Chicago Teachers Fight Racist School “Turnarounds”

In 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike to protest the assault on rights of students and educators led by Mayor Emanuel under the banner of "school reform." The latest "reform" includes firing 347 teachers, overwhelmingly African Americans.

In 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike to protest the assault on rights of students and educators led by Mayor Emanuel under the banner of “school reform.” The latest “reform” includes firing 347 teachers, overwhelmingly African Americans.

Nathalie Hrizi

On Dec. 26, 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union and three Chicago public school teachers filed a federal lawsuit challenging the so-called turnaround process that has led to the termination of a disproportionate percentage of African American teachers.

In February 2012, Chicago Public Schools selected 10 schools in Chicago for “turnaround,” meaning all the teachers and the principal and teachers would be fired and replaced. CPS has never released any information on why or how these schools were chosen, other than to say that the schools were allegedly underperforming.

There are 287 schools arbitrarily designated by CPS as underperforming. All 10 of the schools selected for turnaround were in the West Side and South Side networks, where most of the African American teachers are assigned. African American teachers make up 35 percent of the educators at the selected schools while only 30 percent of tenured teachers in CPS schools are African American. Yet, more than 50 percent of the 347 teachers fired are African American.

The educators’ lawsuit asks for relief for all affected by the 2012 and future turnarounds as well as an immediate moratorium on turnarounds. It also seeks the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee future turnarounds, if any are permitted.

Ninety percent of the students in Chicago’s 578 non-charter public schools are from oppressed communities. Forty-two percent of those students are African American. But while the vast majority of students are from oppressed communities and a large portion of those are African American, their teachers are less and less representative of their communities. In 2000, 40 percent of teachers were African American. In 2010, only 29 percent were.

CPS turnarounds—in addition to constituting an attack on teachers’ unions and a reactionary policy for reform—have exacerbated a systemic problem persistent in, but certainly not limited to, the Chicago school system—that of institutionalized racism. Measures against affirmative action as well as budget cuts have spelled the death of programs and services intended to right the burden of a history of institutionalized racism that has effectively denied African American and other oppressed people education and work opportunities. Proponents of the current wave of anti-union school reform claim to be concerned about the education of Black and Latino children—yet as the CTU lawsuit shows, these reforms are denying children of color the opportunity to be taught by people from their own communities. All progressive people should support this struggle of the Chicago teachers, who conducted a heroic strike in the fall of 2012.

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