THE BLOG
04/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hysteria Around Turnarounds

The New York Times 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 of the failing school 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 (now other networks) 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 and 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 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.

Bush's NCLB was supposed to cope with chronic failure but states let thousands of failing schools slide. It's great to see a Democratic administration taking a firm stand for children trapped in failing schools.