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Decision to fire all of R.I. school's teachers sad, desperate

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By Valerie Strauss
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 1, 2010

Finally, a school system has decided to fire all the educators at an ailing school.

Why didn't we think of this sooner?

Firing some of them hasn't really proven effective in turning around schools, has it? So why not get rid of all of them and start over?

The school committee in Central Falls, Rhode Island's smallest and poorest city, voted to fire every educator at Central Falls High School at the end of the school year. The committee did this because about half of the school's students graduate, and only 7 percent of 11th-graders were proficient in math in 2009.

At the committee meeting Tuesday night, 93 names were called for firing -- 74 classroom teachers, plus reading specialists, guidance counselors, physical education teachers, the school psychologist, the principal and three assistant principals, according to the Providence Journal. Not one was good enough to stay.

Some of the teachers at the city's only high school cried, but the committee held firm.

It's no wonder that Education Secretary Arne Duncan applauded the move, saying the committee members were "showing courage and doing the right thing for kids."

Courage, indeed.

Now, all they have to do is find 93 excellent professionals to take their places. Recruiting the best educators should be easy, especially when you can offer them life in a very poor town and a job with no security.

And, of course, the powers that be will have to ignore all the other influences on high school students because their poor performance was all about the adults at the high school.

Their elementary and middle school education -- or lack thereof? Not a problem. Their sometimes difficult home lives? Naw. That doesn't affect how a kid does at school.

No Child Left Behind, a federal law that has driven schools to narrow curriculum and use rudimentary standardized tests to measure progress? Not an issue.

Firing all the educators may sound bold to some, but it sounds sad and desperate to me.

There is no evidence that wholesale changes at schools make a difference at schools, though it has been tried repeatedly in districts around the country -- even in Duncan's Chicago public schools, which he ran for years before leading the Education Department.

Duncan tried a lot of things during his more than seven years as Chicago schools chief: shutting down schools, hiring experts in turning around schools and firing a lot of people. The results? To put it nicely, there was no Chicago miracle. Some schools improved, others didn't.

That's because grand gestures don't work to improve schools. It would be nice if they did, but time and time again, we've learned they don't. Making schools work is a very difficult job. There is no one thing to blame; there is no single remedy that works for every school or district.

Let Duncan call those school officials courageous. It sounds foolish to me. And the people who will suffer most? As usual, the kids.

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