Race to Blame Teachers
A New York Times article published over the weekend points out the “unusual praise from conservatives,” that is a result of President Barak Obama’s public support for the firing of 93 Central Falls High School Teachers on February 23, 2010. In his speech following the incident the President stated, “If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability. And that’s what happened in Rhode Island last week.” Read More.
President Obama has acquired substantial recognition for his oratorical skills, however, these comments single-handedly undermine that reputation. These comments are inarguable agenda driven. The President, just like the Central Falls school board is making an example of Central Falls, an example that says teachers are to blame for under performing schools. Vying for the Race to the Top grant, which aims to distribute approximately $4 billion dollars across the nation for education reform, has become a race to blame and the scapegoats for under performing schools, according to the administration, is teachers.
Since this speech the President has been accused of speaking without knowing the whole story, but who is aware of what really happened between the Central Falls school board and the teacher’s union? The Providence Journal attributes the firings as a result of failed negotiations between the school board and the union over compensation for extra duties. Read More. The New York Times article similarly stated, “The Central falls superintendent, Frances Gallo, initially chose the first option (extending instructional hours) this year, but after a dispute arose with the union over extra pay for adding 25 minutes to the school day, she broke off negotiations.”
However, what the news fails to report is the crisis that teachers, hired under union contracts face. The two Rhode Island unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), are in desperate need of updating their contracts in accordance with education reform that has yet to be decided. Earlier this year, union contracts were criticized for making it too hard to get rid of bad teachers. In response to that criticism, union leaders have replied by voicing support for teacher evaluation reform, a major tenant of President Obama’s overall education reform plan. In January, President of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, requested that states adopt teaching standards—agreements between schools and unions, to inform a teacher evaluation system with the authority and flexibility to get rid of underperforming teachers Since Ms. Weingarten’s statement the AFT and NEA has been reaching out to teachers through polls and surveys, that can be reviewed on their website, generating information from teachers that is vital to education reform.
This is a case of administration deciding that they know what is best for teachers, rather than asking teachers what they recommend could improve learning conditions and their own underperformance. Rather, than jumping to blame someone or some group (which is a decidedly conservative move), the schools should be working with the teachers and the unions, assessing union contracts and making suggestions about how to amend them so that teachers will not receive unwarranted blamed for student underperformance. The joint effort of schools and teachers is what the unions are advocating, at least that much is clear.
This video articulates the teachers’ side of the story.