Experienced Teachers Are a School's Best Resource

I began my teaching career at Wendell Phillips High School, a school with a student population that is almost entirely African American and living in poverty. Although I had good liberal intentions, my experiences as a middle class Asian American made it a challenge to relate to my students. I sought mentors to help me learn how to teach. The teachers who helped out the most were the ones who could relate to the students through shared culture and experience. These teachers were role models to the students and mentors to the young staff.

Unfortunately, in the current era of slash-and-burn school reorganization spearheaded by the Corporate Education Reform Establishment, we have seen a drastic reduction in experienced African American teachers, which prompted Chicago Teachers Union to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on February 8th, alleging the 2011 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) layoffs unfairly impacted black teachers.

Last year CPS made 930 layoffs and "teachers at schools with a higher-than-average percentage of African-American or low-income students were twice as likely to lose their jobs."

The Chicago Consortium on School research released a study on February 9th where researchers looked at schools that implemented "reforms," many of which included firing and replacing the entire staff. Although the study employed questionable means for analyzing performance data, researchers were able to conclude:

New staff at schools where drastic reform took place tends to be younger, more white, and less experienced. Teachers are also more likely to have provisional certifications... The percentage of African-American teachers at many schools dropped drastically, though the reforms took place in mostly black neighborhoods. The shakeups meant a 30, 40 even 60 percent reduction in African-American teachers at individual schools.

These numbers make me think that "reform" may be coded language for something pretty appalling.

Sadly, Wendell Phillips High School was "turned around" in 2010 and the entire staff was fired. Over the years the school has had a high turnover of staff and many of my colleagues had come and gone, but the ones who were there for the long haul, the ones who taught students' brothers, sisters, and in some cases, parents -- were fired.

After a year of searching after the turnaround, one of my Phillips mentors named June found work at Dyett High School, another predominately African American school. This year, the Board announced that they want to phase-out her new school, forcing her to look for work yet again. She and her colleagues are fighting back.

Kenwood Oakland Community Organization holds sit-in for school closings in the mid-south region.