People, Politics & Business

Scoundrels, Educrats, Rogues and Champions

Obama Speech Rattles Teacher Union Head

CJ Westerberg, March 2, 2010 8:06 AM


Update 3/15/10 - link here

Update 3/12/10 - link here

Update:  "Morning Joe" Interview and video HERE

Duncan: Obama "Showed
Real Courage"

 Uses Firing Of Entire Faculty
At Rhode Island's Central Falls High School
As Example Of Strategy For A School
That "Continues To Fail"
By C.J.

President Obama delivered a speech yesterday (3 min. clip below) supporting the firing of entire staff and faculty at an grossly under-performing high school in Rhode Island as a part of a drop-out crisis strategy and rattled teachers' union head Randi Weingarten, who countered with a quick contentious response.

Critics of the Central Falls vote to the firings and of the Duncan and Obama support of this decision are mainly based upon the premise that schools and teachers are not the only factor responsible for kids' poor performance (ie. family life, health, teacher training, etc.).  Critics also cite examples of how restructuring does not always work.  (Those who follow The Daily Riff also know we have been critical of the Administration on various initiatives).

True.  But at its essence, that oversimplification is not what this story is about at its core.  It's about the union talks that break down because of inappropriate demands.   The last time we checked, we are experiencing the worst recession and job loss in decades.  Unemployment is at an untenable level and the vast majority of workers in the private sector who are employed are in a state of diminishing returns waiting for the pendulum to swing in the other direction.  In the meantime, they are working hard, many without raises or benefits.  Some even two jobs to make ends meet. 

Now we hear unions did not want to accept the $30 per hour pay to teachers for training in the summer for two-weeks totaling $3400 extra (with the vast majority of teachers in the school making $72,000 per year for nine months) because other duties were part of the package, and union officials wanted the pay to be $90 per hour. 

Read for yourself and understand the stakes here.  Am I missing something here?  Taken from the Providence Island News with link here, Jennifer Jordan spells out the negotiation:

"Gallo, a veteran educator who has been a classroom teacher or administrator for nearly four decades, took over the Central Falls district in 2007. She said she didn't want another year to pass without meaningful change.

Gallo and Central Falls Teachers' Union President Jane Sessums, an elementary school teacher, met three times to negotiate.

Both parties initially agreed that transformation -- the only model that protected teachers' jobs -- was the best approach for the high school.

"It honors our dedicated teachers and their expertise," Gallo said at the time.

Gallo laid out six conditions she said were essential to transform the high school. Teachers had to spend more time with students in and out of the classroom, and spend more time with other teachers, improving their own skills.

Gallo said she could pay teachers for some of the additional duties -- but not all. Gallo said she offered to pay the teachers $30 per hour to attend two weeks of professional development in the summer, and said she would try to find grant money to cover 90 minutes of weekly "common planning time" after school. All told, Gallo said the 74 classroom teachers -- 56 of whom earn the district's top step of $72,000 a year -- would likely earn $3,400 more.

But Gallo said she didn't have enough money to pay teachers for the other duties, including adding 25 minutes to the school day, tutoring students and eating lunch with them once a week.

Union officials said they were willing to make the changes but wanted to be paid for more of the extra work, and at a higher rate of $90 per hour.

"It's not about time and money," said Jim Parisi, a RIFT field representative. "It's about our right to negotiate time and money."

Talks broke down."

Videos on Central Falls negotiation and time-table from Daily Riff  HERE.

Two videos below:

#1 - speech by President Obama 3/1/10
#2 - Arne Duncan interview on Good Morning America 3/2/10 - Duncan stated how
       Obama "showed real courage";  Viera brings up Chicago record;  Duncan announces 
       President commencement program

More Background info:

The multi-tiered strategies Obama lists in his speech to transform failing schools are: top-to-bottom approach with a new principal with teacher training; closing and reopening schools with new management; closing down school entirely (sending kids elsewhere); replacing principal and 1/2 the faculty.

The schools that follow the latter strategies are eligible for government School Turnaround Grants tied to the proposed additional $900 million awaiting Congressional approval, on the heels of already-passed Race To The Top's $3.4 billion program which pushed for innovation to increase schools' performance. 

Key quotes from Obama speech:

"We know that the success of every American will be tied more closely than ever before to the level of education that they achieve. The jobs will go to the people with the knowledge and the skills to do them. It's that simple."

"If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn't show signs of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability."

"Now it's true that not long ago you could drop out of high school and reasonably expect to find a blue-collar job that would pay the bills and help support your family. That's just not the case anymore."

American Federation of Teachers' Union head Randi Weingarten fought back with a letter countering  "President Obama's comments today condoning the mass firing of the Central Falls High School teachers do not reflect the reality on the ground . . ."

The tough stance taken by Obama was cushioned by his praise of the teaching profession and made note that his sister and mother were of the teaching profession.  However, historically the Democratic party has been strongly supportive of teacher unions which also as a strong voter and campaign contributor base.  However, criticism of union power has been accelerating:

Link here to story in The New York Times about the slow progress in the ability to fire incompetent teachers.

Link here to controversial article from The New Yorker about Rubber Rooms here, a costly expense which holds teachers with pay and benefits while they await a hearings, totaling millions of dollars, because of the difficulty firing bad teachers.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

  • Willy Morgan

    Thanks for alerting me to this story. I can not believe that the union was asking for $90 per hour. Amazing!

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