Obama cites RI school firings in education speech
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A long-troubled Rhode Island high school that fired all its educators last week is an example of the need for accountability over student performance, President Barack Obama said Monday during an address in Washington.
Obama cited a decision last week to fire 93 teachers, administrators and other support staff by the end of the year at Central Falls High School as an example of school reform. No more than half those teachers could be hired back under federal rules.
The president said replacing an entire school staff should be a "last resort."
"So if a school is struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution," Obama said, according to a White House transcript. "We've got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements. But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn't show signs of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability."
"And that's what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th graders passed state math tests -- 7 percent."
Besides low math test scores, only 33 percent of Central Falls High School students tested proficient this fall in writing, and just 55 percent were proficient in reading. As of 2009, fewer than half its students graduated within four years.
Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, had backed the decision by the board of trustees for the Central Falls school district, which has more children living in poverty than anywhere else in the state.
The shake-up at Central Falls High School came after Rhode Island's new education commissioner, Deborah Gist, identified it as among the worst 5 percent in the state. She ordered local school officials to pick from one of four reform models, including mass firings.
Superintendent Frances Gallo said she initially wanted teachers to agree to changes including a longer school day, offering more tutoring and receiving extra training over the summer. She offered the teachers more pay for some, but not all, of the changes.
Gallo said she resorted to firings when talks with the teachers' union broke down.
Brad Dufault, a spokesman for the Central Falls Teachers' Union, said he could not immediately comment on Obama's remarks. Union president Jane Sessums said last week that her members would appeal their dismissals to the school district's board of trustees and were considering taking other legal action.
During the speech, Obama praised Rhode Island's Met Center, a state-operated school, for giving students individual attention and hands-on training.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)