Mr. Obama got it wrong on teacher firings

Saturday, March 6, 2010

As a product of the public school system in Rhode Island, I believe President Obama was wrong to get involved in the firing of teachers at a Central Falls, R.I., school that was deemed to be failing its students ["Obama angers union with teacher remarks," March 2].

The problem in Central Falls, as it was at my high school, Central, is poverty. If you want to reform schools in poor neighborhoods, fight poverty. No doubt poor-quality and burned-out teachers need to be replaced, but the fundamental problem of urban schools is far deeper than that. The school is supposed to cope with all the societal ills that come with the students. The worst place many of these students can go is home. Home is often where the drugs and violence are. There is no quiet place to study.

My parents assumed I would go to college, a stop on my journey to a better life than they had. This dream has given way in many poor families to the fantasy of the quick buck, the drug hustle. A kid who has no father and little encouragement to learn is sent to school, and when that student fails, the teacher is blamed. The blame should be placed on society for not investing the necessary resources in job creation and urban and human development while it lavishes money on weapons and bank bailouts.

No Child Left Behind is a slogan used well by some, abused by others. As we struggle to improve urban public education, we should keep our eye on the fundamental problem: It's not the teachers; it's the poverty.

Tom Howarth, Washington

The writer is director of the Father McKenna Center.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company