Rhode Island teachers fired as school feels government heat

All 88 teachers at Central Falls High School are gone

If it were only that simple, Mr. No Child Left Behind. Think again.

Central Falls, Rhode Island is reeling from a firestorm of student, parent and teacher protest. Central Falls High School wasn’t making the grade with its standardized test scores and graduation rates, so the school board voted to fire the entire teaching staff. The 88 teachers are some of what may be many unfortunate casualties as American public education struggles to right itself.

Do they need money now?

That’s the standard bureaucratic response to these kinds of situations. If kids are failing, build better schools, develop more programs, buy more books, etc. While keeping education safe and state-of-the-art is no doubt valuable, there are others who argue that this fails to address the real problem. But before I get to that, let’s consider the Rhode Island teachers who were fired.

“I’m after school every day, I’m always available. I’m heartbroken. I’d do anything for this school system, I’ve done everything I can,” said teacher Frank Delbonis to NECN Rhode Island. This seems to represent what many of the teachers are feeling. The local media reports they’ve even shared tears with their frustrated students.

No Child Left Behind at work

The Central Falls district – which not coincidentally is an economically disadvantaged area of Rhode Island – has consistently ranked in the bottom five percent of academic performance in the state. Superintendent Frances Gallo was given few choices by the federal government if the school was to continue receiving funds. These choices were:

  1. Close the doors
  2. Become a charter school
  3. Go the “transformation model” path, which would lengthen school days and make other changes
  4. Fire every teacher and start over

The teachers’ union felt their charges were doing everything they could in a difficult situation, so they wouldn’t sign off on option three. Gallo obvious chose option four, and the Rhode Island teachers were fired. They’d been making gains with students, but the government considered these to be too modest.

All of the teachers can reapply at Central Falls or go elsewhere, but part of the restructuring requires that no more than 50 percent can be rehired at the same school.

Are they all missing the point?

There are very convincing arguments that drilling for standardized tests, metal detectors in schools, armed guards and the like are not the solution. They certainly don’t seem to be the way to produce well-rounded, productive, creative adults. One teacher by the name of C. Johnson argues that teachers have lost power in the classroom and students know this. Thus, the students most in need of help have no incentive to listen.

C. Johnson’s idea involves a radical restructuring of schools across America into three physically separate groups: those for disruptive students (RUDE schools), highly motivated learners (CALM) and those in between who are close but need some direction (MEDIAN). The ideas are quite interesting and I recommend you check them out if you’re into a common-sense solution to a problem that affects most of America. Instead of more incidents like the Rhode Island teachers being fired over self-important numbers, we might see more students receiving the attention they need. The restructuring may require Internet loans and other bonds, but it will be worth it. The system is broken and will not fix itself if we just throw money around.

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