Channeling Reagan in Central Falls, RI

Dan Proft Feb. 21, 2010, 5:21am

Remember back in 1981 when President Ronald Reagan fired most of the nation's air traffic controllers after they illegally went on strike?

A Central Falls, Rhode Island high school superintendent must have. Last week Supt. Frances Gallo terminated her school's teachers and administrators after the teachers' union refused to accept a reform plan for one of the state's worst performing high schools.

Context here is important. Central Falls is one of the poorest communities in Rhode Island with a median annual household income of $22,000. The average teacher salary at Central Falls High School is slightly above $70,000 annually. The high school graduation rate at Central Falls is below 50%.

The gist of the reform plan that led to this showdown included: adding 25 minutes to the school day, providing some additional after-school tutoring and undergoing two weeks of additional training in the summer. Supt. Gallo offered $30/hour for the additional work time; the union was pushing for $90/hour.

It's the same story in Chicago. In Chicago, the average teacher salary is $80,000. When you build-in the guaranteed pension, the average Chicago public school teacher costs taxpayers $125,000 annually. And yet the murder rate for Chicago Public School students is catching up to the graduation rate.

From Central Falls to Chicago, most of our urban K-12 school systems are set up for the benefit and convenience of the adults in the system. They are not set up to educate children--and they don't.

And it's not just that the teachers' unions are more concerned about pension multipliers than student literacy; it's that they knowingly prop up failing schools because they have a good thing going. The unions are not on a quest for answers. They are not in search of best practices for classroom instruction. Running a street hustle is their business and business is very good.

Reagan's decision to fire intransigent air traffic controllers broke the union with only a minor interruption to air travel that was quickly overcome. That is a lesson to be applied to the teachers' unions--and in Central Falls, Rhode Island it has been.

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