Obama: Fire teachers, close bad schools

In a speech announcing an anti-dropout initiative, President Obama called for “federal rewards for local school districts that fire underperforming teachers and close failing schools. Obama praised the decision to fire the entire faculty and staff of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island as part of a turnaround plan, the New York Times reported.

At Central Falls High, he said, just 7 percent of 11th graders passed state math tests. Mr. Obama said he supported the school board’s decision to dismiss the faculty and staff members. “Our kids get only one chance at an education and we need to get it right,” he said.

I’m amazed that Obama came out for the Central Falls layoffs and not surprised that  American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten was furious about it.  Though Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said he wants to work with the teachers’ unions, the president is not compromising or conciliating: He’s pretty much kicking the unions in their collective teeth. And he had to know the reaction.

Obama said states would be asked to identify schools with graduation rates of 60 percent or less and persistently low achievement rates.

To qualify for the federal money, known as School Turnaround Grants, he said, the school districts must agree to take at least one of the steps: firing the principal and at least half the staff of a troubled school; reopening it as a charter school; or closing the school altogether and transferring students to better schools in the district.

“If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year,” Mr. Obama said, “if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability.”

Downsizing is an opportunity to close failing schools, notes Rick Hess, pointing to Kansas City’s new superintendent, John Covington, who’s closing half the city’s under-enrolled schools and laying off a quarter of the teachers.

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  1. Because we teachers are the sole reason these students are failing. Give me a break.

  2. When performance is that low across the board, then we’re not talking about faculty issues. What is the more likely scenario – that every single individual teacher is incompetent, or that those in charge of setting the school environment were incompetent?

    So long as the administration that sets policy and is ultimately in charge of discipline and performance is still in place, nothing will change. The last thing teachers need is to spend years fighting a stacked deck of out of control students and administration actively undermining discipline only to be fired for not being able to do the impossible.

  3. Genevieve says:

    In our district four of our five high schools are on the list. We are also a state that only allows the school district to authorize charters. Guess what, 0 charters in the area.
    I doubt anything is going to change.

  4. ronni orlowski says:

    Firing all staff and all teachers is ridiculous…I’ve heard they can reapply for their jobs…how were they prepared for this? Years ago there were truant officers at the very least, that made sure that kids came to school. I would hope that we’ve evolved beyond that, but sadly, we’ve regressed. Every school needs strong support staff so that teachers can teach–and most don’t have it. This means social workers who can follow a child, make certain family issues are addressed and that the the family is informed of and connected to resources. It means school nurses, who can follow up on health issues that are being neglected because MOST FAMILIES IN POOR SCHOOLS HAVE NO HEALTH CARE COVERAGE–and it means guidance counselors and psychologists who have the time and expertise to do more than test, test, test. It’s time to look at ourselves in the mirror, stop blaming, roll up our sleeves, and care about making a real change. Firing an entire staff is not the answer. It’s common sense that doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out. There may be teachers who need to be put on strict probation, but I’m willing to bet there were excellent teachers in that school with dedication and heart. What’s that simple saying that’s easy to understand? You don’t throw out the baby with the bath water!!

  5. Won’t it be interesting to see the 100% graduation rate a year from now as a result of the “turnaround.”

    Ya’ll don’t forget, now.

  6. Two unrelated thoughts: First, I would have been more comfortable if they had tried a new principal first — but that may not have been possible. And the union did reject the proposed contract changes.

    Second, can you imagine what the AFT and NEA would have said if Bush had taken this position!

    (Interesting fact: When Gallup did approval ratings by issue area last month, Obama scored highest on education. I think that’s because he is, on the whole, following Bush policies, an idea that is likely to infuriate people across the spectrum.)

  7. Both Bush and Obama deserve a lot of credit for taking on education’s worst enemy: the unions.

    It’s great that Obama is listening to Duncan.

  8. Whatever says:

    Predicted result: more incapable, illiterate, innumerate students will be promoted and “graduated” from the system to satisfy the hard limit of 60% graduation rate.

  9. Although I agree that blaming teachers is stupid, I approve of this for one simple reason–it will break tenure. Now, that’s not the reason Obama is touting it, because the man never really understands he says.

    Just think–what decent new teachers would go to a failing school, knowing that they’d be in line to be fired if scores didn’t go up? And any good teachers would find a job somewhere else. So if this policy holds, the only people at these schools would be relatively poor teachers who couldn’t be fired due to tenure. And shazam–now we have a way to get rid of them.

    I’m being mildly sarcastic, of course. But it’s typical Obama that he doesn’t understand what he says. I don’t think Obama really knew what the impact would be. He doesn’t really think much through, and I very much doubt his handlers planned on him saying that. Whenever he’s off the teleprompter, disaster happens.

  10. CU Student says:

    I think they should fire all those teachers, and start building more EMO charters to run the show.

  11. Although the politics aren’t there yet, in practice this action is oh so close to having parents make this decision for themselves.

  12. Clearly, the responsible course of action would be to blame the kids, parents, society and the direction of the prevailing winds. After that a large increase in funding much of which goes to increase teacher’s salary’s because a pay bump is the way to turn a lousy teacher into a good teacher.

    Of course any pay bump that goes to teachers has to be matched by a pay bump for administrative and non-teaching professionals. If teachers are paid more in the absence of any increase in their value to the organization then it’s only fair that everyone else who’s failed to demonstrate an increase in their value to the organization get a pay bump as well.

    More non-teaching and administrative personnel should be hired. If currently employed personnel deserve an increase in pay without demonstrating any increase in efficacy then obviously there’s an excessive amount of money flowing into the organization and hiring has to go on until all that excess funding’s soaked up.

    Uh, what problem was being solved?

  13. bill eccleston says:

    Reporting of the Central Falls saga by the local paper of record, the Providence Journal, has been terrible, probably because of an intense, oft-expressed anti-union bias on the part of the editorial staff. This has colored the way the story has been reported nationally. The only decent report I’ve read was in The New York Times.

    What the press has not reported is the fact that the Rhode Island Board of Regents, the body that runs the show in the state, has been in charge of Central Falls for 19 years. For the past seven years, since NCLB kicked in, the high school has failed to make progress and has been in corrective action for the past five years.

    During all this time, the school has basically served as a laboratory for the “progressive” ideology of the Rhode Island educational establishment, albeit with none of the controls that the word “laboratory” would imply. What they have experienced has been, in effect, a “flavor-of-the-year” reform approach coupled with an “administrator-of-the-year” management approach. It has been about as badly administered a district and school as you could imagine. My sources tell me that in the past five years, 19 administrators have cycled through the high school. In the past 7 years the school has had 4 principals. Last year they tried co-principals but fired one by year’s end. They have implemented one reform strategy after, apparently at random without regard to how any of them worked. They have never had a modern, accurate data collection system. That dropout figure quoted by Obama, for example, is almost certainly inaccurate, perhaps by a very wide margin. Since implementing their latest reform just this past September, a complex, poorly planned “academy” scheme, the daily schedule of the school doesn’t work in that it cannot accommodate the academic needs of all of the students. It is difficult even to find students during the school day.The resource support for the latest scheme never came through. Coupled with the rube-goldberg schedule, the new scheme was basically dead on arrival when the year started. All this on Superintendent Gallo’s watch. The response to poor math achievement in the district has been to implement Math Investigations. Gallo has implemented yet another of a see-sawing regime of reading reforms that includes a whole language “Pretend Reading” strategy that students may choose as late as second grade. The list goes on and on, but the big point is that the media is not interested in reporting this.
    The union has comported itself poorly and that is the only story.
    The union, stupidly, has allowed the press to frame the whole story as one of academic failure due to union failure to cooperate when the real failure of the union seems to be its willingness to go along passively with administration during the 19 year parade of flakey academic reforms and experiments. Why won’t journalists dig for this story?

  14. On the one hand, I accept that if I were in that teachers’ position _something_ needs to be done. A little extra time okay. No extra pay….uhm…how important is it is you are not willing to pay me for my time?

    Though my first step, if I were an administrator and if I could under the law would be a letter to all those parents of kids. The first would be mandatory remediation, the second if you needed the remediation, you obviously don’t have time for sports, the third would be a program through the community of getting parents to help with their kids and how.

  15. tim-10-ber says:

    Shouldn’t fingers be pointed at the union as well? Why did they not support the additional ask of the teachers? If the teachers average salaries are three times that of the average worker in the community then they had nothing to complain about. They had a guaranteed job with a good salary and yet they blew it. Stupid unions. Yes administrators need to be fired as well and middle and elementary school teachers.

    I blame the union and the teachers for not stepping up to the plate to say sure we will try this for two years to see what happens.

  16. But it’s typical Obama that he doesn’t understand what he says.

    If you think that, you’re too stupid to understand what you say. He’s smarter than you could ever hope to be.

  17. After 18 years of teaching in 9 different states (husband is military), I can honestly say that it comes from the home. If a parent is motivated and cares about his or her child, it does not matter who teaches the child. That child will be successful because he or she is a priority to the parents.

    Too many parents do not want to put the time into their children. They expect us to teach them everything from ethics to simple manners. And, oh by the way, don’t forget to teach them your subject area in the 60 minutes that you see them each day.

    Better teachers can help, but it will not solve the equation. Too bad you can’t legistlate parents to actually parent and mentor their own children.

  18. I saw CNN interview Gallo and interview a teacher rep.

    Gallo expressed concerns about student learning.

    The teacher rep was critical of Gallo for not respecting tradition.

    “She’s only been here for three years and I’ve been here for 15!”

    That clip says it all.

  19. “After 18 years of teaching in 9 different states (husband is military), I can honestly say that it comes from the home. If a parent is motivated and cares about his or her child, it does not matter who teaches the child. That child will be successful because he or she is a priority to the parents.”

    Other than daycare for working parents and a means of keeping children confined for 6 1/2 hours per day, what then is the point of public education? If the children of the poor and poorly educated can’t count on the schools to provide basic education that may then provide opportunity for self-improvement why bother at all? If the educational outcome of children of the affluent and well-educated is contingent only upon their parent, again, why bother?

    Public education SHOULD ameliorate the affects of poverty and parent illiteracy, not acquiesce to it.

  20. SuperSub says:

    Ultimately, learning can only occur if the students respect the authority of the system. The only way for that respect to develop is if the students are taught it during their early years. Unfortunately, in many situations (primarily amongst the “entitled” lower class), the actions of the parents actually undermine any efforts by the school to establish a healthy respect for authority.

    The best example of this was a really small 6th grader who repeatedly insulted a larger 8th grader. The 6th grader was astonished that the 8th grader beat the snot out of him. No one taught him to respect authority, even the possibility of physical violence.

  21. Math Teacher says:

    “After 18 years of teaching in 9 different states (husband is military), I can honestly say that it comes from the home. If a parent is motivated and cares about his or her child, it does not matter who teaches the child.”

    A child from a supportive, interested and literate household will likely achieve in spite of their teachers’ effectiveness (or lack thereof). But a child from a home where support is compromised by poverty, illiteracy, or neglect must have high teacher effectiveness to provide a positive counter-balance and improve their chances at success. One might argue that knowledgeable parenting is the advantage for the well-off and knowledgeable teaching is (or could be) the advantage for the poor. Too bad it doesn’t always work out that way.

  22. Supersub, Possibly the reason the entitled lower classes don’t respect the authority of the school or teacher is because they’re not worthy of respect? I agree that the behaviors of parents can undermine the goals of educators, but frequently the schools these kids attend are chaotic and unworthy of their affection and respect. Instead of offering an alternative to their underclass culture, they just reflect it back at them.

    Some educational professionals have spent decades undermining their own authority. Is it surprising that students have responded to that?

  23. Oh, by the way, the teachers should be fired, the school should be closed, and parent(s)of every child should receive a cash payment equivalent to the yearly per child cost the school was receiving to educate them – on a continuing basis. If the parents choose they can find a private school, hire tutors (laid off teachers), home school, or let their kids run wild and pocket the money. Apparently the outcome for these kids, and probably all kids, is only contingent upon their parents, so let’s cut the crap and empower the people who actually affect the lives of these kids – their parents.

  24. probably because of an intense, oft-expressed anti-union bias on the part of the editorial staff.

    But it’s typical Obama that he doesn’t understand what he says.

    If you think that, you’re too stupid to understand what you say. He’s smarter than you could ever hope to be.

    Put down the bong.

  25. Stacy,

    I think you miss my point entirely. Do you teach? Have you worked in an urban school district that the State has taken over? Have you seen the sad situations these kids come from?

    I love my students and several make it out of the poverty. However, just taking the SAT or ACT can be an ordeal. For example, one of my students had to roll his intoxicated mother out of the car, so he could drive himself to another city to take his SAT. Unfortunately, his mother did not re-fuel the car, and he ran out of gas before he got there. Consequently, he lost his fee waiver and had to reschedule the test, which hinders his application process.

    70% of my female students are single parents. So, in addition to just trying to survive in the inner-city, they have to worry about taking care of their children. So, attendance is not a high priority. It is really difficult to really teach math to a student who is not there.

    Don’t forget our homeless children or those who are in foster care. I have several students who have never had a home. How sad is that?

    Poverty does not mean that parents do not have to care. One of the poorest counties in Tennessee, Picket County, has some of the highest standardized test scores in the state. Parents are not educated, but they care and are interested.

    A mass firing of teachers seems to me extreme. Just for the record, I really love what I do and am extremely good at it. I have only had tenure once in my teaching career because of the moves. So, I always get a lot of attention as a “new teacher,” which is fine with me. I have also seen REALLY wonderful teachers and not so wonderful ones. It is ironic that some of the best teachers that I have seen are in my current district, the most poverty-stricken place that I have ever experienced.

    We truly love our students and spend our own money and time trying to help them.

  26. Shelby,

    “We truly love our students and spend our own money and time trying to help them.”

    But, according to your own words in your prior post, what you do doesn’t matter. You’re hostage to your students’ homelife. So, teaching makes you feel good about yourself but has little impact on the educational outcome of your students. Perhaps instead of “love” and money what these kids need is authority figures and STANDARDS.

    I home educate my two sons and am not a classroom teacher. But your argument that us non-educators couldn’t possiblly understand the difficulties of urban schools or teachers at urban schools because we’re not in the trenches is sooooo lame. I understand fully the difficulties because I WAS THAT CHILD.

    We’ve wasted billions of dollars on public education, but worse still, we’ve made false promises to millions of kids based upon the insipid ideology of your contempories. Shame on you for refusing to acknowledge the part your profession has played in this tragedy. Good intentions aren’t good enough.

  27. Stacy,

    Good luck and God Bless.