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Fire all the teachers? Yes, that will work

Submitted by on Tuesday, 2 March 2010 No Comment

It’s unfortunate that the AFL-CIO did its job today and jumped into fray in a Rhode Island district that’s firing the entire staff at the low-performing Central Falls High School.

Unfortunate because that gives more ammo to those who like to blame teachers and their evil, evil unions for everything that’s wrong with education.And if it’s not the teachers’ faults, it’s those lazy, lazy students.

Count U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan as among the “blame the teachers” set. He “applauded” district officials officials for “showing courage and doing the right thing for kids.”

Right for the kids? Yes, the students deserve a better education than they’re getting, though the AFL-CIO notes that the school has been steadily improving. It’s questionable as to whether the inevitable protracted hoo-ha over the mass firing is going to do right by the kids either.

Courage? No, it doesn’t take a lot of that to charge in and issue orders and hope that the new plan works. It requires much more bravery to sit down and work for solutions. Ay, but in this era bravado is more in fashion among those who want “reform” yesterday and are hoping they’ll find it in quick-fix solutions.

Superintendent Frances Gallo’s ideas, on their face, are decent. According to the Providence Journal, she wanted teachers to add 25 minutes to the school day, provide tutoring, eat lunch with students once a week, submit to more rigorous evaluations, attend weekly after-school planning sessions with other teachers and participate in two weeks of training in the summer.

But if they’re such brilliant ideas in February, why weren’t they equally astute during the district’s last contract talks? Why not bargain the issues from the start instead of waiting until she could hold a gun to the staff’s collective head? Why is Gallo so late to the epiphany?

And even in February, the superintendent had two options: Come up with a turnaround plan or arbitrarily fire the entire staff. When the local teachers union balked at parts of the plan – which involved a lot more work for only a bit more pay – the superintendent decided to go arbitrary.

Sort of. She still can hire back up to half the staff. Anyone else see the potential for politics and favoritism here?

Or maybe it was simply the politically easy way out. As that old baseball axiom goes, it’s easier to fire the manager than to fire the whole team. Gallo can’t fire all the students, but she can ax the teachers.

It will be interesting two years from now to see what’s happening at Central Falls. Will Duncan continue to applaud the brave administrators or will he wake up and see that scapegoating teachers and kids will get you only so far with an education system that’s too deeply flawed for his beloved bubble tests to fix?

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg All rights reserved.

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