Need to raise standards in school? Try firing the head and every teacher

5th March 2010 at 00:00
Rhode Island education board's extreme solution sees 93 staff sacked

If a school governing body in England took the decision to sack one of its teachers over poor results it might expect a fair amount of flak from teaching unions, but the idea of firing every single member of staff would have most governors running for the hills.

But not at one school in the US state of Rhode Island, it seems, where the local education board took the extraordinary step last week of sacking all of its teachers in an attempt to raise standards.

The Central Falls School Committee has taken the drastic action of firing all 93 staff at the underperforming institution, including the principal and all 77 teachers.

The sackings at Central Falls High School, expected to become effective at the end of the academic year, came about after the school district and the local teachers' union failed to agree on plans to improve results. Under federal law, a school district is capable of employing a "turnaround model" that includes sacking teachers if a "transformational model" cannot be undertaken.

The school is one of six underperforming schools in the small, deprived city of Central Falls. Fewer than half of its students graduated and just 7 per cent of 11th graders (15- to 16-year-olds) were proficient in maths in 2009.

Frances Gallo, school superintendent in Central Falls, said she had hoped a package of reforms that included lengthening the school day, calling for teachers to provide extra tuition and asking them to eat lunch with the students once a week would be accepted by the union.

"(The teachers) absolutely refused to work without (additional) pay," she said. "Eating with students, they considered a duty, not as I had hoped a relationship-building opportunity."

US education secretary Arne Duncan is said to have applauded the decision, adding that the school district members were "showing courage" and that when "schools continue to struggle we have a collective obligation to take action".

It is understood that every member of staff fired from the school intends to appeal to the board of trustees and that the Central Falls Teachers' Union will meet with lawyers to decide on legal action.

Jane Sessums, president of the union, said she was still hopeful that negotiations would resume, although no requests had been made to re-open talks with school chiefs.

"We need to get together, talk and reach a resolution," she said.

John Bangs, head of education at teaching union the NUT, said the example should serve as a warning to any politicians looking to "play around with the state sector".

"While the independent sector may seem like the grass is greener - no external testing, national curriculum or Ofsted - the employment security is infinitely worse," he said. "Politicians using the sector as a model should see this as an awful warning."

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