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It's a Paine!

thomas Paine.gifI don't know any of the students or faculty from Central Falls High School personally. I've never been to Central Falls High School. In fact, I had never heard of Central Falls before last week. I would guess that very few of the people who are commenting on "the failure of Central Falls High" have ventured inside Central Falls High or taken time to actually talk to the students and staff. However, lack of first hand knowledge certainly hasn't inhibited politicians, pundits and the public from pontificating about "those" teachers and "those" students. It would seem that without any real information, a great many people have labeled the students as losers and their teachers as users and abusers.

As the rhetoric rolls on about the firing of the entire Central Falls High School staff I have been reminded of a comment made by a former teacher who understood the power of the press. While I can't share Thomas Paine's amusement, I can appreciate his perception when he said

  • I have frequently amused myself both in public and private companies, with silently remarking the specious errors of those who speak without reflecting. Thomas Paine

As a propagandist, political activist, agitator and journalist himself, I began to wonder if Mr. Paine might contribute some Common Sense to The Crisis that seems to be swirling around the fate of a school that was almost invisible until last week when
At the committee meeting Tuesday night, 93 names were called for --74 classroom teachers, plus reading specialists, guidance counselors, physical education teachers, the school psychologist, the principal and three assistant principals, according to the Providence Journal. Not one of them was good enough to stay.

  • "Suspicion is the companion of mean souls, and the bane of all good society." Thomas Paine

The Secretary of Education applauded the action insisting
"I will tell you what doesn't work," Duncan told reporters Wednesday. "Doing nothing."

  • "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." Thomas Paine

But the teachers claim that they have made progress, pointing out that
"We don't take lightly that the test scores are very low, but in the last two years, reading has gone up 21 percent at the high school because of the teachers. We don't make excuses, but we do have to speak about reality. Children in poverty come to school with a lot of issues. We are willing to make changes, but we don't want to be dictated to. We're professionals and deserve to be treated as such." said the Central Falls French teacher.

  • "You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it." Thomas Paine

According to the AFL-CIO
This battle is about more than Central Falls High School. It is about working together to lift all boats, transform society and give children the education they deserve. It should not be about pitting teachers against students or school district against school district. This is a cause that unites working families and the labor movement.

  • "If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately." Thomas Paine

This week talks have resumed and Central Falls Superintendent Frances Gallo said in a statement
"I am pleased to reassure the union their place in the planning process." She said she welcomes union input in developing "a dynamic plan to dramatically improve student achievement" at Central Falls High School.

  • "The greatest remedy for anger is delay." Thomas Paine

In defense of the Central Falls teachers, the American Federation of Teachers website presents its case stating

Attached is a report from then-Rhode Island Education Commissioner Peter McWalters following a district team's visit to Central Falls High School on April 29 and 30, 2009. The visit focused on reading and literacy. We are distributing the report on the same day as President Obama praised the Central Falls school board's decision to fire the school staff.

  • " We can only reason from what is; we can reason on actualities, but not on possibilities." Thomas Paine

In the conclusion of the Commissioner's Report, the Team Chair advises
It was evident to the team that your school has undergone an intense change process that has restructured responsibilities, impacted teaching practices, changed curriculum and challenged many beliefs and values. It is just as evident that you still need more time, as a learning community, to have honest discussions as you process these changes. As you work to do this, stakeholders should view these changes, particularly the introduction of new teaching practices, as more powerful tools that can be used to help all students become proficient readers and writers. Take the time to celebrate your successes and accomplishments in building a school-wide culture of literacy. Be sure to take the time as well to have the conversations that need to take place and determine the best ways for your school to proceed. Recognize that your work is not finished as you continue to move forward in this charge. I wish you continued success in the future. At Central Falls High School, students are engaged in meaningful, rigorous, and diverse learning activities designed to prepare them for further education and successful careers.

It is possible that the teachers at Central Falls went from being hard workers to unconcerned slackers between April 2009 and February 2010. What seems more plausible is that the agendas of stakeholders who have any real investment in Central Falls have changed and once again, the students are pawns and the staff the pieces in an adult game of political chess. There are some who say that the Crisis at Central Falls was an unfortunate but bold and necessary move to be competitive. But in the excitement of competing in the Race to the Top for more money to ensure that No Child was Left Behind it seems that the people in charge didn't notice that if you fire all the teachers the kids of Central Falls are left home alone and that's not bold, it's foolhardy.


  • "These are the times that try men's souls." Thomas Paine

Image: National Portrait Gallery

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