Firing Teachers is Not the Answer

Officials from the Detroit School announced they would close 44 schools.  Detroit’s announcement follows others around the country. Kansas City, Missouri, schools decided to shutter failing schools and a Rhode Island school decided to fire all of its teachers in an attempt to make the school better.

To me, it is an overly simplistic answer to a very complex problem.  Is the problem solely the teachers’ fault?  Do the community, parents and school administrators share the blame?  We need to admit that the educational system is broken.  The people who regularly read this blog know that.  The present educational system is based on a concept designed, with few changes, during the industrial age.  In our middle and high schools, we pass children along an assembly line based model that should have been examined and improved a while ago.  The system still works for a decreasing number of students but it needs to be revised, modernized and strengthened to meet the needs of the students and the society as well.

For some, the easy answer to any problem is to fire the worker.  Were the workers at General Motors and Chrysler responsible for the failure of their companies or was it the people who ran the company?  Did Goldman-Sachs, Enron or the banking system failure the fault of the workers or the failure of the bosses?

Rhode Island has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.  Central Falls is one of the poorest towns in the state.  According to Wikipedia, the median income in the town is $22k. More than 96 percent of the Central Falls High School students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, according to the school’s Web site, and only 6 percent of the people in the town have a college degree. The parents and residents of Central Falls are struggling financially and lack postsecondary education to help them seek higher paying jobs.

Does anyone really believe that by firing teachers the lives of the children will improve and that the newly employed teachers will improve test scores and learning?

Teachers are not magicians. They are unable to pull higher test scores and the lower the dropout rate by pulling answers from a hat. They need help from the parents, help from the community, help from the administrators, help from state and federal governments.

According to, Rhode Island in 2007/2008 spent more money on inmates ($38,503) than on starting teachers ($33,815).  But the answer isn’t simply throwing more money on a failing system.  Teachers are aware when they enter the field how much they will be paid.  They enter the field because they want to help children learn.  Data indicate that they do not leave the field mainly because of low pay.

Or take a look at the Chicago Public Schools, where former CEO Arne Duncan, now U.S. secretary of education, closed many schools. There’s been little change in scores because students are being transferred to other low-performing schools. It hasn’t worked because the community’s attitude and level of support hasn’t changed.