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.