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Central Falls Report Blames School Leadership, Programs

In response to President Obama's March 1 comments, in which he condoned the mass firing of the Central Falls (R.I.) High School teachers, the AFT distributed a report from last year, conducted by then-Rhode Island Education Commissioner Peter McWalters, that points to problems with constantly changing programs and the instability of school leadership.

The president's comments "do not reflect the reality on the ground and completely ignore the teachers' significant commitment to working with others to transform this school," according to a statement by AFT president Randi Weingarten, Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals president Marcia Reback and Central Falls Teachers Union Jane Sessums. "We know it is tempting for people in Washington to score political points by scapegoating teachers, but it does nothing to give our students and teachers the tools they need to succeed.

"What's even sadder is that the firings and the President's comments come in spite of a state report written last April that focused on the high school's reading and writing proficiency, which have gone up 22 percent and 14 percent respectively over the past two years. Nowhere in the report is there any criticism of teachers' efforts, skills or dedication to their job or their students. The report reinforces the fact that, today, teachers are being blamed unfairly for the schools' problems."

The report states: "Because so many programs have been abruptly terminated, many teachers desire a formal program evaluation system to ensure that the strengths and weaknesses of programs are properly examined in the future before changes are made or new programs are implemented. Students share this concern."

As for next steps, the report suggests, "Take the time to celebrate as a learning community the accomplishments, successes and positive changes that have taken place over the past few years."

"Students and teachers at Central Falls High School deserve the best and the fact is that they haven't gotten it. It is incumbent upon all stakeholders to turn that around, not by mass firings but by focusing together on programs that work and on providing students and teachers with the tools they need to succeed," the AFT leaders say.

As Jane Sessums wrote in her Feb. 11 letter to Superintendent Frances Gallo, "We fully support the Central Falls School District adoption of the transformation model for school improvement and encourage your communication of that fact to the Commissioner of Education."

The AFT leaders conclude by asking the Central Falls school district to reconsider the mass firings and attempt to work out a genuine reform plan through a mediator to achieve the best outcome for students and teachers.

Meanwhile, many commentators have weighed in on the Central Falls firings. One of the more thoughtful posts is on a National Public Radio news blog by Frank James. [AFT press release]

March 1, 2010

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