Education Law

The Ultimate School Reform: Fire the Teachers

  • Nearly 100 employees were fired from a Rhode Island high school when plans to improve student performance fell through
  • The fired employees were later offered their jobs back, but only after agreeing to the school's original reforms
  • There are federal guidelines and financial aid for fixing poor performing schools
  • Fixing a failing school's problems is always important, but a tough economy may make it more urgent


What do you do when your business isn't making money and your workers don't like your plan for turning things around? One option is to fire everyone and start from scratch.

Rhode Island

Central Falls High School in Rhode Island is one of the worst performing schools in the state. So, it was targeted for reform by the state's Education Commissioner, Deborah A. Gist.

Early in 2010, Superintendent of Central Falls School District, Frances Gallo, came up with a plan. It included several things, but the main points required the school's teachers to work a slightly longer day (about 30 minutes per day) and tutor students once per week outside of school for one hour.

When Gallo and the teacher's union couldn't agree on a compensation package for the teachers' extra work, Gallo moved to Plan B. She fired 74 teachers and 19 other employees, including the principal.

However, in May 2010, the school district and teacher's union reached a settlement agreement. The teachers and staff agreed to Gallo's original plans for reform and they were offered their jobs back.

Reform Options

The Central Falls incident shows how some school reforms are designed to work. Under a new federal program, there's $4 billion in federal financial aid to help "low performing" schools improve, like Central Falls High. To get money, states must change or "transform" low-performing schools though one of these methods:

  • Turnaround model, which calls for replacing the school's principal, rehiring no more than 50% of the staff, and giving the new principal the tools needed to improve performance, including control over the school's budget and staffing. This was Superintendent Gallo's "Plan B"
  • Restart model, which typically involves closing and reopening the school as a charter school
  • School closure, which simply means shutting the school and transferring the students to other, better-performing schools in the school district
  • Transformation model. This was Superintendent Gallo's "Plan A." It requires the school to: (1) replace the principal and take steps to increase teacher and school leader effectiveness; (2) put comprehensive instructional reforms into place; (3) increase learning time and create community-oriented schools; and (4) provide operational flexibility and sustained support

Tough Times, Tough Choices

Parents, students, school officials, and taxpayers all have a stake in the quality of education at our public schools. Quality education is never a low priority, but when the economy is sluggish and states feel budget crunches, it may take on a bigger sense of urgency. You can continue to spend more resources on a failing school or try to get more federal money to fix the problem. Sometimes tough choices need to be made. Which side are you on?

Central Falls High students and parents and teachers across the nation supported the fired staff. Local taxpayers and President Obama supported and even applauded the decision to reform the school by firing everyone and starting over.

If you're unhappy with the quality of education in your local public schools, Central Falls gives you a map to follow for change. Contact your local school board or district, or better still, attend the next school board meeting and ask what the school plans to do to improve student performance. And, ask what the school is prepared to do if those plans fall though or the teachers and staff don't like them.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What can I and other parents do if our local school district won't make the changes we think are needed to make the school a better place for our children?
  • Is there any way to cancel or revoke a school tax levy?
  • Can a school retract a new teacher's job offer after it agrees to rehire an teacher who was fired like the teachers in Rhode Island?
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