The Teaching Professionals at Central Falls

The ProJo editors got it right in their criticism of the 15% absentee rate of Central Falls High School teachers so far this year, which led to over half of the students receiving at least one “No Grade” on their report cards. Why?

Administrators said they could not grade those students for the first quarter because they did not receive two months of solid teaching.
The problem arose after several teachers took indefinite leaves of absence and administrators were unable to fill all of the positions with highly qualified replacements.
As a result, multiple classrooms were placed in the hands of day-to-day substitute teachers, long-term substitutes or colleagues who tried to cover some classes.

Most of the students (around 400) affected by this teacher absenteeism were enrolled in Spanish or English as a Second Language class, English classes and a reading intervention class. Something seems wrong with that department–according to the ProJo story, four teachers were “absent for a significant portion of the term from Sept. 1 to Nov. 8. Two other teachers also went out on long-term leave…” Weird how it centered around that particular department, but maybe it really is just a strange confluence of coincidental illnesses centered in one department. It’s probably happened before.
The teacher absences got the attention of Commissioner Gist and a meeting was held yesterday. Union president Jane Sessums seemed positive after the meeting, though she did say, “Some teachers at the high school have had concerns for some time, but were fearful of expressing them because they are afraid of retaliation.” Or they just didn’t show up to work.
The problem with the supposed benefit of union solidarity is that the good workers end up carrying the water for the bad. Worse yet, it’s the bad who become the face of the group. It’s not just unions, either. Sports teams, businesses and even volunteer organizations (like youth sports leagues) become defined by the bad actors, not the good.
Pressure plays a big part of this. Too often it seems that union leadership is quick to apply pressure to support those who don’t really deserve it, which ends up hurting the reputation of the good teachers who do their job or go above and beyond. But the good teachers could change this all if they really wanted to: it is their union. They could apply a little peer pressure to get the bad actors in line for the sake of the whole. Remind them that professionals don’t act this way and that their bad actions are tarnishing the profession. For you see, if the public doesn’t see some sort of change for the positive it will be left to conclude that this is really the way teachers want it. That they prioritize the benefits they receive for being professionals over the actual work that defines their profession: teaching the kids.
ADDENDUM: A new report (h/t) from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute:

This study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute finds that low-performing public schools—both charter and traditional district schools—are stubbornly resistant to significant change. After identifying more than 2,000 low-performing charter and district schools across ten states, analyst David Stuit tracked them from 2003-04 through 2008-09 to determine how many were turned around, shut down, or remained low-performing. Results were generally dismal. Seventy-two percent of the original low-performing charters remained in operation—and remained low-performing—five years later. So did 80 percent of district schools.

Commenting on the report, Tom Vander Ark explains:

The most important aspect of the political consensus around NCLB was the good school promise, a basic framework for school accountability that was supposed to address chronic failure in a progressively more aggressive fashion until the school is better or closed. It is obviously politically difficult, and sometimes logistically difficult, to close bad schools, but it is very disappointing that state and district leaders continue to allow chronic failure.
This report underscores the difficult trifecta of 2000-2010 edreform, 1) fixing struggling schools is hard, 2) we know how to open good schools, and 3) we should close bad schools and open good schools. The example of trading bad seats for good seats may be Joel Klein’s most important legacy.

Maybe Commissioner Gist should have kept Central Falls closed after all. There’s something to be said for a fresh start, no?

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13 years ago

Sadly there are very few “professionals” left in the teaching profession in this state.
They mirror their union leadership far more than they would publicly confess to. But it is all about the kids…

13 years ago

While in theory, the thought of having good teachers apply peer pressure within the union is a good one, in practice what is more likely to happen is that a teacher who tries to go against the union will face consequences that will eventually force him or her out of the teaching practice. Such change would require a core group of tenured individuals who have enough leverage to change the union from the inside out. I would never encourage a new, young, enthusiastic teacher to speak out against the union because it would eventually cost that person his/her career. It is unfortunately just the way things are. We need individuals with the seniority and leadership necessary to sway others to take over the unions and guide them in a way that is mutually beneficially for all parties.

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