Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Teachers getting what they deserve

I love this story of the Rhode Island school district where over half of the students are failing and there is also a lower than 50% graduation rate. This is a poor district, but the teachers have been doing well.
The teachers at the high school make $70,000-$78,000, as compared to a median income in the town of $22,000. This exemplifies a nationwide trend in which public sector workers make far more than their private-sector counterparts (with better benefits).
So the school superintendent came up with a plan to help students achieve more.
The conditions are adding 25 minutes to the school day, providing tutoring on a rotating schedule before and after school, eating lunch with students once a week, submitting to more rigorous evaluations, attending weekly after-school planning sessions with other teachers and participating in two weeks of training in the summer.
It all sounds reasonable to me. But the teachers union objected to the improvements unless they would be paid more. And so the superintendent responded with her final weapon. She went Reagan on them and informed all the teachers in the high school that they would not be retained for the next academic year.
The high school’s 74 teachers will receive letters during school vacation advising them to attend a Feb. 22 meeting where each will be handed a termination notice that takes effect for the 2010-’11 school year, Gallo said.

Gallo said she was devastated and that she had thought the union would agree to her conditions, even though she did not offer to pay the teachers more for most of the additional responsibilities.

A month ago, Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist mandated that the district adopt one of four models to fix the troubled school, which has some of the lowest graduation rates and test scores in the state.

Gallo’s first choice, the “transformation” model, was consistent with her conditions on how to improve the high school. But if the teachers would not agree, the superintendent said she would select her second choice, the “turnaround” model, which requires the removal of the entire staff of the school. The turnaround model allows the district to hire back no more than 50 percent of the old staff.

“I am saddened and shaken at the core by the enormous ramifications of my responsibilities,” Gallo said. “The only solace I have is that I know I provided every opportunity possible, in fully public and transparent ways, the means to avoid this.”

Union officials say they, too, want to improve the high school but are unwilling to sign off on the six conditions, especially without receiving additional pay. In a letter, union officials said they do not think Gallo has the authority to fire the teachers and she must negotiate the terms of the reforms.
When I think of how I routinely stay after school for about two hours and feel lucky if I get out of there an hour after the school day ends, I have no sympathy for these teachers who don't want to sacrifice a bit to help their struggling students. This is typical of unionized teachers - they often see their personal monetary benefits trumping the needs of their students. I've heard such horror stories from teachers who have taught in unionized schools being told by the union rep that they need to stop tutoring students before or after school because that wasn't accounted for in their contract. They were also told not to come in early or stay late because that weakened their negotiating position. I am so thankful to work at a school where such thinking seems totally bizarre and teachers willingly give up their free time to work with kids and make the school a better place.

I hope this superintendent holds fast. Here in North Carolina we've been hearing stories of new teachers who can't find jobs or who are being let go from school districts having to make cuts in these hard economic times. I am sure that this is a story being played out across the country. Those teachers can head to Central Falls, Rhode Island and take on the challenge of improving this school. This is a superintendent worth supporting.