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Providence threat against teachers highlights hypocrisy

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 2011; 11:31 PM

The Providence school board is threatening all of the nearly 2,000 public school teachers in Rhode Island's capital city with the possibility of termination.

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Not all of the teachers will wind up losing their jobs (presumably), but the decision to put all of them on notice was made to give city officials "flexibility" in dealing with a budget deficit of more than $57 million.

The decision wasn't made because teachers have refused to compromise with reformers. The Providence teachers union signed on to the state's winning Race to the Top bid and is working cooperatively on new curriculum with the superintendent, not to mention on a new teacher evaluation system.

The reason teachers were targeted is that teachers have become the go-to target whenever something is declared wrong and in need of a solution. Low student achievement? Fire teachers. Budget problems in the city? Go after the teachers.

The attitude toward teachers is part and parcel of a school reform program that insists on evaluating teachers based on the standardized test scores of their students, and that seeks to get Congress to legally define "qualified teachers" as including teachers still in training.

Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith was quoted as saying the decision to tell all teachers now that they could lose their jobs was "beyond insane."

Not really. The timing was driven by a state law that requires that teachers be told by March 1 if there is a chance that they could lose their jobs.

But more importantly, the decision reveals our deep hypocrisy over public education. From President Obama on down to school board members, officials involved with school policy never miss a chance to say that quality public education is a matter of national security, and that there isn't anything more important than fixing our school system.

Our budget and policy priorities don't reflect that at all, of course. Class sizes in Detroit high schools are expected to go up to about 60 next year because of school closings to help minimize a budget deficit. But I didn't hear anybody talking about cutting the budget for standardized testing and development, which, after years of experiment, has been shown to do nothing to improve education.

Remember last year when it was big news that all of the teachers at Central Falls High School - in the poorest, smallest city in Rhode Island - were fired (only to be rehired)?

Now we're up to an entire district. Worry about what's next.

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