School Talk

Some Questions for the Providence Teachers’ Union

It is impossible to even ponder a successful turn-around of the Providence Schools System without major changes to the current teachers’ contract. The now notorious report out of Johns Hopkins was clear in its contention that the collective bargaining agreement plays a central role in the district’s dysfunction.

PTU president Maribeth Calabro

The Providence Teachers’ Union (PTU)— a local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)— has yet to acknowledge any real responsibility for the educational catastrophe in our capital city. PTU president Maribeth Calabro has worked to keep the focus on the abhorrent physical conditions and “paucity of professional development days” — we have heard much less from her about the findings of “a lack of visible learning” and “very low expectations for students.” And she has publicly denied the report’s conclusion, based on consistent testimony from parents, teachers, and principals, that it’s “next to impossible to remove bad teachers from schools.”

“We don’t protect bad teachers” said Calabro on a radio show just days after the report’s release. I literally almost drove off the road when I heard that.

The union has been very quiet about what they are—and are not—willing to do as part of the coming effort to turn around the Providence Schools. National AFT folks have made their way to Providence to meet with “state and local officials” but so far, we don’t know who those officials are or when or where those meetings took place.

AFT president Randi Weingarten

And we know that Maribeth Calabro had plans to meet with the Randi Weingarten, the grand-poobah and president of the AFT, this week in Washington D.C.—Oh to be a fly on THAT wall.

So it seems that they should now be ready and willing to answer some tough—but fundamental—questions about what steps they are willing to take to turn around what we now know is arguably the worst school system in the country.

So, here we go…

  • Will the union stand in the way of moving to a thin contract, no more than ten pages? (Click here to see an example of what that could look like.)
  • Will the union consider contract changes to reduce teacher absenteeism?
  • Will the union stand in the way of extending the learning day? Or the learning year?
  • Will the union stand in the way of the quick assessment and termination of ineffective teachers?
  • Will the union stand in the way of teacher reassignment, allowing administration to put teachers into the classrooms and buildings where they can make the biggest impact, without regard to seniority?
  • Will the union stand in the way of eliminating the arbitrary barriers to entry into the teaching profession so that we can begin to build a long overdue talent pipeline to include people who come to teaching via an alternative pathway?

Maribeth Calabro and by extension Providence teachers are completely justified in their feelings of demoralization over uninhabitable school buildings, essentially zero professional development, and even physically and psychologically unsafe schools. But it can’t stop there. We need honesty about what has—and has not—been happening in Providence classrooms for generations. We need the union to acknowledge that many students have been condemned to classrooms with little to no instruction and that there are teachers who are unfit for the job and need to be let go.

What do you think?

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