Monthly Archives: February 2010

Firing an Entire Faculty in Central Falls, Rhode Island

Map of Rhode Island, from The New York Times

In education, there’s often no such thing as “starting from scratch.”

When it comes to improving education, school districts often utilize well-worn methods to get progress going.  Grants are obtained.  Funding is allocated.  Time for afterschool programs and remedial support is blocked out.  Additional personnel and “experts” are added to the mix–often doing more harm than good.

Yet in Central Falls, Rhode Island, the high school plans to start from ground zero.   Things must’ve gotten downright disastrous to come to this.

On Tuesday night, citing low achievement scores and a low graduation rate of 48 percent, School Superintendant Frances Gallo got approval from the school board to fire all 100 faculty from Central Falls High School.  It was one of four options presented to Gallo from state education commissioner Deborah Gist, which included school closure.  Gallo went with the less-than-Doomsday option, and it passed 5 to 2. 

There was another earlier option on the table to increase teacher hours without monetary increases.  The teachers’ union rejected it, citing that Gallo was not negotiating in good faith. 

Thus, Gallo fired them all.   All of them.

A physical education teacher said of the vote, “They sat up there, looked us in the eye, told us we were not good enough. That’s an embarrassment.”

I wish it was someone else other than the gym teacher, but that can’t be helped.

This situation is problematic for a number of reasons. 

First of all, how bad must a school have been to fire the entire faculty?  According to the NY Times article, Central Falls was one of the six worst performing schools in Rhode Island.  Yet I know of a number of underperforming high schools in New York City that would step over their dead mother for a 48 percent graduation rate.  In terms of test scores, well, most regular readers know my opinion on that matter.

Second, is the faculty truly at fault here?  Was every teacher failing at the same rate?  If so, not only was there underperforming students academically, but also a knock-kneed, skittish football team, a drama program where kids can’t memorize their lines, an AV squad that still uses Betamax, and a band that can’t even play “Happy Birthday” without emptying spit valves and busting reeds on their clarinets.

Lastly, I really hope other school districts, such as my own, are not watching this and getting glassy eyed.  In the city, at least, the union would (I hope) prevent such drastic actions from occurring.  Yet its difficult to fight an idea, especially an idea that can rally parents and disgruntled politicians.

If any out there is from Central Falls, or knows more about this situation, please leave your comments on the Neighborhood.  It would be great to get a complete picture of the situation.

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The National Head Count: The Weird History of the US Census

Most moments in our life involve some sort of head count.

On a field trip, a teacher routinely counts heads multiple times, in fear that little Juan stuck his hand in the Ming vase.  Schoolchildren need to divvy up teams, insofar as to distribute the fat, slow kids evenly and without favoritism.  During tax time, the more fertile couples take careful accounting of their kin, labeling each “Dependent # 1, Dependent # 2…”

So it goes that countries must periodically count heads.  The census, or the accounting of the population of a given area, has existed in some form or another since antiquity.  The word comes from the Latin censere, meaning “to estimate,” thus proving that even the ancients could fudge numbers with the best AIG accountants.

Without the census, there would be no Christmas—literally.  The historical record of Christ’s birth comes due to the census ordered by Augustus around the first decade CE (“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” – Luke 2:1).  In the Roman Republic, a periodic census would calculate the population of men fit for military service.  During the imperial period, a census took place in order to assess for taxation, which is why Joseph trudged to Bethlehem with his pregnant wife.  It makes for an interesting census questionnaire:

Members of household: Joseph: husband, Mary: wife, Jesus: son of God and basis for worldwide religion.

Assets: One donkey, carpentry tools, salvation for the world (or at least those who believe in the divinity of the third member of said household).

Race/Ethnicity: White, non-Hispanic (despite Hispanic-sounding name of third member of said household).”

Like our ancient brethren, America has also resorted to a counting of heads for official purposes.  Article 1, Section 2 of the US Constitution stipulates a regular, periodic census to apportion Representatives to the US Congress.

“The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” – Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 2.

The first census was conducted in 1790 and took a while to compile, as census takers—originally court officers and marshals—went from house to house, farm to farm collecting information.  From the August start date, the official reports would not be sent to Congress until 16 months later, October 27, 1791.  The delay was largely due to states lollygagging in collecting their data: I’m looking at you, South Carolina!   The original questionnaire looked like this:

  • Name of head of family
  • Number of free white males 16 and up, including heads of families
  • Number of free white males under 16
  • Number of free white females including heads of families
  • Number of all other free persons, except Indians not taxed
  • Number of slaves

Unfortunately, this was probably in hierarchical order.  The number of slaves was important, at least 60% of that number anyway, thanks to theThree-Fifths rule that counted “all other persons” as three-fifths for purposes of representation.

1850 Census from Springfield, Illinois, with Abraham Lincoln’s entry.

At first, only heads of households were listed, with aggregate numbers of family members.  By 1850, all household members were named, including slaves.  The 1850 and 1860 censuses had slave schedules attached, and got much more complicated.  The 1850 census questionnaire asked about race, sex, education, occupation, even “whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane or idiotic.”  I’ll leave it to you to guess how many Americans picked that last category.

Even though the census is necessary—and participation compulsory, although the penalty for non-compliance is a joke—many Americans regard the ritual with suspicion.  Many feel the US government uses census data to punish potential lawbreakers or tax cheats.  Others feel that it’s a method of social control.

None of these has turned out to be the case, yet one instance in particular has stung this image.

According to US law, no one — neither the census takers nor any other Census Bureau employee — is permitted to reveal identifiable information about any person, household, or business.  Like all laws, however, there were ways to get around them, particularly if you’re German, Italian or especially Japanese.  Just prior to our entry into World War II, the FBI used census data to compile a Custodial Detention Index, or CDI.  The index contained information of citizens, enemy aliens and foreign nationals who were considered a threat to national security—the “race” question on the census form really helped.  The internments of Japanese Americans, and a smaller number of Germans and Italians, came thanks to the little form we fill out every ten years.

Yet our census continues, and the 2010 census will begin in a little over a month.  Make sure you fill out that form—don’t worry, it’s shorter this year than in years past.  If you forget, the census taker may visit your house and take down your information.  You probably won’t get caught, but try not to lie: refusing to cooperate is a $100.00 fine, but lying on the census is a $500.00 fine.

And for God sakes, don’t say the joke about taking the census in a Polish village.   It’s for your own good.

The following links provide more information on our once-a-decade head count:

US Census Bureau — the agency responsible for the census.  A part of the Department of Commerce, these are the guys that send out those annoying forms.

2010 US Census — provides information about the current census, how it will be administered, the questionnaire, etc.  I’m still a little peeved that the form isn’t online yet.

Census in Schools — a site for teachers and students with lesson plans, printables and other information for the classroom.

Finally, for a good laugh, here’s the Three Stooges in their 1940 film “No Census, No Feeling.” Definitely fun to watch with students–especially the reactions to the ridiculous questions that were asked.  Enjoy.

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This Day in History 2/22 – “The Miracle on Ice”; the US beats the USSR in the 1980 Winter Olympics

I love the Winter Olympics, much more than the summer variety. 

The sports are more dangerous, the speed more deft-defying.  Where else is the use of cowbells so encouraged?

So it is fitting that today we commemorate one of the greatest moments in our Olympic history.  In 1980, in the little hamlet of Lake Placid, New York, the Winter Games was hosted for the second time.  Ice hockey would capture the world’s attention, as the United States, a young inexperienced squad of college stars and amateur talent, faced off against the mightiest team in the world, the Soviet Union.

March 3, 1980 cover of Sports Illustrated. The only edition to run without a headline nor a caption. None was necessary.

This was more than David and Goliath.  It was more like David’s invalid brother versus Goliath and the rest of his family.  The USSR had only recently shellacked the Americans in an exhibition game.  Yet the US had a secret weapon, a tenacious coach named Herb Brooks who wouldn’t stop believing that the Soviet juggernaut could be beaten.

On February 22, 1980, the US faced the USSR.  In the post-Vietnam era, during the Iran hostage crisis and a terrible recession, it was tough to feel good about America.  Many people felt that maybe this plucky little team can pull something off.  It seemed like wishful thinking.

Two thirds of the way into the game, it sure seemed like a miracle was needed.  The team faced a deficit early in the game–3-2 at the end of the second period.  However, like it did so many times in the preliminary games, the Americans gutted it out and managed to overcome their deficit. 

By the end of the game, within the last few seconds and the score 4-3 in favor of the US, ABC commentator Al Michaels uttered a famous phrase: “Do you believe in miracles?!”  The name stuck, and the game was forever known as the “Miracle on Ice.”  It was a lone bright spot on a very dark decade, and everyone who was alive and aware knows about it.

What some people often forget about the game was that both teams spawned players that would resonate in the National Hockey League.  The Americans who made good in the NHL included Neal Broten, Mike Ramsey, Mark Pavelich, and Bob Suter–who is the brother of NHL veteran Gary Suter and father of current player Ryan Suter.

What’s even more suprising is the Soviet talent that made its way to this side of the Atlantic.  In 1986, Alexander Mogilny–who was not in the 1980 Olympic squad–was the first Soviet player to defect to the US to play in the NHL.  Since then a slew of players from the 1980 squad made careers in the NHL, including Viacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Sergei Makarov, and perhaps the greatest goaltender of all time, Vladislav Tretiak.  Although he never played in the NHL, Tretiak was a longtime goaltenders coach, tutoring the likes of Ed Belfour, Dominick Hasek and Jocelyn Thibault.

Attached is the last few minutes of that fateful game.  Explain the context of the game with your students so they can enjoy the whole experience.

Besides, where else can you watch sports during the school day?

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