March 5, 2010

A friend alerted me to a Rhode Island school that has fired all its teachers after they refused to agree to a new reform plan. The plan’s conditions were “adding 25 minutes to the school day, providing tutoring on a rotating schedule before and after school, eating lunch with students once a week, submitting to more rigorous evaluations, attending weekly after-school planning sessions with other teachers and participating in two weeks of training in the summer”. My friend agrees with the school board’s decision. I do not.

First, these conditions are asking teachers to take on what could amount to a significant amount of work without additional compensation. Sure it might only be an hour or two a day, but over a week that adds up. It would be like telling employees they have to work on Saturdays, but not get paid anymore. That is not cool. That’s why unions are formed in the first place. My friend points out that teachers are required to only work during the school year and during school hours. I refuse to believe that most teachers actually stick to that kind of work schedule. The ones I knew in high school almost always had a summer job teaching and would spend time outside of class preparing lessons, grading, helping kids, coaching extracurriculars, etc.

Second, I don’t understand why the board wasn’t open to discussion. I’d argue that if student success is the ultimate goal, the board would want to hear what the teachers want. I know school budgets aren’t unlimited; the teachers know that too. But happy employees do better work. Better incentives can also attract better workers. And to this money issue, my friend thinks that teachers shouldn’t be teaching for the money. That’s well and good and really should be said for almost all businesses. I wish everyone at my company was fully invested in making healthcare better through the use of technology. There is probably a group who really believe in it. But for most, it’s a job. And it applies to teachers as well, but it doesn’t make them bad teachers. It means they want to be compensated and they want to have a life.

Last, the first couple comments hit the nail on the head. Why are the teachers the ones being blamed for student success? Sure, the teachers would be the only ones the school board could mandate to reform. But maybe this reform plan needs to also include the parents, the students and even the community. I don’t know what that action would be; I’m way out of my league in discussing schools with low success rates. I just don’t think bringing in a fully new set of teachers is really going to change anything. In fact, it may actually dishearten the students who did like their teachers (and those are probably the students who are doing well).



  1. I read your friend’s post and his/her calculations for pay per hour is way off. You can’t just calculate off the school hours, that’s just the time spent teaching.

    Lets try adding in course planning every semester(50-100 hours), time spent grading homework and test(~10-20 hours/week). Also, in most school teachers are required to advise at least one extracurricular activity(~10-20 hours/week). Add that together and most teachers are working 60-80 hour weeks, and that’s just the ones doing their bare minimum. Good teachers are spending much more time than that.

    Also, the argument that teachers shouldn’t teach for the money is such a logical fallacy. By that argument, why pay teachers at all? They should love to do it as a hobby!

    Blah.. It annoys me to no end that people think we can some how magically improve the state of our education system without putting more resource into it. They think.. oh.. if only teachers worked harder, then our kids would be smarter! What BS. Try and name one other situation where this is true. How about the army? They should only be serving because they want to protect our country right? Why not add another month to their tour of duty without pay!

    • Yes! To me it seems like a much better idea to pay the teachers some more than just do an across the board firing.

  2. Where I went to school the teachers got 1 free period and 1 period where they supervised a study hall. This is when most of the teachers that I had would do their planning and grading. Teachers were not required to supervise an extra curricular activity, this was a volunteer basis. If a teacher coached a sports team or taught summer school they were always paid more.

    As far as putting more money into the school system, the only way of doing that is increasing taxes or cutting funding somewhere else. Education is just like all other industries, they need to figure out how to function with less money because of the economy. Teachers are salary paid it is not unrealistic for the school district to tell them they need to pick up the slack, they might not be able to hire help or pay them more.

    I don’t think across the board firing is the best option either. The problem is that if you just start firing teachers who deserve to be fired the union will fight for them. It is almost impossible for a tenured teacher to get fired, for anything short of sleeping with a student (we had a teacher using the school computer to look at porn with students in the room, the union saved his job). The school board will selectively rehire some of the teachers back, so if the board knows what they are doing all the good teachers should have their position in the fall.

    • Education is most definitely not like an industry, it’s a public service. The difference is that publics school do not make a profit. So unlike the industry, where collectively working harder will directly increase your raise/bonus at the end of year, teachers get nothing for doing more work.

      Personally, I can’t name a single other public service where this happening would’ve been acceptable. Imagine the uproar there would be if the city road workers or the local police force all got fired because they refused to each work an extra 5-10 hours a week for no pay.

      • I don’t know if I would put education in a completely different category than other industries. Yes, schools learn to function given budget constraints the same way hospitals learn to deal with money issues. But if that means overworking your people to the point where they won’t work or they do worse work, that’s not the solution. In fact, it’s probably a worse solution (ever think about when patients go to the ED and the providers have been on shift for 23 hrs? Do you think they’re getting better care?)

        At the same time, while I don’t necessarily want to pay more taxes, school systems are a big draw for families. Where I’m from, pretty much the school system is the reason for it to cost so much; people pay to live in our district to have their kids go to our school (still a public school). And because it costs so much, the school system stay good (AP programs, music, art, sports – and I’m not for cutting funding in any of these areas, but if necessary, they will be the first to go). In fact, asking for taxes to go to schools is asking the parents and community (not just the teachers) to contribute more to their kids’ education. If they want their kids to do better, that shouldn’t be a problem.

        And to the point of the school rehiring, they are, according to the article, not allowed to hire more than 50% of those teachers back. They fired the teachers as a back up reform plan; if they wouldn’t follow to outlined plan, then replace them with people who will and that’s the new reform plan. I watched a teacher lose her job once to differences with the school board, and when the kids find out, it never looks good.

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