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NEA President: Mass Teacher Firings Not the Answer

By Cynthia McCabe and Ramona Parks-Kirby

March 26, 2010 -- Deploying the most drastic and punitive reform option to turn around low-performing schools, school districts are firing entire staffs, first in Central Falls, R.I., High Point, N.C., and now in Savannah, Ga.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on Friday called this disturbing trend short-sighted and said it could have disastrous outcomes for students.

"Communities are desperately clamoring for much-needed resources for real school transformation," Van Roekel said. "And in the process, they are sacrificing the very people who passionately care and give their best under the most difficult circumstances."

The firings are coming as a result of the Obama administration dangling millions of dollars in grant money to school districts -- roughly $4 billion nationwide -- with the goal of improving the nation's lowest-performing schools. To get the grant money, district leaders must take one of four steps: firing staff, closing the school, restarting it with a takeover by a charter or school-management organization or transforming it. Under this last transformation model, educators work in collaboration with administrators.

NEA supports the transformation reform model, which requires comprehensive instructional reforms and other collaborative improvement strategies. This method has shown to be effective in schools like Broad Acres in Montgomery County, Md. Broad Acres was the district’s lowest performing school. The superintendent, teachers and other stakeholders worked together to transform the school. In just two years second grade reading scores increased by 18 percent, language by 28 percent, language mechanics by 29 percent, math by 30 percent and math computation by 25 percent.

"Firing and faulting teachers may seem like an easy fix, but it's an approach where no one wins, especially our students," Van Roekel said. "Band-aids don't stop a hemorrhage."

At Oak Hill Elementary in High Point, N.C., 92 percent of the students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunch and more than half speak English as a second language. At Rhode Island's Central Falls High School, where 93 teachers and staff were fired by the school board on the recommendation of the superintendent, crippling poverty is a way of life in the community which the school serves.

Real reform for such environments will rely on the federal government bringing educators, administrators and management together to collaborate to determine what they are going to do differently to help students succeed. Currently, the government defines success based on No Child Left Behind's flawed, one-size-fits-all measurement. Administration policies that were written to assist students in failing schools are now being used to punish teachers. Teachers are being asked to be accountable, yet they do not have a voice in making decisions regarding the allocation of resources and programs that will transform our schools.

"The means to measure academic achievement should be pro-child, not anti-teacher," Van Roekel said.



Learn more about real school reform under way with NEA's Priority Schools Campaign