Black Teachers Fired En Masse

By Glen Ford

If you have any doubt that President Obama and his cronies are at the forefront of public school privatization and the decimation of Black teachers, just take a look at Chicago. That’s where Obama’s basketball buddy, Arne Duncan, wreaked havoc as schools chief until the new president appointed him secretary of education, and where Obama’s former White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, now reins as mayor with overall control of the public schools. Arne Duncan fired 1,300 Chicago teachers during his eight years at the helm, the large majority of them Black women, replaced by mostly white, younger teachers at about half the cost. The teachers union sued, charging racial discrimination—a case that is still before the courts. Now, with a thousand more teachers fired last year under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the union has filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, once again charging racial discrimination. Blacks currently make up only 29 percent of Chicago’s teachers, but they comprised 43 percent of those recently fired. Whites represent almost half the teaching force, but only 36 percent of the layoffs. The union’s lawyer calls it a “systematic effort to rid the Chicago Public Schools of tenured teachers who are African-American.”

Community groups have joined the teachers in asking the courts to halt the closing of 17 supposedly “underperforming” schools, many of them on the city’s South Side. In Chicago, such closings wipe out the schools’ entire work force, right down to the janitors—whose performance, of course, has nothing to do with standardized test scores. But wholesale staff massacres clear the way for charter schools operated by private teaching corporations. The Academy for Urban School Leadership, a national charter school founded by a venture capitalist, once employed the current CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. The new crop of young, white teachers are largely graduates of programs funded by a Who’s Who of rightwing foundations and corporations—the people educator Diane Ravitch calls it the “billionaire boys club.”

President Obama has advanced the corporate project to privatize public education with lightning speed, inflicting far more damage in far less time than George Bush ever could—because George Bush is not a Black Democrat. Bush’s men called the teacher’s unions “terrorists” and other bad names, but Barack Obama has been a much more effective servant of the privatizers. Their goal is not just to break the teachers unions, but to de-professionalize education and to sunder all ties between teachers and the communities they serve. That’s why Black teachers have been targeted for mass firing in Chicago and all across the country. They tend to have tenure and to be staunch supporters of their unions, and they live in the communities where they work, as neighbors, parents and leaders. When Barack Obama and Arnie Duncan and Rahm Emanuel target Black teachers for mass elimination, they deliver a savage blow to African American community cohesion. Privatization of public schools is a central part of the disempowerment of Black America.

Black Agenda Report, February 22, 2012