March 1, 2010
Randi Weingarten, President of American Federation of Teachers;
Marcia Reback, President of Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals;
Jane Sessums, President of Central Falls Teachers Union,
On Central Falls High School
Attached is a report from then-Rhode Island Education Commissioner Peter McWalters following a district team’s visit to Central Falls High School on April 29 and 30, 2009. The visit focused on reading and literacy.
We are distributing the report on the same day as President Obama praised the Central Falls school board’s decision to fire the school staff.
WASHINGTON—President Obama’s comments today condoning the mass firing of the Central Falls High School teachers do not reflect the reality on the ground and completely ignore the teachers’ significant commitment to working with others to transform this school. 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 does, however, point to problems with constantly changing programs and the instability of school leadership. The report reinforces the fact that, today, teachers are being blamed unfairly for the schools’ problems.
“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,” the report said.
As for next steps, the report said, “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. 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.”
We ask 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.
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The AFT represents more than 1.4 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.