Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Racial School Divide in Harlem: A Public School Where Staff is Black, A Co-located Charter With a White Staff

Almost the entire staff of the public school is black or Latino/a and senior while almost the entire staff of the co-located charter is white and young. And this is Harlem where all the kids are the same color of the public school teachers. What has a greater impact on kids? Having a sign on your classroom that says your teacher went to Duke, or having a teacher who comes from your neighborhood and has similar experiences growing up?


Since I completely left the school system around 2005, there have obviously been vast changes. My view has been shaped by the teachers who have been in touch through email and blogs and through my contact with the activist teachers in GEM, ICE, NYCORE and Teachers Unite. But direct contact with rank and file teachers at the school level has been limited.

Last Friday I was invited by a chapter leader to speak at the union meetings, which covered 3 lunch hours. It was quite a learning experience for me. I was impressed with the knowledge the teachers had with many of the push-button issues, a tribute to the chapter leader, a member of GEM, who has attempted to inform the members.

Almost the entire staff is older and Black. I think I met only one younger, white teacher. Many have been in the school for years. The key issue is that the school suffers from a co-location with an aggressive charter school. Teachers talked about how to reach out to parents to tell the story of their school, which is headed for extinction with the charter continuously expanding. What was the racial composition of the charter school staff, I asked? "One hundred percent white," was the response.

And that point struck me right between the eyes. Here we are in Harlem. In a public school where almost all the teachers are of the same color as the students. Older teachers with lots of experience.

And down the hall is an entirely different school, with an almost all white, younger staff, who all come from top level colleges - they hang signs on their doors and from the hallway ceilings. I didn't see one from the CUNY colleges, where one could recruit teachers of color. I'm betting many of them are from Teach for America. And I would bet that they have a level of disdain for the teachers of the public school who look so different from them

f we look down the road, we will see the older black teachers vilified and disappeared and replaced with mostly young white teachers, many of whom will themselves be gone before long to go on to make ed policy which will lead to more elimination of teachers who look like the students they teach. What kind of message does that send to the children in Harlem?

So when there are charges that Teach for America is racist, whether overt or not, take a visit to this school and check the outcomes of ed deform policy.

1 comment:

  1. This issue is going to play out on many levels. Remember: charter "co-locations" (in reality takeovers) are also a real estate play, with privatizers seeking to control if not take title to public facilities. And this is also taking place within the context of the rapid gentrification of the vary same communities where charters are being most aggressive.

    The takeover and colonization of the schools corresponds to the takeover and colonization of the neighborhoods, with affluent whites moving in, and the long-term residents of color being forced out.

    I was struck by the same thought yesterday when looking at a photograph of teachers at Columbus HS in the Bronx protesting their imminent closing: the teachers present appeared to be a cross-section of New Yorkers, whereas you know that those replacing them in the new schools will be young, affluent, white, and overwhelmingly from out of the city.

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