AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA

March 5, 2010

 

Dear President Obama:  

            Perhaps above all other presidents, I would have expected you to understand that the teachers and support staff of Central Falls High School are every bit as much victims as the students they try mightily to serve.  Your very public support for the firing of ninety-three (93) teachers and support professionals is a profound disappointment to me and to the millions of hard-working, devoted professionals working in our nation’s public schools.  We had such great hope for you when we raised millions of dollars in campaign funds, made thousands and thousands of phone calls and did whatever your campaign called upon us to do.  We longed to work with a president who would help us turn our nation around.  

            Firing the staff of Central Falls in the misbegotten hope of improving the education of its students assumes that the teachers have been responsible for the academic program of the school.  If Central Falls High is like most schools, we know that the staff had almost no say in the basic structure of the academic program.  We know too that the leadership of the school who had a much greater hand in curriculum matters has repeatedly turned over so many times ( 5 principals and 13 assistant principals in six years) that it is not an exaggeration to say that there was a leadership revolving door to the school.  Are we to be accountable for things beyond our control?  

            Does your support of the firing of all the staff spring from your knowledge of the turn over of the student body of that school?  I trust you know the school has a very high student turnover.  As in most poverty stricken communities, students come and go owing to their parents unstable housing arrangements.  Are the teachers accountable for that too?  

            By what evidence do you support holding them accountable for the debilitating effects of poverty on the student body of that school?  You and Commissioner Duncan are so consumed with the notion that education policy should be data driven that I am frankly amazed that you appear to be so ill-informed of the impact of poor nutrition,

 inadequate medical care, an intellectually stimulating childhood environment and so many of the other factors that disadvantage and blunt the academic performance of children living in poverty.  Is your administration going to hold teachers accountable for the failure of every president and congress since Lyndon Johnson to finish the war on poverty?  

            It appears obvious to me, that Superintendent Gallo’s firing of the staff was a heavy-handed, foolish gambit in the negotiations between the Central Falls School District and the American Federation of Teachers local affiliate there.  For the President of the United States to intrude himself in that process was both to denigrate your office and decrease the possibilities that the parties would come to a quick, fair and equitable settlement.  Here, too, I am surprised and depressed by your lack of appreciation of the effects of your intrusion into this essentially local matter.  

            President Obama, at the moment all of the political energy in our nation appears to lie with the reactionary right.  Any fair interpretation of the recent elections in Massachusetts and New Jersey includes broad dissatisfaction with the performance of your administration.  You need to know that in publicly supporting the completely outrageous mass firing of the teacher and support staff of Central Falls High School you have very likely cut yourself off from the rank and file of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.  I know for certain that as the leader of a local education union, I will not ask our members to support you.  

Sincerely,  

Morton Rosenfeld, President

Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers

  Dear Readers,

    If you are as outraged as I by President Obama's attack on the teachers of Central Falls, Rhode Island, why not send your own email to him by clicking on this link   Feel free to take as much of my column as you wish to incorporate in your email.

MR

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