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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Self Shelf: Giving bad schools an ‘F’

Published: March 19, 2010
Section: Opinions

A few months ago the entire teaching staff and administration of Central Falls High School was fired for incompetence.  The move made national headlines with people debating the fairness and future effectiveness of the option, despite the fact that the city’s high school graduation rate is less than 50 percent.

Central Falls is a very small town, about twenty minutes away from my home in Rhode Island.  I know of it because it was the only school system in the area which lost accreditation some years ago during the New England Association of Schools and Colleges inspections. It had since regained its accreditation but still had a horrible reputation and academic statistics.

When I heard of the turmoil gripping the education system there, I was not shocked.  Central Falls was considred a slum where I grew up. No one I know went into the town, and I cannot testify as to anyone who came out of it. The median income for a family in Central Falls is around $27,000 while a quarter of its residents languish below the poverty line.

But however squalid a town it is, mass firings are the wrong decision.

People tend to blame teachers and students for poor academics.  Some claim that it’s the poor teaching which results in the failing grades of the children.  Others blame the students and claim that they’re unwilling to learn.

However, I believe that the environment surrounding these failing schools is the main factor in their decline.  Take Central Falls for instance.  These children are brought up in poverty.  When they actually go to school, they may be afflicted by any number of medical conditions (most commonly malnourishment).

Many of these students have parents who are not supportive and many of whom haven’t been educated.

Many students have home lives that require them to take care of siblings or to work in order to make ends meet for their families.  Education is not usually their main prerogative.  Also, these students may act out in class because of difficult circumstances at home.

Furthermore, most teachers who have any kind of experience try to steer clear of towns like Central Falls.  Thus the only teachers willing to take such an arduous task are those least suited to do so.  And the carrot and stick system provided for by the No Child Left Behind Act means that towns like Central Falls don’t get the resources to perform well because they don’t meet state benchmarks.

What we have in such places is a perfect combination of the worst possible circumstances.  In these schools we have the least motivated and most reckless students being taught by the most inexperienced teachers at the most ill-equipped schools.

Therefore, rather than firing all of the teachers and replacing them with what will most likely be a similar batch of even less experienced teachers, we should try to change the system.  We should provide fully funded schools for these children.
If we’re going to replace the teachers, we should replace them with good teachers rather than teachers with less experience. Meanwhile we should subsidize good grades at these schools.

Many other districts with poverty stricken students already employ this tactic. If we give these children an incentive to go to school and a good school to go to (including experienced teachers who know how to reach them), they will be much more likely to succeed.  With this, we can stop the tragedy of poverty and failure that plagues towns like Central Falls rather than simply changing the actors.

The solution employed by the school board is a treatment for the symptoms and not the problem.

Next year, the same problems will persist in Central Falls with an entirely new and inexperienced teaching staff.  Instead, it’s time that we strike at the root of the problem and provide an environment where children actually succeed.