Hysteria Around Turnarounds

The NYTimes ran a story with this misleading headline and byline

A Vote to Fire All Teachers at a Failing High School

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — A plan to dismiss the entire faculty and staff of the only public high school in this small city just west of the Massachusetts border was approved Tuesday night at an emotional public meeting of the school board.

When the teachers failed to adopt a ‘transformation’ plan that included a modest lengthening of the day, the superintendent shifted to Plan B, what federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) call Turnaround, which requires that at least 50% of the staff be replaced.  Under Rhode Island law, teachers must be notified of the potential for nonrenewal by March 20, hence the board vote and notices.  All the teachers will have the opportunity to reapply, up to half will be rehired.
The hysteria is now reverberating on CNN and papers around the country.  Central Falls may be an early example but there are thousands to come. As I began reporting in October, SIG will cause widespread urban disruption.   But we’ll all need to be cautious to use language carefully and differentiate between ‘firing all the teachers’ and notifying them of the requirement to reapply for their positions.
That said, it’s worth noting that Superintendent Gallo didn’t choose the ‘restart’ option which would likely result in a larger dislocation, a new school operator working outside the collective bargaining agreement.
In a few days about 20 states applicants for Race to the Top grants will be invited to visit the Department of Education on or about March 15.  About 8 will be worthy of phase 1 investment.  If you think Central Falls coverage has been hysterical, just wait until RttT funds flow.  The 2010 school year will have hundreds (and the 2011 school year will have thousands) of schools that open with a lot of new teachers operating under new conditions.  And, in most places, that will be a big improvement for students.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Henri Gignoux

Just where are all these new teachers going to come from?
How will we know in advance if these new teachers will do a better job than those that are not rehired?
Are we just going to be moving existing teachers around from one teaching job to another teaching job in a another district?
Is this going to end of being a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
The potential unintended consequences of SIG seem to be just amazing.
Time will tell...


Tom Vander Ark

Yes, time will tell. Lots of disruption works in talent rich place like NYC but in many (perhaps most) you may be able to import a few master teachers with new pay/staffing scheme, but most places (at least in the near term) won't be able to make wholesale staffing changes. That's one reason I'm a fan of blended learning-combining onsite and onsite--especially in upper division STEM.

Jill Davidson

This story's distortion locally here in RI and nationally is frustratingly predictable. Thanks for putting this clarification out there.


Tom Vander Ark

The outcomes are really bad and the 'transformation' proposal was really reasonable. And this will be really common (turnarounds and hysteria).

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