In your first year as the commissioner of education in Rhode Island, you earned headlines for backing a plan to fire all the high-school teachers in the poorly performing district of Central Falls. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and even President Obama chimed in with support. Did the attention surprise you?
I think that just the visual for people was noticeable, and I think what exactly was happening was misunderstood. I think people seemed to feel that teachers were being blamed for the performance of the school, which was not the way we understood what was happening.
Perhaps overshadowed by the Central Falls controversy, you’ve put forth a dramatic reform agenda aimed at improving teacher quality. To help, you created a new evaluation system that requires an annual review of all teachers.
I think most professionals would be surprised to know [that annual reviews] weren’t already in place. Professionalism is about being respected for the work that you do, being acknowledged for the work that you do, and being accountable for the work that you do. I meet teachers in our state all the time who are more than ready to be held accountable for their work and are very proud of the results that they’re able to see with their students.