Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fire the Professors too!

The Central Falls school district in Rhode Island voted to fire all 93 teachers and administrators at the Central Falls High School. The school chronically underperforms and is rated among the worse performing in the state. It turns out that the firings are called for under Federal no child left behind guidelines. Under new federal requirements for school reform, low-performing schools have several options. One is called the transformation model, which includes a series of changes that teachers agree to adopt. Here the superintendent tried to negotiate with the union changes that included according to CNN "work a longer school day of seven hours and tutor students weekly for one hour outside school time. She proposed teachers have lunch with students often, meet for 90 minutes every week to discuss education and set aside two weeks during summer break for paid professional development." When the negotiations on those changes failed at Central Falls High, the superintendent switched to another option: the turnaround model, which means firing every teacher at the troubled school.

First, I was stunned that teacher firings were actually called for under federal guidelines. Second, I was also stunned that this would actually occur. Third, I was shocked beyond words when the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in the face of the union saying that the firings were "immoral, illegal, unjust, irresponsible, disgraceful and disrespectful," said that education officials are "showing courage and doing the right thing for kids." "This is hard work and these are tough decisions, but students only have one chance for an education," Duncan said, adding that "when schools continue to struggle we have a collective obligation to take action." Fourth, I was equally stunned when Arne Duncan has kept his job, despite the oft-cited patronage of the democrats and the teachers unions.

What all of this reminded me of is the recently released survey by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute that shows that in 16 colleges - including Princeton and Harvard - incoming freshman tested higher than seniors on aptitude tests. The author of the survey calls this "negative learning". I am not surprised. I teach college seniors and test using essays, short answers and problems. I take off a point for a misspelled word and three points if they misspell five words listed on the syllabus (receive, yield, principal, guarantee and separate). Despite my warnings, students continue to misspell these words through four examinations. Most cannot write - having told me that they have not had to write an essay since freshman composition. Many cannot do basic mathematics - I do not allow calculators on my tests. One student had no idea who Joe Biden is. Few know history. Even fewer have read the Constitution. I showed them an admissions exam for high school given in 1885 published in the Wall Street Journal as "Sharpen your pencil" and none could pass it. Maybe we should also fire the professors.


John In KY said...

I recently had a parent teacher meeting at the high school and had a discussion with the civics/history teacher. She told me that the students today were just there to fill the seat, and I would be shocked to find out just how many had been court ordered to go to school. There are even some with ankle monitors. I didn't think they did that under 18, but it is high school so they may be 18. We as parents have been failing for at least 30 years. When the rate of freshmen who graduate is in the teen percentages in cities like Detroit and New York, and it's not a lead story in the news for months, we have a problem with society. We need to start caring about personal responsibility again. It all starts at home.

H.A. Black said...

I could not agree more. A good friend of mine retired after 35 years of teaching high school math. He told me that the problems with the kids were secondary to the ones with the parents who yelled at him for not giving their precious ones passing grades. My parents would have done just the opposite and yelled at me!