Channeling Reagan in Central Falls, RI

By Dan Proft | Feb 21, 2010

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

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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