Nationwide Wave of School Closings, Teacher Firings by Black Agenda Report
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Among Obama supporters, the gap between popular perceptions of the president's policies and the actual content of those policies is nowhere wider than in public education. While the president pays lip service to the centrality of public education, teachers and parent input, his Race To The Top is paving the road to privatization, closing more public schools and firing more teachers than any president in US history.
Obama's Race To The Top Drives Nationwide Wave of School Closings, Teacher Firings
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
A nationwide epidemic of school closings and teacher firings has been underway for some time. It's concentrated chiefly in poor and minority communities, and the teachers let go are often experienced and committed classroom instructors, and likely to live in and near the communities they serve, and disproportionately black.
It's not an accident, or a reflection of changing demographics, or more educational choices suddenly becoming available to families in those areas. It's not due to greedy unionized teachers or the invisible hand of the marketplace or well-intentioned educational policies somehow gone awry.
The current wave of school closings is latest result of bipartisan educational policies which began with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and have kicked into overdrive under the Obama administration's Race To The Top. In Chicago, the home town of the president and his Secretary of Education, the percentage of black teachers has dropped from 45% in 1995 to 19% today. After winning a couple skirmishes in federal court over discriminatory firings in a few schools, teachers have now filed a citywide class action lawsuit alleging that the city's policy of school "turnarounds" and "transformations" is racially discriminatory because it's carried out mainly in black neighborhoods and the fired teachers are disproportionately black.
How did this happen? Where did those policies come from, and exactly what are they?
Beginning in the 1980s, deep right pockets like the Bradley and Walton Family Foundations spent billions to create and fund fake "grassroots movements." They churned out academic studies and blizzards of media hype, first for vouchers, later on for charter schools and what's become a whole panoply of privatization-oriented "education reforms" ranging f rom teacher merit pay to common core curriculum and more.
Those billions paid off with the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act which made the right wing corporate agenda of undermining and ultimately privatizing public education national policy. Though standardized test scores were long known to prove little aside from student family income, they suddenly became the gold standard for judging teacher & school performance. School districts were required to purchase & give dozens of costly meaningless tests and to publish lists ranking their own schools and teachers as "failing" when test scores were low, which again, was mostly wherever students were poor .
Amid torrents of "blame the teachers" propaganda, so-called "failing schools" were required to hire expensive contractors with cockeyed "run the school like a business" remedies and more crackpot tests. Thus it was that NCLB s pawn ed almost o vernight an entire industry of jackleg educational consultants and test suppliers guaranteed a market with dollars diverted from already tight public school budgets. Those industries attracted capital investors, and began doing what every other industry does in the US ---- make big campaign contributions to politicians to get sweeter contracts and more favorable regulation . When test scores still didn't rise, NCLB required many schools to close, making openings for chains of charter schools, often highly profitable charter schools , bringing the blessings of "choice" and free market competition to the educational "marketplace."
It was an unequal sort of "competition" though, because charter schools have always been allowed to pick and choose their students, to turn away those with special needs, and to hire teachers and principals with little or no relevant training.
R esults in the classrooms of poor neighborhoods around the country were devastating. Where in 1987-88 the modal year for teacher experience -- that's the number of years the largest cohort of teachers had been in the classrooms --- was ten years, by 2008 the biggest block of teachers were in their very first year, by definition --- the least confident, the least experienced and the least effective.
This was the state of public education when President Obama walked into the White House door. What did he do? Did he turn it around? Or did he double down? The answer is that in the spirit of corporate bipartisanship, president Obama sided with the charter school sugar daddies instead of black teachers, black parents and their children.
President Obama appointed Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan Secretary of Education. A champion of privatization, Duncan had closed dozens of Chicago schools, many on short notice, some at the apparent behest of gentrifying real estate developers. Duncan fired so many veteran black Chicago teachers to , fil l their slots with mostly white rookies, that teachers sued him for racial discrimination in federal court and won. Duncan even introduced military charter schools in Chicago, in one case handing a west side middle school to the US Marine Corps.