School Talk

Why Aren’t You Standing Up for Black and Brown Children Now, Guys?

Years ago a public pool on the south side of Providence was closed during the summer and many of us didn’t feel that enough was being done to get it fixed and re-opened quickly enough. Scorching heat, minimal green space, and kids out of school? Open the damn pool. I remember listening to a local radio host blast the mayor at the time for not doing enough and for allowing families in his city to suffer in the heat.

So I had an idea for a solution. I remember emailing the radio show and suggesting that we all push to require the suburban pool clubs, including in my town, to open their doors to the children of Providence who were stuck without a pool in summer. I figured that we’d see real quick action from lawmakers when all of a sudden the wealthier pool-goers would be “inconvenienced” by a whole bunch of poor kids and families coming in with coolers and doing cannonballs off their diving board.

Sad but true.

Welp, seems to me that the only way to get any real action on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s despicable flip-flop on forced teacher placements from the Absent Teacher Reserve in New York City is to make the powerful shiny people feel some of the pain. Instead of following through with the inevitable and insidious plan of dumping these expensive and unemployable folks in poor schools, let’s do a little bait-and-switch and put them at the front of the classrooms in which the children of the city’s elite power brokers spend their days.

You see, the poor single mom whose precious child will be stuck in a classroom where a forced placement occurs isn’t going to get Big Bill’s attention. She isn’t a center of influence and can’t offer anyone anything to do the right thing. She is precisely the person who needs the rest of us to speak up. And she must be wondering where in the fresh hell all those groups who care so much about social justice and racial equity are on this issue?

Their silence has not gone unnoticed.

Predictably, folks who have children’s well being front of mind, without exception, aren’t staying silent.

Chris Stewart, aka Citizen Stewart, isn’t pulling any punches:

Apparently America’s largest school system has been leaking $150 million for the salaries and benefits of teachers who have been removed from the classroom. These are teachers who for various reasons ended up on the district’s clearance rack along with Michael Bolton cassettes. It’s a very expensive broken toys department that robs children of resources and calls into question the never ending chant that we “fully fund public education” from people that go mute when this type of waste happens.

I find it shocking that the ride-or-die save-our-schools baristas with bullhorns aren’t storming the streets with silly signs and red t-shirts to demand the city stop diverting money from public schools. Why aren’t they demanding that this very expensive department stop its looting?

Where are all those reliably indignant freedom fighters who like to scream “fully fund public education”? Hiding?

And, it gets worse.

Now that budgets are busting (surprise!) the education department plans to send 400 of these teachers back to classrooms. Some of them haven’t taught in years.

Marc Sternberg, founding principal of the Bronx Lab School and currently with the Walton Family Foundation, spoke out in an op-ed in today’s New York Times.

Most, if not all, reserve-pool placements will be in schools that already struggle to attract great teachers, with teacher vacancy rates that are double or triple those of their counterparts in more affluent communities; those vacancy rates make them prime spots to put unwanted, unmotivated teachers. These schools generally serve predominantly low-income minority students, who arrive with the fewest resources, smallest safety nets and lowest chances of rising from poverty.

Foisting teachers with checkered pasts or bottom-of-the-barrel skills on these students makes their path out of poverty only a steeper climb. The fact that principals have to divert precious resources from essential programming and staff to pay for reserve-pool teachers they don’t want only adds insult to injury. There certainly can be no educational benefit to having passed-over and poorly rated teachers in these schools.

He goes on…

When I was hired as the founding principal of Bronx Lab School in 2004, my first and most important task was to hire the best teachers I could find who were ready for the hardest job of their lives. Bronx Lab opened on the campus of Evander Childs High School, where, in 2005, less than 34 percent of students graduated, fewer applied to college and everyone — including the adults — felt unsafe.

 I knew I could, and would, make many mistakes as a school leader. But the one thing I had to get right was hiring a dedicated and motivated team of teachers. Together we created an environment where excellence — in both teaching and learning — was expected. Thanks to these tireless, talented educators, by 2008, 86 percent of Bronx Lab students graduated with more than 350 college acceptances and $2.5 million in financial aid in hand.

These results, and results like it at scores of other New York schools where principals were empowered to hire dedicated professionals, would not have been possible had I been forced to dilute my team with the lowest-performing teachers from the reserve pool. Thousands of students would have been denied a high school diploma and a shot at career success.

During my years on school committee, my district was forced to re-instate a teacher because the previous superintendent and the human resources director had done an abysmal job documenting the problems. According to the powers that be, the district didn’t have enough “evidence” to terminate. Years of complaints by parents and kids, egregious words and and deeds witnessed by countless people all became meaningless without the proper documentation. I remember the new superintendent at the time saying that the teacher in question “was literally damaging children.”

And that was just one teacher. De Blasio, and his Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, are going to force place 400 teachers.

Common sense tells us that some of them will be okay, maybe even good. But common sense also tells us that many of them will be bad, maybe even damaging. And that is unacceptable no matter who is sitting in the seats, but especially so when poor children of color will almost exclusively be the ones directly impacted.



I hear champions of public schools and more funding like Randi Weingarten and Diane Ravitch and Jennifer Berkshire talk all the time about racism and how much they care about black and brown kids. Where are they now?

We see organizations dedicated to justice, educational equity and black lives talk about the need for better schools and more opportunities for black youth? Where are they now?

Two of my dear friends in this fight, Chris Stewart and Gwen Samuel, have a pressing question that drives them every day: “But how are the children?”

Anyone who cares about children first, especially the poorest children in New York City’s public schools, should be screaming about this shameful forced placement plan from every rooftop they can find and using their influence to convince the de Blasio administration to reverse course.  The fact that so many of the loudest defenders of “public education” are nowhere to be seen on this issue forces us to ask ourselves, who exactly has got their tongue and for what price?

What do you think?

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