A Rhode Island school board has upheld a controversial recommendation to fire the entire staff of a failing high school and start fresh. The vote by the Central Falls school board Tuesday won the support of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
I understand the shock value of such a sweeping action, but I wonder if such housecleaning doesn’t set back a school. It takes years to learn a community and a school, and there has to be a period of rough transition after something of this magnitude. The new managers at the high school can hire back some of the employees — up to 50 percent — and I assume that will happen, but the loss of so many employees requires lots of rebuilding.
According to the Providence Journal-Bulletin:
Signaling the national significance of the situation in Central Falls, the American Federation of Teachers sent representative Mark Bostic with a message of support from the union’s 1.4 million members.
“We are behind Central Falls teachers, and we will be here as long as it takes to get justice,” said Bostic.
Meanwhile, state and local education officials received some high-powered support of their own, when U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan weighed in, saying he “applauded” them for “showing courage and doing the right thing for kids.”
“I think the real goal is to bust the unions,” said Julie Boyle, an English teacher at Coventry High School. “Sometimes a teacher is the only touchstone in a student’s life. I’m sad for the students who will lose their touchstones.”
Just an hour after the rally, the Central Falls school Board of Trustees, in a brief but intense meeting, voted 5-2 to fire every teacher at the school. In all, 93 names were read aloud in the high school auditorium — 74 classroom teachers, plus reading specialists, guidance counselors, physical education teachers, the school psychologist, the principal and three assistant principals.
The state’s tiniest, poorest city has become the center of a national battle over dramatic school reform. On the one side, federal and state education officials say they must take painful and dramatic steps to transform the nation’s lowest-performing schools. On the other side, teachers unions say such efforts undermine hard-won protections in their contracts.
Duncan is requiring states, for the first time, to identify their lowest 5 percent of schools — those that have chronically poor performance and low graduation rates — and fix them using one of four methods: school closure; takeover by a charter or school-management organization; transformation which requires a longer school day, among other changes; and “turnaround” which requires the entire teaching staff be fired and no more than 50 percent rehired in the fall.