Chapter Closes on Central Falls Saga with Slow, Painful Obama Reform Win

Nearly three months ago Rhode Island’s Central Falls High School made the national news when Superintendent Fran Gallo fired teachers and other employees en masse when the union refused to make some concessions aimed at helping to turn around the low-performing school. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan weighed in with supporting comments, and the spotlight grew even larger.

Well, as of Sunday, a chapter has closed on this story. Central Falls has re-hired the teachers (H/T Alan Gottlieb). At first blush, Flypaper’s Andy Smarick worried aloud that the re-hiring was poorly conceded on a deal that wouldn’t aid the turnaround. But with more information in hand showing a strong, favorable deal had been reached, Rick Hess remarked:

Good management is about discipline, not blood lust. The point of school turnarounds is not to count scalps, but to win necessary changes, force out lousy teachers, and reset the board. Check.

In fact, this morning Hess posted the transcript of an interview he had with reform-minded Rhode Island state superintendent Deb Gist about the re-hiring deal. Gist — who was closely involved in negotiating the deal — summed up her observation of the union’s shift that led to making more concessions than even were originally asked: “Ultimately, I’d say I was not shocked but was pleasantly surprised.”

On the other hand, Eduwonk Andy Rotherham is somewhat dumbfounded that it took such great lengths of time (80 days) and political pressure to make the deal happen:

If this is going to be the norm for every personnel agreement involving a low-performing school we’d better lower our expectations…

Central Falls is a small but key victory for the Obama education reform agenda. Here’s guessing the next such showdown in seeking to fix a low-performing school is resolved more quickly and with less pain. Whether expectations will lower remains to be seen.