In episode #31 of Have You Heard, we meet Mihir Garud, who left a job as a stockbroker to teach personal finance at a Chicago charter school. He’s also the treasurer of a union that now represents 25% of charter school teachers in the city. Garud, who sees unions as the “last brake” on a system of free market capitalism run amok, turns out to have a lot in common with the teachers in Chicago who organized the country’s first just-for-teachers union back in 1897.
In 2013, a PhD student named Sally Nuamah attended a community meeting in the Chicago neighborhood where she’d grown up and where a public school was slated for closure. Residents talked about the issue in “life or death” terms, recalls Nuamah, who has been studying the long-term impact of the school closures. In this episode, Have You Heard talks to Nuamah about one such impact: a decline in voter participation and support for Democrats. Why would shuttering schools cause a drop in political engagement? And why would local residents fight so hard to keep open schools that, according to many metrics, were failing?Well, you’ll just have to listen and find out! To learn more about Nuamah’s work, visit her website. A full transcript of the episode is now available.
A Chicago teacher mourns a slain student, knowing that he won’t be the last…
By Ann Mastrofsky
I was in my classroom when someone opened the door, stuck in his head and mooed. I opened the door and looked around the corner. As I expected, it was J., one of my favorite, most charismatic, and most intractable students, who typically greeted me in this manner. He very rarely attended class and when he did, he spent most of his time socializing. But he beamed with pride when you complimented his efforts. He appreciated your kindness and respected you in return. He did the best he could, and sometimes his best was outstanding; he earned the highest grade on my semester final.
I greeted him and he smiled warmly, an impish flash in his eyes. He and I had bonded early; he liked his middle aged, white female teachers, teachers like me, the best. A huge youth, he towered over me and my neck hurt looking up at his broad face and dyed dreads.
I asked him what was up and he shrugged, smiling shyly. I told him to pull up his pants and take off his hat, both of which he did. I asked him if I’d see him in class later and he told me that I would. A few of his friends approached and I ducked back into my room, allowing him the privacy that adolescents and teachers both require. I knew only a very little about J’s life outside of the classroom, but I knew enough to know that my ignorance was for the best.
As I expected, he never showed up in class that afternoon.
And now, he is dead at 17, shot to death by unknown assailants.
TFA alum and scholar Terrenda White says that TFA’s diversity gains have come at the expense of teachers of color, whose numbers have declined drastically in the very cities where the organization has expanded.
Jennifer Berkshire: You have a new paper out examining TFA’s initiative to become more diverse. You use the word *paradox,* but don’t you mean ‘success’? I just read this TFA tweet that *The TFA corps more closely reflects the public-school population than any other large teacher-provider.* What’s paradoxical about that?
Terrenda White: When I was first writing about TFA, I was complaining about the lack of diversity in the corps, especially when I was there in the early 2000s. And so a part of me is really happy that TFA seems to care about diversity and improving their numbers, and I think I’m fair in my piece about acknowledging that. But while TFA may be improving their diversity numbers, that improvement has coincided with a drastic decline in the number of teachers of color, and Black teachers in particular, in the very cities where TFA has expanded. I don’t see them making a connection between their own diversity goals and the hits that teachers of color have taken as a result of policies to which TFA is connected: school closures where teachers of color disproportionately work, charter school expansion, teacher layoffs as schools are turned around. We have to talk about whether and how those policies have benefited TFA to expand in a way that they’re not ready to publicly acknowledge. Continue reading →
Which is why I’m launching a podcast series!
I’ve spent the last two years visiting cities like Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia that are on the front lines of the often bitter battle over the future of public schools in the US. And what I’ve heard along the way is far more interesting, encouraging and honest than the talking points and stale exchanges that dominate the discussions about our schools. That’s why I’m launching a podcast series so that you can listen in and hear what I’ve been hearing.