Bruce Dixon: Chicago Teachers File Racial Discrimination Suit Against Obama Administration’s School “Turnaround” Plan
I was forwarded this entry by colleague Bruce Dixon out of Atlanta, managing editor of Black Agenda Report. Dixon writes about unrest in Chicago regarding fired black teachers. Here is a large portion of the entry, but please read Dixon’s article Chicago Teachers File Racial Discrimination Suit it its entirety.
BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
“The fired teachers are disproportionately African American, and the newly hired teachers are not.”
In May, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared the Obama administration’s intent to close and “turn around” 5,000 “underperforming” public schools in poorer neighborhoods across the country. Duncan’s last job was CEO of Chicago’s public schools where he shut down dozens of neighborhood schools, practically all in lower income areas, and dismissed thousands of committed and experienced teachers, the vast majority of them African American women.
When the Chicago Teachers Union made no effort to reach out to parents, students or their communities, refused to organize teachers to oppose the wave of school shutdowns and privatizations, teachers organized what they call CORE, the Coalition of Rank & File Educators. CORE has now filed suit against the Chicago Board of Education, charging that the mass dismissal of hundreds of mostly black veteran teachers and their replacement with uncertified and generally underqualified white teachers is racially discriminatory.
“We looked at the number of teachers who lost their jobs in these ‘school turnarounds,'” CORE research director Carol Caref told BAR, “and we looked at the number of African American teachers who were employed in those same schools or in the charter schools which replaced them and there was a huge discrepancy which couldn’t be accounted for by chance. The fired teachers are disproportionately African American, and the newly hired teachers are not.”
“Even if it’s inadvertently discriminatory, it’s still discriminatory because the majority of the teachers wiped out in these turnarounds are African American,” offered Chicago teacher Wanda Evans. The fired veteran teachers, CORE also maintains, are being replaced by a much younger, much whiter and much less experienced corps of instructors graduated from a handful of accelerated programs funded by Boeing, the Bill and Melinda Gates, Bradley, Walton Family, Rockerfeller and other foundations, and favored by City Hall and the Commercial Club. “The new teachers are paid half or less what experienced teachers with advanced degrees were making.”
“The fired veteran teachers are being replaced by a much younger, much whiter and much less experienced corps of instructors.”
During the ten years of corporate school-busting reform, Orr was broken up into four smaller schools, only one of which remains today. That was a military academy, whose director took his institution off campus so as to escape the stigma of the parent high school’s corporate-engineered “failure.” And as it happens, turning public high schools and even middle schools over to the military was another hallmark of the Duncan regime in Chicago.
Ruled for more than 40 of the last 55 years by two men named Richard Daley, Chicago has given the nation dubious education reforms before this. The New Orleans model, in which the entire public school workforce was fired at one stroke immediately after Katrina, and nearly all the city’s public schools replaced with charter schools was implemented by Arne Duncan’s predecessor at the Chicago Board of Education, Paul Vallas. Like Duncan, whose longest period of employment before the Chicago Public Schools was as a professional basketball player, Vallas was no educator either. Vallas was an accountant. And as in New Orleans, the closing of neighborhood public schools in Chicago and their wholesale replacement with charter and other special schools has destabilized vast residential areas of the city and greatly contributed to gentrification.
“In school ‘turnaround’ operations, every teacher, food service worker, building engineer and custodial staff person is fired and the slate wiped clean.”
CORE teachers pointed out that Chicago still has laws on the books enabling elected councils of parents to veto the contracts of principals and certain portions of individual school budgets. The turnaround policies allow authorities to strip these last vestiges of democratic control over educational outcomes from those who ought to be among the primary stakeholders — parents.
Effective teaching, as one CORE teacher put it, is a performance art. You need commitment, connection and experience to pull it off, not hysteria, insecurity, mass firings and more tests. Somebody, they say, needs to tell President Obama.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and based in Atlanta. He can be reached at email@example.com.