Commentary: 'Fire 'em all' is education's battle cry?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 11:50pm
By Bradley Harrington

If you've ever taken a look at the shoddy excuse that passes for "education" in our public schools, and ever thought that the solution might just be to "fire 'em all," then you'll love Rhode Island's State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist:

“It was her [Gist's] Jan. 11 order to overhaul the state's six lowest-performing schools that triggered the chain of events leading to last week's decision to fire the entire teaching staff at Central Falls High School, effective at the end of the school year." ['Teacher unions challenged in unprecedented face-off,' The Providence Journal, Feb. 28]

The actual firings, enacted by the Central Falls school Board of Trustees in a 5-2 vote on Feb. 23, have created a storm of controversy and have been denounced by the labor unions: “This is immoral, illegal, unjust, irresponsible, disgraceful and disrespectful,” said George Nee, president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, “...and we're not going to put up with it.”

You might not have any choice, Mr. Nee-for the legality of this operation has been approved by no less authorities than the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama himself, both of whom offered, back in January, states a new weapon to fix their broken schools: "All the approaches the federal government is pushing are extreme," the article continues, "and have been used in failing schools throughout the country: school closure; takeover by a charter or school management organization; transformation which includes a longer school day, among other significant changes; and turnover which removes the entire staff, with no more than half rehired."

Now if you want to talk about "immoral, unjust, irresponsible, disgraceful and disrespectful," then let's talk about the very public schools themselves, which have been overrun with a hotbed of teach-by-rote, look-say, "self-esteem" training and a tidal wave of other brain rot geared much more toward indoctrination and the obliteration of the conceptual faculty than it is to any kind of "education."

But don't ever expect a labor union to support the idea that rewards should be based on performance.

And, it bears mentioning at this point, the "turnover" option opted for by Gist and school Superintendent Frances Gallo was not their first choice: Originally, both had advocated the "transformation" alternative-but changed their minds when "union officials said they were willing to make the changes but wanted to be paid for more of the extra work, and at a higher rate of $90 per hour." So, once again, a greedy labor union sows the seeds of its own destruction. Who says "there ain't no justice"?

Completely ignoring union greed and poor teacher performance, however, Jane Sessums, president of the Central Falls teacher's union, said: "We have teachers at the high school that have grown up in this community. That's what education at Central Falls is about."

Funny, I always thought education was about learning to read, write and perform simple mathematical operations, as an absolute bare minimum — yet, at Central Falls, the article continues, "Only one in 10 can perform the math expected of them. Just 55 percent read at grade level. More than half drop out, ill-equipped for good jobs or the opportunity to better their lot." And this is what Sessums believes merits rewarding? You have got to be kidding. What would you do with the staff of a restaurant that was only competent enough to deliver a glass of water to 10 percent of the patrons who ordered it, over half of whom proceeded to walk out?

And, therein lies the root of the whole problem, which "charter" schools, "transformations" and "turnovers" can help with but only temporarily ameliorate: the fact that we have public schools at all. The long-term solution to the disasters of our "educational" system, which functions as little more than tax-supported propaganda-camp day-care centers, is to remove the government from its operations completely through the "transformation" of privatization.

Then, and only then, will you see the free interplay and accountability of free competition on a free market work its wonders, just as it does with shoes, refrigerators and a million other sectors of our economy.

Think Duncan and Obama might have any interest in that.


Bradley Harrington is a former United States Marine and a free-lance writer who lives in Cheyenne, Wyo.

8 Comments on this post:

By: idgaf on 3/3/10 at 5:57

Absent from all the media coverage of this story where they they will be considered for rehireing.

Surely there are some teachers that should be kept. This is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Whose fault is it (really) that this has been going on for so long not only there but all over the country?

By: martindkennedy on 3/3/10 at 6:20

Systemically flawed? Harmful and greedy union? Atrocious results? Yes, yes, and yes. However, you will find some very impressive people teaching in metro schools. You will find impressive students where you'd least expect to find them. And, the atrocious results are the result also of a lack of family stability and support as well as a youth culture that is, in part, unhealthy - in any age it is.

If you want the state completely out of education then you must also reject any subsidy from the state. This would save a lot of money - a third of state and local spending is on education - but would result in tremendous disparities. In a country that embraces the equality of opportunity it makes sense to subsidize basic education.

Charter schools are extremely promising. The data is impressive. And, even if you'd like to go further, prefer getting the government out of the business of education completely, you'd have to acknowledge that the emergence of charter schools is an improvement that a broad coalition, across the ideological spectrum, support.

I am happy to listen to those who would opt for a more libertarian approach, but in our admittedly inefficient form of government, it is necessary to build broad support. It is unclear whether the libertarians will ever get beyond the theory stage.

By: dargent7 on 3/3/10 at 6:46

Excellent article.
These moaning fired teachers and their Unions can kiss my academic a@@.
If only 7%, as reported, H.S. kids can do the math, the teachers MUST have known during classes, and the tests, that 93% FLUNKED. (did I get that math right?).
If 50% are dropping out, those drop- outs must have missed classes, performed poorly, or other visiable signs way earlier in the school year.
The teachers either didn't care, looked the other way, or both.

By: BigPapa on 3/3/10 at 8:14

The entire way we approach education needs to be scrapped. At the upper levels it needs to be more like college and less like kindergarten. Also they need to bring in REAL vocational training (not small engine repair, ect..) but REAL WORLD job training for those not wanting to persue college. At least something where if they went to a NashTech or an OTJ situation they wouldn't be starting from ground zero.

By: sidneyames on 3/3/10 at 9:44

BigPapa, vocational training works when the students work it (to rephrase a popular phrase).

And I think that no matter what teachers do, if the home life is not condusive to learning and studying, then students only have a 50/50 chance of success. The school day cannot do it all. The program of learning extends 24/7 and most of the home life of these failing students is lacking.

By: dmajors on 3/3/10 at 10:58

Sidney, I agree with BigPapa, vocational training is a vital part to turning this around. The school system cannot control a students homelife, but it should provide the best possible opportunities for students to graduate and become productive members of society.

By: jes716 on 3/3/10 at 12:22

I'm trying to figure out what Mr. Harrington's credentials are to make his ideas about education credible. Let's see, former U.S. Marine and free-lance writer. Does he have a college education? If so, in what field? Has he ever taught in a school that has primarily migrants as students who are very mobile and unmotivated? (Which is the case in Central Falls, RI) It is very easy to criticize a system from the outside. As a veteran public educator (with a proven track record of success in the classroom and as an administrator), I question Mr. Harrington's ability to evaluate a system in which he has never worked. I also would point out that educating students is not the same as making shoes, refrigerators, or other products. Schools cannot control the "raw product" from which they must produce successful members of society. Parents are irresponsible and students are not interested. Until something is done to address these problems, many children are being left behind, no matter how much government intervention is implemented. "Before criticizing a man, walk a mile in his moccosins."
Mr. Harrington, I invite you to become a part of the solution or stop criticizing!

By: Loner on 3/4/10 at 8:37

Good morning, Nashville!

Egad! It's another ranting tirade from that US Marine turned freelance writer from cowboy country. I sure hope that the NCP is not actually paying for this drivel.

On a technical level, I find Harrington's writing style quite annoying. Let's look at the following sentence, for example:

"Now if you want to talk about "immoral, unjust, irresponsible, disgraceful and disrespectful," then let's talk about the very public schools themselves, which have been overrun with a hotbed of teach-by-rote, look-say, "self-esteem" training and a tidal wave of other brain rot geared much more toward indoctrination and the obliteration of the conceptual faculty than it is to any kind of "education."

That long, run-on sentence contains sarcasm, contempt and pious pontification as well as two incongruous mixed metaphors. I can't quite conceptualize being "overrun by a hotbed" and it is tough to visualize a "tidal wave of brain rot". Harrington talks about "indoctrination and the obliteration of the conceptual faculty ", I gotta ask, which one is it? It's difficult to indoctrinate that which has been obliterated.

I could go on with my analysis and critique of this missive, but I'll try to avoid being a "Know-it-all-Harrington". In a nutshell, this guy is nothing more than a bitter opponent of the US federal government and its educational and social welfare programs. He poses as a patriot, but his raving rants suggest that he is actually a closet anarchist. and/or secessionist.

In closing, why read Harrington's mindless parroting of the right-wing, on -the-air demagogues, when we can just tune them in and see/hear their inflammatory rhetoric, straight from the horse's ass?