July 9, 2008

Some see it in black and white

Note: Additional paragraphs added at the end after reading Norm's post this morning over at Ednotes.

I got an email yesterday that sent shivers up my spine, about a class action lawsuit filed in Washington a couple of weeks ago against the DC police.

The Partnership for Civil Justice wanted an injunction against a checkpoint program set up to “seal off neighborhoods” in the
predominantly African-American Trinidad section of the city.

You're pulling my leg, you say.

No, I’m not. The Washington Post describes it this way:
. . . the police stop and interrogate drivers about their activities and associations, requiring motorists to provide identification and a "legitimate" reason for driving on the public roadways, including giving the identity and phone numbers of friends and family. The lawsuit asserts that the roadblock program is an unconstitutional suspicionless seizure of persons traveling on public roadways in the District of Columbia. The lawsuit also challenges the District’s use of these mass civil rights violations to collect and aggregate data on the movements, activities and associations of law abiding residents and visitors to the District and seeks expungement of this information.

The checkpoints are an extraordinary expansion of police power to stop, seize and interrogate individuals without any probable cause or suspicion of illegal activity. They are also ineffective at stopping crime.

This country is going in the wrong direction really fast.

It's starting to be very obvious that when governments don’t have a clue how to turn things around nor the political will to even try, their answer is always one of two things: ROPE 'M OFF and circle the wagons, or ROPE 'M OFF and make a profit.

Checkpoints, gated communities, the fences around City Hall, blockades that kept protesters two blocks away from the last Republican convention are all examples of the first. That's when some people perceive other people as a threat and restrict access to places.

The other kind is like New Orleans after Katrina, when a newly created “authority” is set up that can use eminent domain to seize homes with a view to selling off the property to the fat cats. It’s also like Teach for America, which takes tax money to put teacher trainees into poorer neighborhoods and allow them to make guinea pigs of kids whose parents have been distinctly unempowered in big cities like New York. They come in waves, these trainees, TFAs don’t stay long in the job. Rotate!

I don’t like what I’m seeing, and what I’m seeing has to do with color. We’re going backwards.

Groups like the NY Collective of Radical Teachers (NYCoRE) and the Independent Commission on Public Education (ICOPE ) have been focusing on social issues like discrimination for years. Teacher activists like Sean Ahern don't brook any ignorance of the subject and do what they can to keep us informed. Contributing mostly to a restricted listerv, Ahern's been railing against the whitening of the teacher staff in NYC schools for years.

One of the things he put up this past week had to do with NYC’s hiring practices under mayoral control and the effect of the current certification process. He thinks these have resulted in a “a significantly lower number of teachers of color in the NYC schools” and constitute a reversal of the incremental increases seen in the past 30 years.

To make his point, he refers to a 2006 interview that Teachers Unite had with educator Sam Anderson:

TU: How have the demographics of New York City's public school population, among teachers and students, changed since you've been involved in education?

SA: Over the past 40 years New York City's public schools have gone from being comprised of predominantly white students to one that is now predominantly Black, Latino and Asian students. However, when we look at the racial breakdown of the teaching and administrative staff, they are still overwhelmingly white to the point that nearly 80% of the teachers are white. All we have to do is look at the Department of Education's own data. More specifically, when we look at the sixteen year record of the racial breakdown of new hires, we see the re-enforcement of white teacher dominance clearly built into the DOE's personnel structure.
Anderson claims it wasn’t easy to come by the data, but he got it and posted it, and it shows that today’s DoE new hires are “more skewed towards white teachers than 10 years ago.” He has things to say about how the racial makeup of the teacher population affects non-white students, this for example:
. . . It is the normalcy of racism that we are trying to neutralize as well as, therefore, the normalcy of internalizing self-hating racist ideas about ones self. Well-trained teachers of color working with children of color with a curriculum that also includes their culture, their people's contribution to the development of the world have proven that they can boost the intellectual quality of children of color . . .

The current Bloomberg-Klein approach to teacher recruitment is to hire "far and white." That is, go outside of New York City and emphasize recruiting white teachers over Black/Latino teachers. They have spent tens of millions of dollars making teaching in NYC schools a palatable and hip thing for white folks to do.

We know this to be the case by just looking at the stats of new hires during Bloomberg's reign: from 61% up to 65% for white new hires while Black new hires went from 20.1% down to 14.1%... while the student population increased to be well over 85% students of color! This can only be called negative affirmative action (or affirmative action for mainly white women...who constitute the bulk of new hires).
Anderson’s own plan for teacher recruitment makes a lot of sense to me. He wants the DoE to set up “a structure that encourages Black/Latino community folk to return to school and train them to become teachers.”

He's saying train them to become teachers, not transients.

In referring to Anderson’s article, Ahern suggests the UFT has been particularly silent on the “disappearing” of teachers of color. Many left when Bloomberg purged 3,000 uncertified members in 2003, much as Rhee is doing in Washington now. Ahern had written to Weingarten back in October 2004 asking her to negotiate “an affirmative action plan to increase the % of Black, Latino and Asian teachers into the new contract:
Figures from Eva Moskowitz's office (attached) document a 7.8% decline in the number of Black educators hired in August/September 2002. This is an abrupt and dramatic reversal of the pattern of previous years. I have not been able to obtain the breakdown of new hires for 2003 and 2004 but the dismissal of thousands of uncertified teachers, disproportionately educators of color in September 2003 suggests that a whitening/racial purge of the teaching ranks is proceeding apace under mayoral control.

I don't want to take a position at this point whether these teachers should or should not have been let go, but it is obvious that school after school are as we speak being filled up with teacher recruits who are also not certified — and sometimes won’t be for the full length of their teacher service. These recruits are predominantly white. To Weingarten, he urges fervently that:
As UFT President, NYSUT Vice President and leader of NYC's municipal workers you have the platform from which to challenge this corporate/Republican and white supremacist agenda that stretches from City Hall, to Albany, to the White House and weighs so heavily down upon teachers, students, their families and communities.
I go to most of the Delegate Assemblies, and I’m not hearing much of anything from her or anyone else at the union on this issue.

In another post, Ahern talks about an abstract of a paper put out by ACORN in 1996 called Secret Apartheid: a Report on Racial Discrimination against Black and Latino Parents and Children in the New York City Public Schools. The group reported evidence of “institutionalized racism” in the system, and says that it “is not concerned with why this discrimination exists . . . [but] the ways in which it closes off options for students.”

It's clear that kids have even fewer options these days than they did in 1996. What they have is more brutal cutbacks in services (vocational programs, the arts, special ed services, alternative schools, etc.), large classes, new mini-schools that offer few courses, and athletic fields on public land through no-bid contracts and without a review process.

Circle the wagons and make some money.

The last item in these Ahern posts points to an article by Andy Humm in the Gotham Gazette last January on an Urban Justice report that “documents how even in multicultural New York, we have a long, long way to go before race no longer matters.”

The Center wants to “go beyond protecting individuals who can prove they have been illegally discriminated against and move toward remedying systemic discrimination.”
Most people think that overt racism is a thing of the past or, at worst, an isolated problem — especially when an African American named Barack Obama could very well become the next president of the United States.

But evidence to the contrary persists. Just ask yourself who is homeless in New York, who the beggars are on the street and who does the lowest wage and hardest jobs from checking your groceries and emptying bedpans to cleaning your office.

To that list we can add a few questions of our own:
Who are the recruits they’re putting into our schools, and who are the ones they're letting get away?

The kids need some changes here, and in a very moral sense, so do we all.


Norm just wrote a blog entitled, rhetorically, "Is the NYC Parks Department racist?" This extract alone should get your blood running.

For the past two weekends the beachfront at Beach 25th Street in the Rockaways has had well over 500 people each day, and no lifeguard at all during the week. This beach is adjacent to one of the largest populations of people on the peninsula, exceeding 25,000 residents and yet there is only 1 lifeguard stand for miles of public waterfront all the way to Beach 74th.

This seems extremely unjust given the fact that areas on the far western end of the Peninsula like Neponsit, have more than 21 lifeguards; 7 stands, 100 yards apart for less than 2,000 residents in an area with no public boardwalk, parking by permit only, and no access to public transit. This would seem to be a “private beach” paid for with public resources that are required to serve seven miles of public waterfront.

And here's another rhetorical question:



Anonymous said...

You are completely right. In the NYC public schools discrimination is the #1 factor. In my school 70 percent of the students are of color. There are 110 teachers, among them we have: 2 hispanics, 1 black and the rest white.

Woodlass said...

Someone just wrote me privately that another factor is nepotism. "Everybody is related — from the custodians to the principal. It's like the MOB." Interesting.

Norm said...

This is shocking. I thought Bloomberg and Klein are civil rights activists with the support of Al Sharpton.

Anonymous said...

No! Sharpton's daughters went to the most expensive school in NYC Called Polly Prep. Sharpton just feathers his own nest. The rest have to fend by themselves.

Chaz said...

I didn't have a problem when the "uncertified" teachers were let go. I taught with one for almost 8 years in my school. He lasted so long, not because of his teaching ability (he was terrible) but because he was a retired police captain that knew the principal. He couldn't pass either part of the State test and his stuidents had the worst passing percentage on the Regents exam.

Maybe I'm naive, but students want teachers who know their stuff and cares about them, regardless of color. To take the study's line of thinking to the illogical end you would end up with Jamaican teachers teaching Jamaican students, Chinese teachers, teaching Chinese students, and Irish teachers teaching Irish students.

Woodlass said...

I don't understand your last paragraph because I don't see where any studies are saying that, but let me go back to the first part.

I didn't have a problem with letting the uncertified ones go either. I remember they were all told they'd have a certain number of years (was it two) to finish up their masters or they could no longer stay in the system. Some had been hanging on without completing the degree for years.

But look what we have now: a system of putting in many trainees who have no intention of staying in teaching. That means they're uncertified the whole time, and will be replaced by new ones, many of whom will also be uncertified the whole time.

Definitely teachers have to know their stuff, without question. But if you create a recruitment system that installs trainees into public schools, efforts should be made to make it an inclusive one, and in NY I'm not seeing this in the schools I've worked in. What the kids are exposed to these days is a Them and Us situation, which I think is not good and cannot be defended. If you're going to put money into training teachers, make sure it's an inclusive one. The deeper message young people are learning under the present system is not healthy for the country.

avoiceinthewilderness said...

I do think that there is something to be said for children having teachers of similar cultures-only because we still live in such a divisive society. When some teachers are not familiar with the culture of their students, they often fall into a trap of lowered expectations and allowing for performance that they would never allow from someone of their own culture.
Not all teachers, mind you, but many.
Of course, we know that people are people and children are children, but let's face it-we live in a society that cultivates separatism and therefore misunderstanding.

Woodlass said...

Norm, he only shows his activist side when it's high profile. In his scale of things, this teamwork with Klein is just a back story.

AVoiceIn - I agree, obviously. The only ways I can think of to stop this separatist cycle we're in is to purposefully insist on and fund inclusionary strategies.
But, which Republican agenda these days cares one whit about inclusion?