Thursday, January 6, 2011

Central Falls firings were first shots fired in current war on teachers

History may well record the mass teacher and staff firings at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island last February, as the opening salvo in this administration's war on teachers and their unions.

The firings sparked outrage among teachers, organized labor and parents. Students organized walkouts in support of their teachers. Supts. Gallo and Gist, who had led the assault with full support from Pres. Obama and Sec.Duncan, were ultimately forced to retreat and bring those teachers, who hadn't moved elsewhere, back into their classrooms. They were rehired only after the union agreed to a longer work day and made other concessions to try and save jobs. At the time, State Supt. Gist promised that the changes would result in "dramatic achievement."

But the damage to the school and to the economically-ravaged town of Central Falls was a fait accompli.

Eric Tucker writing in today's Washington Post describes the fallout from this devastating betrayal by an administration that only weeks earlier had  promised reform done "with teachers, not to them."

Writes Tucker:  
"President Barack Obama appeared to endorse the firings, saying drastic action may be warranted when schools show no signs of improvement. The White House declined to comment this week"   
Yes, Obama went so far as to call the mass firings, "courageous," a clear signal to state education leaders of what was demanded of them if they expected to receive their share of federal Race To Tbe Top funds.

As for the city itself, Tucker writes:
Heavily Hispanic Central Falls is Rhode Island's smallest and poorest city, with a population of nearly 19,000. One-quarter of families live in poverty and 65 percent speak a language other than English at home. The city is under the control of a state-appointed receiver, who says its problems are so dire that Central Falls should consider merging with neighboring Pawtucket. 
The mass firings have proven to be a disaster, both for school reform and for all the citizens of Central Falls. It's been a failed reform strategy everywhere it's been tried. Obama and Duncan are now tight-lipped about their support for the debacle. Ironically, AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten, in her latest call for an end to teacher resistance to Race To The Top,  is holding up the "reform" at Central Falls as a model of collaboration.
Because the district and the union had built a relationship based on trust, they refused to take the easy way out. They stepped outside their comfort zones, took on the very difficult task of crafting a new form of school governance, and, together, have taken promising steps to turn around these schools.

Collaboration indeed.

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