All Teachers Left Behind: Getting The Gist?

In a recent speech, President Obama supported a decision made by the Central Falls school committee to fire all ninety-three of its high school teachers and personnel because of low student achievement scores and graduation rates. So much for improving the unemployment rate though, huh?

Waves of Draconian measures like these are sweeping across the country, attempting to drown out our public education system. And victims of the reactionary riptides are washing up on both shores. In California and elsewhere, massive cuts to state colleges have prompted thousands of students to skip their classes today in a protest known as the National Day of Action to Defend Public Schools. Unfortunately, with the leadership of the two major parties favoring a for-profit educational model, it’s the students who will be abandoned in the long run.

At Central Falls High School, the exodus is evidently starting with the teachers. Their mass firing is a result of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which is rearing its ugly head on poorly performing schools by forcing them into one of several drastic options — including closing or becoming a charter school. Supporters of the trendy charter movement now underway throughout the US, like RI Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, claim these privately run schools produce positive results for the lucky few who hit the K-12 lottery, but do they? And at what cost to the rest of the community? In order to maintain profitability, charters have been known to hire non-certified teachers, refuse special needs students and cut programs. In other words, like most big corporations, they become beholden to their investors rather than their customers (a.k.a. our children). On top of that, charters can also siphon away tax dollars by piggy backing on existing public school infrastructure.

With a nearly 50% decrease in the amount of state aid for education and three recently closed schools, Bristol will be especially vulnerable to the damaging effects of NCLB unless we do something about it. In a very short time, the Kickemuit Education Foundation has done an excellent job of raising funds for the Bristol-Warren School District. Go to their 2nd Annual Bodacious Bee and support a good cause — the future of the town! Plus, Ms. Gist will be there. She doesn’t want to be asked to spell anything but maybe she’ll read the writing on the wall: If she fires herself, she really could save our schools!

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6 Responses to “All Teachers Left Behind: Getting The Gist?”

  1. Mike Byrnes Says:

    A real bullraker would not misrepresent why the teachers were fired. Sure student performance, the worst in the state was the driving force, but the teachers were fired because they refused to modifiy their teaching methods and schedules in an effort to address unacceptable performance. Does not the school administration have the obligation to insure they do what they can to insure our youth get the education they deserve. The 93 teachers made a conscious decision not to negotiate with the administration. I am pretty sure this is why they were fired.

    I am not sure that both parties favor for profit education, nor am I sure that the cuts by the State of California represent an attempt to “drown out our public education system.” Rather California, which has very low state school fees, is responding to a serious financial crisis and the money is simply not there. Not much of a plot here – the money tree is bare.

    On charter schools – objectively some pluses and minuses, but an experiment worth trying. I am sure you are familiar with the Harlem situation – http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703862704575100063274885270.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    The success of these schools and the difference they will make for the children would seem hard to argue with. I think Ms Gist may be right!

    Sounds very much like your position is akin to the way Russians and the Chinese look at the world – If someone is doing well financially or academically the Russian approach is exert their energy to drag that individual down to the level of those not doing so well so that all are equal. The Chinese would rather strive to achieve or surpass the finacial and academic levels of the successful individual. I suspect we would all be better off following the Chinese model.

    • bristolbullraker Says:

      Hi Mike,

      Glad to hear from you. I’ll try to reply to your comments as best I can:

      1) I don’t believe I’ve misrepresented why the teachers were fired, since the reason action was taken against them in the first place is that the school is low-performing. Besides, mentioning the teachers’ refusal of an earlier option would have only strengthened my point. You ask: “Does not the school administration have the obligation to insure they do what they can to insure our youth get the education they deserve?” Yes, but they should do so during contract negotiations, not in the middle of the school year. Politicians are clearly using NCLB results to push their agendas forward while avoiding collective bargaining and the unions are naturally resisting. If I was in a union and my employer attempted to break the terms of my contract, I’d expect them to have my back too. The biggest “misrepresentation” I see here is the scapegoating of all teachers in the state’s poorest district.

      2) At the highest levels, both parties do favor for-profit education. An important part of the selection criteria for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race To The Top program is that states make charter schools a priority.

      3) You point how cuts to public education in CA are simply responses to the financial crisis, yet there still seems to be plenty of money for the state’s enormous prison system. Nationally we have trillions for unending wars and the big banks that caused the crisis, but little for schools. We can argue whether these are purposeful attempts to “drown out our public education system”, but that doesn’t matter because they will drown it out if allowed to continue.

      4) Thanks for the WSJ link. Here are others you might find interesting:
      http://www.democracynow.org/2010/2/11/charter_roundtable
      http://www.democracynow.org/2010/3/5/protests

      5) As you describe it, I think we’d be better off using the Chinese model too. But I’m not sure how charter schools achieve that goal. From my perspective, it seems we’re intentionally weakening public schools (by underfunding and over-bureaucratizing them) just so we can create a market for charter schools… And I’m not willing to sell out our future for that experiment.

      Thanks. By the way, I met your sister a few weeks ago at an RI Progressive League event. Happy to see the Byrnes family is so active in the community! 🙂

  2. Mike Byrnes Says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for your reply.

    “Maybe your title says it all “All TEACHERS Left Behind” Maybe I am getting too old, but “when I went to school” the focus of education was clearly the student. Schools did not exist for the teachers, but for the education and nurturing of students. Schools exist for no other reason.”

    See other comments below.

    bristolbullraker said on All Teachers Left Behind: Getting The Gist?
    March 4, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Hi Mike,

    Glad to hear from you. I’ll try to reply to your comments as best I can:

    1) I don’t believe I’ve misrepresented why the teachers were fired, since the reason action was taken against them in the first place is that the school is low-performing.

    “The proximate cause was that the school was not performing and not only by NCLB standards. The final cause was that the teachers refused to accept the administration’s proposed solutions to this problem. Negotions had been ongoing for some time.”

    Besides, mentioning the teachers’ refusal of an earlier option would have only strengthened my point. You ask: “Does not the school administration have the obligation to insure they do what they can to insure our youth get the education they deserve?” Yes, but they should do so during contract negotiations, not in the middle of the school year.

    “As you well know contract negotiations often drag on into the school year. This seems to have been the case here”

    Politicians are clearly using NCLB results to avoid collective bargaining and the unions are naturally resisting. If I was in a union and my employer attempted to break the terms of my contract, I’d expect them to have my back too.

    “Could be that the unions are far too protective of non-performing teachers! The case in Bristol is a good example of a teacher that should never have been in the classroom, but because of union resistence she was there far longer than she should have been. If the union’s position is such to keep this kind of teacher in the classroom how many other teachers are having their backprotected when they should not be teaching?”

    2) At the highest levels, both parties do favor for-profit education. An important part of the selection criteria for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race To The Top program is that states make charter schools a priority.
    3) You point how cuts to public education in CA are simply responses to the financial crisis, yet there still seems to be plenty of money for the state’s enormous prison system.

    “Is your solution to let the prisioners out? Or not prosecute lawbreakers?”

    Nationally we have trillions for unending wars and the big banks that caused the crisis, but little for schools.

    “I agree that we should cut back on these types of spending, but California’s budget does not have unending wars and big bank funding lines in it. California needs to realign its own budget priorities.”

    Whether these are purposeful attempts to “drown out our public education system” doesn’t matter because they will do just that if allowed to continue.

    “The effort seems not to drown out public education but rather to make it better – something the unions do not always seem to support.”

    4) Thanks for the WSJ link. Here’s another one you might find interesting:
    5) As you describe it, I think we’d be better off using the Chinese model too. But I’m not sure how charter schools achieve that goal. From my perspective, it seems we’re intentionally weakening public schools (by underfunding and over-bureaucratizing them) just so we can create a market for charter schools… And I’m not willing to sell out our future.

    “Actually funding is not the driving force behind great schools. Public schools in Harlem cost more than charter schools but their results are not as good. Look at the DC school system – one of the highest expenditures in the country and one of the poorest performing – although in the past two years this system has made some real progress – but not because money was thrown at the problem. I think the charter schools can act as apositive spur to publics schools to make them better. That is what it should be all about.”

    Thanks. By the way, I met your sister a few weeks ago at an RI Progressive League event. Happy to see the Byrnes family is so active in the community! 🙂

    “I can not be held responsible for the behavior of my siblings. I am sure my parents did everything they could to insure a good upbringing, but…….”

    Best, Mike

    • bristolbullraker Says:

      Mike,

      My replies to your latest comments:

      “Could be that the unions are far too protective of non-performing teachers!”

      I agree to a point. It seems like the hiring/firing process is based more on tenure than merit. But there is supposedly a way in which teachers are evaluated so perhaps it just needs to be more transparent. All I know is that firing all teachers – the good and the bad – could not possibly solve anything. The message being sent in Central Falls is that teachers don’t matter. Not exactly a positive message for prospective teachers like me. I have a Master’s in Teaching & Curriculum but will probably never use it because there’s absolutely no incentive to go into the profession. Take a pay cut for less job security? I’ll pass… and so will lots of other qualified individuals until less reactionary measures are taken to address the problems in education.

      As for the example of the Bristol teacher, while I also think she didn’t belong in the classroom anymore, I don’t see how things could have played out differently. She had a personal problem, which began to affect her ability to perform her job, so after attempts to remedy the situation failed, she was ultimately (and predictably) let go. Unions have an obligation to support their members regardless of how we (or even they) feel about the situation. That’s not to say the public shouldn’t weigh in and put pressure on everyone involved to make the right decision (as they did in this case). All I mean is that the rules must apply to everyone if a just outcome is expected.

      “Is your solution to let the prisoners out?”

      Actually, in many cases, yes. There are lots of “felons” who have done little more than get caught with marijuana on them. The US should be spending more money on schools and less on locking up people (i.e. mostly minorities) for non-violent drug offenses. I know I’m digressing a bit, but here’s a great interview about the prison system:
      http://www.democracynow.org/2010/3/11/legal_scholar_michelle_alexander_on_the
      http://www.democracynow.org/2010/3/12/part_ii_michelle_alexander_on_the

      “Actually funding is not the driving force behind great schools.”

      Sure, I’ll buy that. But how many schools wouldn’t want more? I’d love to see stuff like smaller class sizes and year-long schooling, things that I think can substantially improve the quality of education… but that require tons of additional funding.

      “Public schools in Harlem cost more than charter schools but their results are not as good.”

      Keep in mind that part of what drives costs down for charters is that public schools pay for certain things (books, building maintenance, etc.). And although the results in Harlem are positive, charters in general have proven no better than public schools. In fact, in the same Obama speech I cited in my original article, he praises the Met School in Providence — a charter with similar test scores as Central Falls High School! Hearing that, it’s awfully tough for me to look at the charter movement as anything but politically and financially motivated.

      “I can not be held responsible for the behavior of my siblings. I am sure my parents did everything they could to insure a good upbringing, but…….”

      Not sure if I want to know the details, but this line alone was enough to make me laugh! 🙂

  3. Mike Byrnes Says:

    Kevin,

    Good reply.

    One issue – And although the results in Harlem are positive, charters in general have proven no better than public schools.

    You may be right here, but the stats do not seem to support it. The one major difference is that it is much easier to close a non-performing Charter school than a non-peforming public school. And finally so what if the charter school is financially motivated? If it is successful and performs well why should we care if it is financially motivated. You yourself indicated you are financially motivated – “Take a pay cut for less job security?” Sounds like financial motivation with a stability kicker thrown in.

    Best, Mike

    • bristolbullraker Says:

      Mike,

      I appreciate the feedback. Here are my latest replies:

      “And finally so what if the charter school is financially motivated?”

      There’s a big difference between the financial motivation of prospective teachers seeking pay commensurate with cost-of-living expenses and charter school administrators who earn much more than their public school counterparts (i.e. hundreds of thousands of dollars per year). I believe some charters are successful not because they are private, but because they have the independence to set their own curriculum. If public schools were given the same autonomy, I think we could see better results because at least they’d still be accountable to the taxpayers.

      “it is much easier to close a non-performing Charter school than a non-performing public school.”

      One only has to look at the BCWA or Hess LNG situations to see how difficult it is to prevent corporations from getting away with whatever they want. I suspect charter schools will be no different.

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