Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rhode Island District Fires All Of Its High School Teachers

Today's Providence Journal story reports that Central Falls, Rhode Island's "tiniest, poorest city has become the center of a national battle over dramatic school reform." Even the New York Times and the Washington Post have taken notice.

While firing the entire teacher corps at Central Falls High School is a dramatic step, the school board's and superintendent's decision was largely based on the district's track record of very poor student outcomes, the teachers' rejection of a reform plan ultimatum from state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist targeting the state's lowest-performing high schools, and accountability pressures from the federal Education Department. The decision is supported by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who recently weighed in on the controversy,
applauding them for “showing courage and doing the right thing for kids.” Nonetheless, the impact on individual teachers is great and undoubtedly places their lives into significant turmoil and uncertainty.

Providence Journal (2/24/2010):

Duncan is requiring states, for the first time, to identify their lowest 5 percent of schools — those that have chronically poor performance and low graduation rates — and fix them using one of four methods: school closure; takeover by a charter or school-management organization; transformation which requires a longer school day, among other changes; and “turnaround” which requires the entire teaching staff be fired and no more than 50 percent rehired in the fall.

State Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist moved swiftly on this new requirement, identifying on Jan. 11 six of the “persistently lowest-performing” schools: Central Falls High School, which has very low test scores and a graduation rate of 48 percent, and five schools in Providence. Gist also started the clock on the changes, telling the districts they had until March 17 to decide which of the models they wanted to use. Her actions make Rhode Island one of the first states to publicly release a list of affected schools and put into motion the new federal mandate.
I expect that this story will be replicated elsewhere. On one hand, dramatic change IS needed in chronically low-performing schools and districts. BUT if educators and prospective educators see the wholesale firing of staff as a likely consequence in such challenging schools and districts, are they less likely to take jobs in such environments? What is the long-term consequence for such schools' and districts' ability to attract and retain high-quality teachers?