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Jay - you forgot to mention that 50% of these teachers can re-apply for their jobs. You also forgot to mention the 4 different options Central Falls HS had and how the teacher's union would not agree to any of the other options.

Posted by: wisemen | March 3, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

It is clear, from my own subsequent reporting and the many astute comments above, that I messed up on this one. The Central Falls firings do include a chance for many teachers to reapply for their jobs. Thus my only complaint is one of public relations and journalism. I wish more people reporting on this incident, including the president's speech writers, had mentioned that. It makes a big difference in how people like me perceive what has happened. My fault. Sorry.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 3, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

bncfirme said a mouthful. It really chaps my hide that AIG bankers have "legally binding" contracts (for bonuses) but teachers don't. As someone else pointed out, what does the French teacher have to do with low math scores?? How is this action in any way fair or sensical?
bbcrock, I would argue that one can most certainly be a good teacher and still have students who do not or will not learn, just as one can be a good parent and still have a child who fails at life. High school teachers only have each student for about 5 hours a week. What percentage of influence then do you think a given teacher has over a given student? Parents especially need to accept their share of the responsibility for their childrens' education, as do the kids themselves, administrators, board members, and pretty much everybody else in our culture. The things we say we want from our kids are not the things that we teach them day to day in life, so why are we surprised when many of them don't "get" those lessons when they're taught at school? Blame the teacher might be a satisfying exercise in scapegoating for some, but it's not a real solution. Nowhere near one.

Posted by: DDawnC | March 8, 2010 5:22 AM | Report abuse

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