School districts and legislatures in Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Virginia are demonstrating a commitment to greater educational opportunities for students and families by challenging the status quo of mediocre and failing public schools.
While many East Coast states spent the weekend focused on snow removal, the town of Central Falls, Rhode Island focused on the removal of almost 100 teachers from one of the state’s worst performing schools. Superintendent Frances Gallo will fire all Central Falls High School teachers after union leaders refused proposed reforms that included increasing the school day by 25 minutes, requiring teachers to eat lunch with students once a week, and mandatory teacher training and planning sessions outside of school hours.
Gallo was prepared to pay $30 an hour for the two weeks of summer training and $30 an hour, pending grant acquisition, for weekly, 90-minute teacher meetings to discuss student academic achievement. The Central Falls Teacher Union, however, rejected the changes, citing a lack of monetary compensation. Central Falls High School, located in a low-income district and perennially plagued by low test scores, currently pays its teachers $72,000- $78,000 annually. Defending her decision to fire all the high school’s teachers, with the option of later rehiring up to half, Gallo also demonstrated a commitment to providing a quality education rather than maintaining the status quo of ineffectual schools:
‘We have a graduation rate of 48 percent. I have 19-year-olds in classes with 14-year-olds. It’s the middle of the school year and 50 percent of the students at the high school are failing all of their classes,’ Gallo said. ‘We need these changes so we can move from where we are to where we need to be for the health and safety of the whole state. We have to meet these students where they are, bring these students up and lift the bar.’
Placing the academic needs of students above the demands of interest groups and traditional bureaucratic structures is a trend influencing many school administrators and state legislatures across the country. New Jersey assemblywomen Mila Jasey and Joan Voss, both Democrats, have introduced an open enrollment measure that would allow families the opportunity to choose a public school based on educational quality rather than zip code. Similarly, the Virginia legislature is expected to vote on proposals to establish virtual schools and increase the number of charter schools in the state.
Unlike Rhode Island, New Jersey, Virginia, and many other states that have opted for reform and school choice, Washington, D.C. can afford no such luxury to the thousands of students both enrolled and eligible for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship. Even though students in the District’s voucher system have shown increased achievement and experienced greater safety, the academic opportunities provided by the scholarship are continually sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. While the rest of America continues the path to educational equality, children in the nation’s capital are being relegated to the failing status quo.