February 16, 2010

Heady, headwinds, or just headstrong?

Two education stories caught my eye this evening: the attempt by a Rhode Island superintendent to use state law on school interventions to trump collective bargaining and fire all teachers at one high school, and the trial balloon floated by a Utah state senator to end 12th grade in the state, or make it optional. 

Utah State Senator Chris Buttars is just being headstrong, or maybe "grasping at straws" might be the better term, since the idea of skipping a year of a four-year program isn't attractive to many students even when it's possible. Florida created a three-year high school structure some years ago, and it's almost entirely unused, for obvious reasons: students who are doing well-enough in high school to finish in three years are also eligible to attend a number of colleges, and will be told by high school advisors, their parents, and others that they darned well are going to spend a fourth year in high school so they can attend a college of their choice. And in colleges, while many students could use AP credits to graduate in three years, that's not a common pattern. An old friend of mine was able to finish high school one year early in the 1970s and enter a UC campus, but she was an extreme outlier.

Central Falls Superintendent Frances Gallo is facing legal headwinds but is less obviously foolish than Buttars. Gallo is relying on a set of state options for addressing low-performing schools, and when teachers in the district would not agree to a longer workday without substantially increased pay, Gallo said she'd forgo bargaining a solution and use the option to fire all the teachers in the school instead (and let them reapply for their jobs). There are two general questions here on the legality of Gallo's move: is the state corrective-action structure outside the scope of bargaining for public employees in Rhode Island, and does her move constitute an unfair labor practice by construction (i.e., even if the state corrective-action structure is not bargainable, is her action retaliation in the context of the moment)? This is very far from my experience, but if this were in the state of Florida for most of the time we've had public-employee bargaining, I suspect the outcome of a similar legal battle would not be easily predictable. 

The rule of thumb with economic crises is that people innovate through desperation rather than through careful planning. We're seeing that in the case of Utah. And nerves are generally raw throughout the country, so situations that might otherwise be resolvable often head into conflict when that might have been avoided in better times (I don't know if that would have been true in Central Falls).

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Posted in Education policy on February 16, 2010 7:36 PM | Submit