No more than half the teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island would be hired back under a move that has enraged the state’s powerful teachers’ union, earned criticism from students, and brought praise from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and some parents.
The mass firings by the end of the school year were approved by the school district’s board of trustees last week after talks failed between Superintendent Frances Gallo and the local teachers’ union over changes, including offering more tutoring and a longer school day. The teachers say they want more pay for the additional work.
The shakeup comes as Rhode Island’s education commissioner, Deborah Gist, pushes the state to compete for millions of dollars in federal funding to reform the worst 5 percent of its schools, including those in Central Falls. State law requires schools to warn teachers by March 1 if their jobs are in jeopardy for the following school year.
To get the federal money, schools must choose one of four paths set, including mass firings. Ms. Gallo has said she initially hoped to avoid layoffs by adopting a plan that would have lengthened the school day and required teachers to get additional training and offer more tutoring.
Secretary Duncan applauded the plan, saying students only have one chance for an education.
“When schools continue to struggle, we have a collective obligation to take action,” he said in a statement.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that improvements made in the last two years have been overlooked in the rush to make judgments and cast blame. Ms. Weingarten said reading scores, for example, have risen by 21 percent.
A version of this article appeared in the March 03, 2010 edition of Education Week as Firing of Teachers at Rhode Island School Ignites Battle