More for less… perhaps there’s more here to be considered


I’m going to admit up front I don’t know where this is going. But a story has been developing in Rhode Island for several weeks (ok… actually, it’s been several months), and in recent days it just took off as decisions were made and sides were taken. An interesting battle continues.

As I read material about the events, I couldn’t help but think about something totally unrelated, but in a way quite revealing… at least for me. And it got me wondering about several issues.

Let’s see where this goes…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Have you heard about the troubles in Rhode Island… specifically Central Falls and the high school? (Link from The Providence Journal, no longer active, February of 2010.)

Basically the students at the school weren’t doing well academically. I don’t know if it is worth looking for other ways to sum it up… grades… testing… graduation rates… whatever. Take your pick on the topic and the factors that may be involved. Each concept may or may not have a different set of contributing elements. In the end, what really matters is one thought…

Everyone involved in evaluating it agreed that drastic steps needed to be taken.

Now… read these passages…

“Gallo and the teachers initially agreed they wanted the transformation model, which would protect the teachers’ jobs.

“…But Gallo said she could pay teachers for only some of the extra duties. Union leaders said they wanted teachers to be paid for more of the additional work and at a higher pay rate — $90 per hour rather than the $30 per hour offered by Gallo.”

Many years ago, I watched a movie called Summer School. And I think a million things from this movie apply in this particular situation. We’re going to focus on two.

Introduction – This is the short and sweet version of it… Freddy Shoop is a gym teacher. His career ambition consists of being a gym teacher. Summers off to maximize time at the beach, and the hardest tests to grade generally involve a game of dodgeball. On the last day of the regular school year, a teacher scheduled to run a remedial summer class quits. Hilarity ensues… Freddy has to give up his vacation to teach an English class.

Item number oneThe qualified (or unqualified) teachers theory – Would I be spoiling the movie to say that in this fish out of water comedy, eventually Freddy succeeds?

Freddy is a gym teacher placed in a class with failing students and asked to cover English. At its foundation, the audience is being presented this scenario as a recipe for disaster. Freddy is unqualified… the students unable or unwilling. Ultimately, Freddy not only has to get a handle on the material for himself, and then he has to find a way of connecting with the students.

So let’s ask this… and keep Central Falls in mind… where does responsibility come in to play? In other words… is it the fault of a good teacher when a bad student doesn’t learn? …is part of being a good teacher connecting with the students regardless of circumstances? …do the abilities and efforts of the students play any role in this puzzle?

Where we go with this basic idea is simple… are the results because of poor teaching, poor students, or a combination?

Item number twoThe you want more from us, we want more from you theory – Freddy bribes the students. He begins offering them things in exchange for their attention and effort. The class goes on field trips. He gives driving lessons. At one point, he winds up in court.

But with the exam approaching he needs the group to work just a bit harder. And the kids attempt to renegotiate the deal. They’ve set a fire in his house and had him arrested, and the students believe they deserve more.

Once again… a nod to Central Falls as something to think about… everyone agrees there is a problem. And everyone agrees to work to solve that problem. It’s just that some feel a little extra… let’s think of a good word for it… a little extra motivation might help out immensely.

The resolution – Well… here’s the kicker.

Movies are magical… and supply happy endings. Especially in a no-thought-required, harmless comedy. So at the end of this movie, the kids show improvement, Freddy gets rewarded, and the audience is satisfied.

But see… here we don’t know what the resolution should be from the view of determining responsibility. What we have here is low results and a need for improvement. What I don’t see is a clear side to be taken in this issue. Remember…

  • I can’t tell you the teachers are the problem… the school department seemed willing to keep them in place until it was going to cost more money.
  • Other schools are electing to move on without firing the staff, and that was actually considered here.
  • Other teachers in other schools are not being asked to invest more time and work.
  • I can’t tell you the students are the problem.

And there are lots of additional items to consider. For instance… let’s play for a second here. I just want to toss something out there.

The teachers get fired. A new group is brought in. Standards are changed… curriculum altered… a new dawn has arrived. And in the 2010 – 2011 school year, the students don’t show any improvement.

Well… perhaps that’s just the first year. You can’t turn some things around by snapping your fingers.

Ok… umm… what if 2011 – 2012 is filled with disappointing results?

And how about these teachers? They’re out there looking for work. They move on to new school systems. Suppose results in these new schools start to decline? Will someone put the pieces together?

Again… my questions fall into the area of responsibility. I haven’t seen yet where it has been clearly established as to why the students are doing so poorly. Is it the teachers? Is it the students? Is it the school board?

Can’t change the students.

School board isn’t likely to admit fault.

And so we change the teachers.

It’s a bit like firing the manager of a baseball team.

Maybe it is the manager… maybe it’s not… but we’ve all decided there must be a change.

For the sake of the kids… whatever is done… I hope it works.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at