Jennifer D. Jordan and Linda Borg report in the Providence Journal about a school where Superintendent Frances Gallo of Central Falls, Rhode Island fired an entire school. In Central Falls to Fire Every High School Teacher Jordan and Gallo describe the circumstances of the firing.
CENTRAL FALLS –– The teachers didn’t blink.
Under threat of losing their jobs if they didn’t go along with extra work for not a lot of extra pay, the Central Falls Teachers’ Union refused Friday morning to accept a reform plan for one of the worst-performing high schools in the state.
The superintendent didn’t blink either.
After learning of the union’s position, School Supt. Frances Gallo notified the state that she was switching to an alternative she was hoping to avoid: firing the entire staff at Central Falls High School. In total, about 100 teachers, administrators and assistants will lose their jobs.
Gallo blamed the union’s “callous disregard” for the situation, saying union leaders “knew full well what would happen” if they rejected the six conditions Gallo said were crucial to improving the school. The conditions are 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.
This goes without saying is one very complicated and complex story. Education is a partnership between the student, parent(s) or guardian(s), teacher(s), and school. If one party refuses to accept their part in the partnership, the education process will probably not be successful. In many low-income areas, students do not arrive at school ready to learn. Many parents can’t, don’t know how, or are disinterested in the education process. So, Superintendent Gallo is attempting to turn around a low-performing school by asking even more of the teachers. The next issues regarding whether unionization have had a salutatory effect on education are equally complex. Every working person deserves to be respected for their work and teachers want to be considered as professionals. Most professionals are not unionized. Still, teachers have unionized to have a voice in setting their working conditions. The automatic question is whether unionization impedes progress in some schools? If Superintendent Gallo wanted a shot across the bow, this is turning into a shot heard all over the education community.
No Child Left Behind put the onus on districts to turn around failing schools. See, Bill Moyers’ NOW for a good overview of the law. The thornier problem is what question union bargaining practices will play when different schools will require different solutions as a result of having different populations of kids? Some children will require longer school days and longer school terms in order to receive a good basic education. Like it or not, schools by default are taking over many of the functions that would have been performed by a strong family and strong extended family in the past. For many readers, Andres J. Coulson’s recent article, The Effects of Teachers Unions on American Education will be an engine starter, if not an engine flame-out. The bottom line is that according to Coulson, most activities of the unions have little to do with improving the educational achievement of students. Another superintendent who has made headlines for firing staff is Michelle Rhee, head of the D.C. Schools. This 2009 report from the Washington Post details 250 Teachers are Given Pink Slips
The question which has to be answered by every school district which has low-performing schools is how to get the flexibility required to institute the type of programs and rule changes which will change the culture and change the past dynamic without deviating from the status quo? How do reformers get past contracts which govern an entire district even if some of the issues may only pertain to a few schools? Given this dynamic, even though the human costs are great, many superintendents will increasingly see their option as firing the entire school if they are to make the changes necessary to turn around failing schools.
Dr. Wilda says this about that ©