Thursday, February 25, 2010

An epidemic is upon us!

Yes, an epidemic seems to be upon us. And there is no vaccine. I don't know about a cure either. However, I am worried and concerned. The epidemic is that it seems we're about to fire many of our teachers--outright. It happened just the other day in Central Falls, RI where the school board fired ALL (yes, I did say all) of the teachers, principal and three vice principals because test scores and graduation rates have not improved. Between seventy-eight and eight three teachers and staff were given notices that their jobs would end in June. I'm sure a number of you heard this on the television news and/or the newspapers. You can expect to get more details from the likes of TIME and NewsWeek.

I have been scanning on the web local papers and larger papers in the Boston area. I've listened to a couple of interviews of teachers on the web. The town of Central Falls seems to be one of Rhode Islands most in need cities, a bad economy and one of the highest unemployment figures in the state. It looks like the unemployment figure is about to rise.

The rest of this blog is mostly my opinion and conjecture. What do we know for sure? This release of all teachers has the blessings of the Secretary of Education (Arnie Duncan), the State Superintendent of Education (Gist) and the Superintendent of education in Central Falls (Gallo). One of the motivating factors is that the State of Rhode Island has just changed some laws to match up with the requirements of the Federal government in order to be eligible for federal funds to improve schools. According to a local paper (Pawtucket Times) this is probably a school district vs. the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Break the union and we can have good schools again. I don't think so.

My analysis for the past few days has bounced all over the place so forgive me if I at times seem disjointed in my thoughts. But we'll get through.

Okay, so we've fired all the teachers--those that have been there for many years and live somewhere in the area as well as the new teachers. We've fired the PE teachers, music teachers and special education teachers. How this group of teachers can raise test scores is beyond me at the moment. We've cleaned house.

So where are you going to get a whole school full of teachers for next year? You are going to go into the Boston area and recruit teachers? I doubt it. Once teachers hear what has happen in Central Falls, they are not going to go there in a heart beat. So you're going to have to hire non-certified people to become teachers--with the blessings of the State Superintendent of Rhode Island. That is not going to make her look good in front of her legislature.

You could take some of your elementary teachers and move them up to the high school. But then you have certified teachers teaching outside of their certification. Again, not good. It seems to me that emergency certificates is about the only thing going for the moment--people who haven't got a job and are willing to try teaching for a year.

I can say right now that if I had undergraduates about to graduate in education I would tell them not to go to Central Falls Schools. If I were teaching at Boston University, I'd tell my students to stay away. There are enough teachers retiring that you can get a job elsewhere. This school district has not thought this through. You know that damn well the union is going to tell its membership to stay away as well.

Some years ago I was privileged to take a tour of two Seattle elementary schools that had many minorities--Asian, African American, South Sea Islanders, Hispanics. These two schools were doing well and their students were progressing at pretty much grade level. The Assistant Superintendent that I was with was a brilliant African American teacher who had progressed into the administrative ranks. I am still in awe of her (and I beg forgiveness that I cannot remember her name). At some point I commented that there appeared to be a lot of disadvantaged children in the school. Her definition of "a disadvantaged child," has stuck with me over the years. A disadvantaged child is one that learns something at home that is not reinforced at school and learns something at school that is not reinforced at home. I've never forgotten that saying. It does take a community to raise a child. It doesn't happen just in the classroom.

With that I looked up some data about Central Falls, RI. It is one of most heavily populated cities in Rhode Island but one of the smallest is size. And one of the poorest. 96% of the students in the high school are eligible for free or reduced lunch. That is incredibly high number. 65% of the student body is of Hispanic origin, 13% are white, 14% African American and 8% other. I suspect many of the students speak Spanish at home and English in the high school. One out of four get ESL (English as a second language) services. That means in this high school two hundred and fifty students have problems speaking the English language. I wonder how they do on those damn tests?

According to one newspaper, the high school has had five new principals in six years. This would indicate sever lack of leadership or planning in the school district. A good district needs elementary schools that have learning levels that will lead to success in the middle schools and the middle school needs to have learning standards that will lead to success in the high school. Success breeds success!

There was a short interview with two high school boys. One of the boy's mentioned that he didn't always attend school. Just stayed home. It is difficult to teach children when they are not in your classroom. If the parents don't encourage their children to go to school, we have a major problem that is not entirely of the school's fault.

So here is my predictions. The school district will hire at least half and perhaps more of the teachers back at a slight pay raise (which will come from the feds). The union will say they won and the school board will say they won. But in reality neither side has won. The community has lost. I think the mayor needs to start having some neighborhood gatherings to discuss what to do in the neighborhoods and what they expect from schools. What are they going to do to help their children? Mr. President (of the U.S.), tell the Secretary of Education what you use to do in Chicago and tell him to do it in Central Falls! Then this summer take some of that federal money and pay the teachers to sit down and discuss how they are going to set up a program from heavy minority student population. And someone needs to get the University of Rhode Island School of Education involved to helping this community. They need an outreach program.

Yeah, fire all the teachers--not a very high level leadership concept. I wish those teachers of Central Falls well. This incident will affect their lives as well as those teachers in the surrounding area. You don't teach well when you think you're going to get fired. It's like getting a paddling because you're not smart enough. So to all those teachers in Central Falls, thanks for all you did. I know you tried to help the kids.





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